Sunday, March 8, 2009

the "Waiting Room" Feb 28 09

Next we delivered food assistance to Khabel, Naheda and their two sons, Ram and Remon - ages 14 & 15.

They had recently moved from another flat to this one. It was small and in bad shape but they were happy to be there. They said this was a 'lucky flat" because those that lived in it before them had been immigrated quickly. They are waiting to be immigrated to Canada and hope that they receive word that they will go soon. They've been waiting four months since they were told that they will be accepted.

Khabel was a goldsmith in Baghdad and came from a long linage of goldsmiths. He had his own shop. They lived a comfortable, middle-class existence. But things changed radically for this family after the US-led invasion.

Khabel told us, "Before the invasion, as Sabians we were treated no differently than anyone else. There were no differences between Muslims and other religions." But after the invasion, he was threatened because he did not go to pray in the mosque and Naheda was harassed because she, as a Christian, did not wear hijab.

Then things went from very bad to umimaginably worse.

Young Ram was only 8 years old and was approached by a man carrying a football. The man told him to take the football to some nearby US soldiers. Ram knew that it was not "just a football" - her was certain it contained a bomb - so he ran. The man followed and tried to catch him - unsuccessfully. But a month later he was kidnapped.

A neighbor saw the car stop and the men inside grab him. Ram was held for two weeks and then the kidnappers called and demanded $10,000 ransom. A cousin was enlisted to hand over the money and retrieve Ram. The boy they had returned to them was not the same as he had been before the kidnapping; he had been very badly mutilated and, despite having had two intensive operations since coming to Jordan, he will never be able to marry. He carries deep scars within him as well as those on his body. He left school. Only recently he has begun attending some informal training courses through a UNHCR funded program.

Other family members were brutalized also. Naheda's brother was kidnapped. When the kidnappers entered their home by breaking down their doors, they violently shoved his wife, causing her to lose the baby she was pregnant with. Her mother was living with her brother and his wife at the time. The kidnappers tied up the elderly woman, blindfolded her and dragged her up the stairs. She survived but became very ill and died soon afterwards. Her husband was released after a large ransom was paid and they quickly left Iraq for Jordan and have now immigrated to the US.

A nephew was kidnapped and held a month. He was released after the family paid a large ransom. But he was warned to leave the country that day - that if he had to be told a second time, he would be killed. His shop and home were burned to the ground. They fled to Syria.

This family has suffered unbearable loss and trauma. Khabel suffered tremendous psychological problems until recently getting treatment. Before that, he would often pound his head into the wall, over and over again. It was hard for me to imagine this dignified, intelligent man at such a loss - but then, it would be hard to imagine not being altered terribly by what had happened to his son and by losing everything.

He said, "I can't stay inside these walls without work, with no future. You can imagine: how any man would be without work, without a future" With his two sons sitting next to us, we understood that there were also heavier things weighing on his heart but that this was not the time to talk about them.

The family cannot wait to immigrate. They are tired. They want safety and security. Khabel wants to resume taking care of his family again; he wants to move forward. I told him that, with his skills as a goldsmith, he should find it easy to get work in his profession once resettled in Canada. He was quick to respond, "If I can't work in my job, I will do anything"