Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"We can't go back to Iraq. What have we there? Half of our family has died in this war" - March 7 09

Tahani's story is beginning to be a familiar one: her husband was caught working illegally a couple of years ago. A Jordanian man agreed to "sponsor" him so that he could remain in Amman with his family instead of being sent back to Iraq. He's demanding money constantly and threatening them if they do not pay. For Iraqi men who risk trying to support their families, the price can be high and payments toward it never-ending.

Tahani told us that they have moved twice in the past year to escape his demands and threats. He recently told a mutual aquaintance to tell her husband that if he sees him, "I will do something" That "something" is unspecified but quite clear: they will be hurt in some way by it.

She continues, in tears, "We are afraid. We stay and home and never go out"

Her husband, locked in by fear, debt and inability to work, is depressed. Recently he began getting mental health counseling through a NGO. I wonder how one can be counseled to accept such circumstances. I wonder how one can maintain sanity when always having to look over their shoulder, waiting for certain pain.

The three young children play around us as we talk with Tahani in their tiny living room. The two older kids - 6 year old Hadeel and 4 year old Abeer - color cloth quilt squares that I will bring back with me to the US when I return. The youngest, one year old Mustafa, tries eating the crayons when we forget to watch him closely.

Abeer finishes her quilt square and shows us a picture she has drawn of a large razer blade. Her mother tells us that a much older boy threatened her with a blade like that as she walked to school recently. Since then, Tahani walks her to school and home. Iraqi children are frequently targets of bullying and worse by other kids. There is prejudice against Iraqis and bullies know they will not be held accountable or even stopped; Iraqis cannot complain or they risk getting into trouble with the authorities themselves.

Despite their hardships here, Tahani does not look at a return to Iraq as an option to escaping them. She tells us, "Now if you tell me I must go back to Iraq, I'd refuse. I remember our bad situation there. Now it is worse than ever. We can't go back to Iraq - what have we there? Half of our family members have died in this war. Cancer is bad there (they are from Basra which endured heavy bombardment from US weapons containing Depleted Uranium during both the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion) We lost family members from cancer - one was only 20 years old. Our only hope is to be resettled"