Monday, March 9, 2009

This or That? - Feb 28 09

Bayda and her 5 year old son, Ali, met Maha and I at the taxi to carry her food assistance box to her flat. She hurried as Zaha'ra, only 20 days old, waited inside.

Bayda, her husband, Manaf, and their two children share their small flat with Bayda's father. He had returned to Iraq a few years ago to sell their family home in order to pay for an eye surgery he needed. After selling the home, he stayed in a mobile home while he waited to get the surgery in Baghdad. Because of his poor eyesight, he tripped and knocked over a small gas stove. The mobile home quickly became engulfed in flames and although he survived the fire, all of the money from selling their home burned. He is despondent, blaming himself for losing all that they had.

Manaf and Bayda fled Iraq in 2003 after a militia came looking for Manaf at his parents' home. Manaf had been in the Iraqi military and this militia had been killing off anyone who had served in the military. At the time, Manaf was visiting his wife's family though. When the militia did not find him there, they took his brother instead. The family later found his body, beaten badly and then shot. Manaf's mother insisted that he leave Iraq then. She was not only worried about him but that other family members may be targeted.

Now the family lives on only a small UNHCR monthly cash grant that Bayda's father receives and the $100 per month military pension of Manaf's. The couple asked to receive the UNHCR cash grant last November but still have not received it. Sometimes Bayda takes illegal cleaning jobs but, with a new baby, she cannot work right now.

Their situation is very stressful for her. She told us, "My (breast) milk is not enough and the baby cries all of the time." We counsel her to continue to nurse and that she will eventually produce enough milk. We advise her that this is healthier for her baby than formula and costs nothing. She is not convinced. She wants to be able to return to cleaning houses because they need the income and bottle feeding would free her to do this. We then caution her that the monthly expense of purchasing formula will be more than what she earns housekeeping. We can see she is not convinced.

Perhaps, for Bayda, feeling useful by being able to bring income to her family overrides what we may consider to be a sensible choice. Perhaps, with so little to feel good about in her situation, she gains some esteem in being able to provide for her entire family. Perhaps she is concerned that, if she does not work, her husband will risk working and she may lose him. The penalties for men found working are harsh and can include being sent back to Iraq. I don't know but I can see her shutting down and wanting to end this conversation.

Nothing is clearcut any longer for most here. Lives have been turned upsidedown and suspended. Nothing is as it should be or would have been if the US had not invaded Iraq. Who am I, as a citizen of the nation that caused this damage, to tell her what is best?