Sunday, March 8, 2009

Running in Place - Feb 28 09

Ahlam was blur of motion from the moment we met her until we turned to wave our last ma'asalama (goodbye) when we left. She met us at the taxi, rapidly hefted the heavy box of food onto her head, and took off at a brisk pace down the narrow alley to her home. When Maha and I caught up with her, she had the box in her house, on the floor, opened and was rummaging through it, chattering animatedly all the while. I looked at the photos I took during our visit with her and not one is clear. It seemed that she just could not sit still!

Ahlam lives in a very small flat - one room, approximately 12' x 12', a tiny kitchen and hamam (bathroom) The entire household sleeps in this one room - Ahlam, her husband, her mother-in-law, her sister and her daughter. The rest of the family was out when we arrived and I wondered if Ahlam's expansiveness in her movements was her exhileration at being able to move so freely in this room that must be extremely cramped when the entire family is home. Despite having so little room, Ahlam invited me to come to live with them, indicating the spot on the floor I could sleep!

They sought safety in Jordan in 2005 after her mother was killed. She worked at a university and had gone to pick up her pay. She never made it home. She was kidnapped, robbed and then thrown from the kidnapper's car and run over. She only lived a few hours after being taken to the hospital.

Ahlam's husband was caught working illegally two and a half years ago and was arrested by Jordanian authorities. He spent six months in prison. The UNHCR tried intervening but it was not until a Jordanian aquaintence agreed to "sponsor" him that he was released. Now this man demands that the family pay him 60JD every month - "forever" - until they leave Jordan. If they do not, he will terminate his "sponsorship" and Ahlan's husband will be returned to prison and then possibly to Iraq.

Their UNHCR cash grant barely covers their meager rent, Paying the fine is a burden they can't afford to pay - and cannot afford not to. Only Ahlam and her husband receive the grant - the rest of the family members have not received it yet. She was very happy to receive food assistance.

While Maha and I drank the thick aromatic Arab coffee she served us, Ahlam told us she would read our fortunes with her prayer beads. Her premonitions bounced back and forth, from Maha's and mine as fast as her fingers moved over the beads. All good news. I wondered but did not ask if she had read her own future and, if so, what she saw.

As so many, the family are waiting for resettlement. They want to plan for a future; they want to work. She said that they have been told they would be resettled to Canada. They were told this 14 months ago. They have heard nothing since.

Photos of Ahlam and her husband in better times hang on the wall. They show her as a well-dressed, well made up woman - a voluptuous beauty. I was stunned when she told us that the photo was taken less than five years ago. The stresses and trauma of her life since then have taken their toll. Her face tells the story of their life these few years. But, in spite of her losses and the hardships she endures, she still has a ready smile and vivacious manner.