Saturday, April 11, 2009
Orphan Day 2009 - continued (see previous posts below)
Next we went to the area of Amman that is designated as "New Camp" - a Palestinian refugee camp within the city. New Camp is not a tent camp - it consists of mostly low income apartment buildings connected with narrow roads and with a highly concentrated population of mostly impoverished Palestinians - and now, a growing population of equally impoverished Iraqi refugees. We were visiting Bushra and her family in a lively area with a lot of activity on the streets: kids playing soccer, teen boys hanging out in small bunches, teen girls and young women walking together arm-in-arm, and older people visiting one another, sitting on their stoops.
Bushra told us that had they lived in Baghdad near the airport. When the Amrikans came they were in terror under intense bombing night after night. She tells us, "Many of our neighbors houses were hit by the bombs. She recalls that one time the US dropped burning photos of Saddam from the air onto their neighborhood. She said, "Then the Amrikans came to us and told us to leave our houses or they will burn them with us in them."
So the family moved to her sister's home in another part of the city. When they were finally allowed to return to their home, they found that most of their valuables were gone. The Amrikans had killed their small home flock of ducks and chickens and also had cut down their precious pomegranate trees, chopping them off at ground level.
Bushra and her four children: Bethana (11), Shayma (9), Harith (11) and Malik (8) left Iraq soon after the beginning of the US invasion in 2003 after militia burst into their home and shot the children's father in the head in front of them. Bushra told us that she lost both her husband and brother as they were both killed on the same day - her brother was murdered by militia while he was out shopping. She speculates he was killed because he had worked in Saddam's government.
Soon after militia contacted Bushra, telling her to give them a huge amount of money "to pay to buy a kidney" or they would take her to use her kidney. They had no choice but to flee.
Life has not been easy for this family since arriving in Amman. They live in a one room home in terrible repair. Bushra had worked as a housekeeper for a Jordanian family and earned enough to pay their rent and buy food but her employers moved away a few months ago and now she is 3 months behind in paying the rent of 60JD per month. They do not receive the UNHCR monthly cash grant but Bushra told us that they had an appointment scheduled with UNHCR the following day and hopes they will begin to get cash assistance. She pleads with Maha, "If you know anyone who needs their house cleaned, please call me."
Bushra's eldest brother was just released a month ago after being held in Abu Ghraib for four years. She said that when she called him recently, he told her that he was beaten, kept naked much of the time, humiliated when female US military members would come to look at him, threatened with dogs, kept blindfolded often, and that food and water were with-held for long periods of time. She says he is broken - he remembers these details of Abu Ghraib but lost much of his memory about his past. He is beginning to remember his children but he still cannot remember his wife.
Another of her brothers was beaten badly by US military members and now is partially paralyzed.
Bushra's and her two small children live with them. Her sister was away - in Baghdad - when we visited. She was in Iraq, arranging for her husband's funeral. He had gone back to Baghdad to sell their house there and was killed in a bombing a week ago. Now these two yery young children are orphans, too.
I ask Bethana what she remembers about her life in Baghdad. She told me, "Where we lived we played with our cousins. There was a stationery shop near our house where we would go to buy candy from the shopkeeper, Um Ahmed. On the main street there was a man selling cigarettes, sitting on the ground. On the second street was our school. Our uniforms were blue dresses with a white blouse. We had a roof and in summer we slept on the roof and in winter our grandmother would sleep with us in our room. I had many friends. For us, it was better in Iraq; it was our school, our area, our home..." She adds, "It was a better education and our teachers were better than the ones here. Our neighbors there were very kind to us, not like here. Here they always ask about everything we do, always watching us."