Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Children's Losses - March 7 09

Christina's family is an example of how different faiths and even nationalities melded in families in Iraq prior to the US invasion. Christina is Christian, her husband was from Egypt and a Muslim. They were married many years but a year after fleeing Baghdad in 2004, they divorced. The usual strains marriages often face are often compounded by the hardships couples must cope with living as refugees.

Christina and her three children live in a tiny one room flat that rents for 60JD (less than $100) - utilities cost another 25JD per month.

They cannot pay for much of their needs with the small UNHCR monthly cash grant. It is only 60JD per month and is only for Christina. The children are not eligible because they are "technically" Egyptian because of their father's country of origin. It does not matter that he lived in Iraq for 25 years before they had to flee and that the children were born there. Christina works a couple of days a week cleaning houses. She makes between 10-20JD ($14 - 28) per week. Christina said her church used to help them occasionally - until they found out that she had been married to a Muslim.

The youngest, Marian, complains, wanting her own bed on a frame. Christina exclaims, "If we could buy one, where would we put it!"

They fled Baghdad in 2004. First there were two separate kidnapping attempts on Sally - now 19. The final straw was when her school bus, filled with laughing girls on their way home after school, was attacked by militia. Although the driver sped as quickly as he could to try to get away from the attack, all of the girls in the back of the bus were killed. Many of them were Sally's friends. Sally survived only because she was sitting in the front.

Both of the older children did not complete their educations and have not attended school since they left Iraq. Jordan began allowing Iraqi children to attend public schools only in September of 2007. By then Sally was too old to re-enter school as Iraqi kids cannot attend public schools after they reach the age of 16. Her younger brother, Osama, had missed too many years and was too far behind to return. Sally tells us, "Marian is lucky - she was at the right age to enter school last year when classrooms were opened to Iraqis"

Marian made a self-portrait of herself - tall with a wasp-waist, surrounded by sunshine and flowers - certainly not depicting the cement and busy highway outside their door. Perhaps in this make-believe world where she imagines herself there is a house with a garden outside. Maybe it has a room just for her and with her very own bed. Maybe she is able to smile in this world. She did not for the entire time we visited.

Friends in Need... March 7 09

Mehdihah is Christina's friend and neighbor, living above her in a small one-room flat. She is not married and is alone in Jordan. Her brother had come with her but he was caught by authorities here soon after they arrived in Jordan in 2004 and returned to Iraq. She has tried to arrange for him to be allowed to return with no luck. She talked to a relevent Ministry here and they told her to pay the 45JD fines he owes and then to come back and they will "discuss it". She does not have this relatively small amount of money (approx $65) and fears that the "discussion" would only be another denial of her brother to join her. Like Christina, Mehdihah cleans houses a couple of days per week.

***Iraqis who came to Jordan were given very temporary short visas. The understanding was that they were to return to Iraq or go elsewhere when their visas expired. When they do not leave, just like anyone else overstaying their visa, they must pay a fine of 1.5JD ($2.60) per day for every day that they stay past the expiration of their visas. This is a per-person fine. Can you imagine the amounts owed by families with many children who have been in Jordan for several years?***

These two women provide each other with mutual emotional support and share what they have with one another. We provided both of them with Food Assistance.