Yesterday we went to visit Abu Rukaiyah and his beautiful wife and their kids. Abu Rukaiyah, the dad, is a handsome 36 year old man. He came to the main road, at the bottom of a mountainous hill, to meet us and walk with us up to his house. We have come, this day, to set up the delivery of his new micro-project, a tile-cleaning machine, and to document their story.
He and his wife have been in Jordan since fleeing Iraq in 2004. Their trip to Jordan was harrowing. They were followed, their car was shot at by machine-guns. The tires were hit first, and Abu Rukaiyah was shot in the leg, twice. (He rolls up his pant-leg, to show the scars, as though to prove that he is not making this up. It is mortifying and unnecessary to us, but despite this, the exhausted-looking young man was compelled for his own personal reasons, to show us.)
It appeared to me that he had been required to prove his story, perhaps over and over. He provided documentation of all possible details. This is not unusual for the refugee families. The papers were well-worn, all, but official and kept safely, for repeated re-use. After rolling the pants back down from the knee, he quietly and smoothly went on.
"I continued to drive. What could I do?" Another bullet just missed their then one year old daughter, lodging in his back. Miraculously, little Rukaiyah slept through all of this. They came upon American soldiers, who stopped the terrified young couple. They gratefully "helped us, me... they... fixed my leg..." and then escorted their limping vehicle and family to the Jordanian border between 2 Humvees.
Just after they got to Jordan, his wife, who was 6 months pregnant at the time of their flight to safety, hemorrhaged. They all spent the next 5 days in a hospital, where she gave birth to a tiny baby girl, who spent the following 56 days in an incubator in the hospital, Abu Rukaiyah paying all the rest of the money the family had in exchange. Miriam is about 4 now. Her heart is weak and cannot be repaired. She has multiple problems, both physical and mental, though she is absolutely adorable, all curly black hair and big eyes.
She cannot keep food down, as she cannot swallow properly. She will not ever grow normally. They must take care when touching her, as her skin is hyper-sensitive and she cries even with the gentle touch of her obviously loving mother. "It is hard for parents to look at their child like this," they sadly tell us.
Yet they clearly cherish her as they do all their children, three of them now, with their new baby boy, Yusef, who is darling, ever-cooperative with his patient parents for the entire time we were there (about 2 and a half hours). All the children were well-behaved, polite, and soft-spoken. Miriam is almost mute.
She continues to live almost exclusively on a special baby formula, which is expensive here. The family receives SOME aid but hardly enough. Sasha takes down a lot of information. She will "check in" with the doctors and other agencies, to see if there is money to help with the buying of the formula for tiny Miriam.
It is not certain that there will be help for them, as there are many thousands of others who also need. They know this. We know this, too, especially Sasha. I am just a learner, on the low end of a steep curve. "Whether there is help or whether there is no help, we thank you, and we thank the CRP, because you are here, and you are helping us."
As always, Sasha tells them that it is not we who are helping them, but donors from the U.S., Italy, Japan, England, Lebanon, Mexico, Canada, France, and many countries, many people who are really helping them:not her, not us. She never once takes credit for what others have given. Ever.
We note all their documentation about Miriam's health, for follow-up.
This family, as all the others, offer us tea and sweets. They surely gave up something to provide these things, but it is a point of honor for them, as with all those we visit, to be able to offer food to their guests. They insist we share; it would be insulting to them to refuse. They are sincere, and so dear and sweet-natured that it cracks your heart open, if not apart.
Abu Rukaiyah is possibly one of the gentlest men I have ever met. He has suffered from acute PTSD, and is still "shy" to ask for help. The men here have a terrible time, as they feel deep and toxic shame at not being able to protect or to adequately provide for their families. It is heartbreaking to read his doctor reports. Night terrors. Insomnia. Clinical depression. "No hallucination. No suicidal thoughts," reads his chart. He works, as much and as often as he can. He is hopeful that some men he knows are going to "allow" him to work with them with his new micro-project. "I know them... I trust them, " he says. He looks quiet and worried.
His beautiful young wife tells more: her father, too, journeyed out of Iraq in 2004. After having a VERY difficult time surviving here, he chose, instead, to return to Iraq in Dec., 2008. Two weeks later, he was kidnapped. No one has heard from him again. She looks bleak, introspective, as she thinks about what she has just said.
We climbed many, many (possibly 100) uneven steps to their apartment on a high hill overlooking the center of downtown Amman. They have a balcony outside, a large open area, as they live on the very top floor of their building. The view is beautiful and dizzying to look down into.
How will he get the heavy machine up and down these these stairs? Where will he store it that will be more logical and still safe? We are hoping he will be able to persuade those who say they will help him to work, to help this shy man yet again. It is clear that he is nervous to ask. It is clear to him, too, that he will have to ask. "Tomorrow," he says, visibly steeling himself.
Abu Rukaiyah has done any work he can do to help his family. Like most of the men and women we have met, he sincerely and even passionately says, "I will do anything. Anything." Sometimes he has worked as a volunteer for CARE organization. They intermittently take temporary volunteer workers who are paid a small stipend. This paid volunteer work is legal. Other employment is forbidden for non-resident Iraqi refugees though. He, as all the refugees, greatly fear the random raids on illegal workers from authorities and possible immediate deportation back to Iraq if they are caught. Working helps him - steadies him.
He, like all Iraqis, must make no problems for anyone while here in Jordan. Like so many others, he and his family do not hold a legal "refugee" status, which would provide them with some set rights. This legal status is not usually given until resettlement is granted. The process can take years. Until then, no matter what, he must not cause any anger from any boss or neighbor. There is too much risk. He can only hope that those he trusts will not greatly under-pay him or not pay him at all. If they do, he will have no recourse whatsoever.
In Iraq, he had a spare auto parts shop. After the initial bombings and the following breakdown of all security and safety infrastructures, sectarian violence and on-going war changed their world even more profoundly. He went home. "This is not your neighborhood. This is not your home." When he stayed, the front of the house was bombed out. They are grateful that they were not home.
Going to work, he was told,"This is not your shop." It was burned to the ground, with all of the money inside it. On that day, he tells us, he suffered a heart attack, as all was lost. This, too, is documented, as is every thing. Both the home he owned and his business are just "gone." After recovery, he went back to gather his family, and was greeted with these stark words: "This is not your country."
Somehow, they have survived. They endure. How? "We believe in God. God is helping us. God is Good." How they actually survive is beyond my scope of understanding. Their inner strength, even when they are clearly still suffering emotionally and in many other ways, too, tangible and intangible, is a testament to the strength of their beings.
Our Iraqi translator/companion has a knack-- a gift, really-- for helping people to laugh, one who brings life and encouragement into the hearts of all the people we have gone to see. The 'mood' somehow remains easy, relaxed, open. These people with nothing, share everything with us. We are their honored American guests. They are beautiful.
Their plight, now, is "a terrible beauty," as one of my friends coined, an uncannily, horribly accurate phrase. These people are mightily struggling yet not giving up, but bending heavily under the load they must carry every day now. Hideously, their story is common, though the details are uniquely their own.
Abu Rukaiyah and his family were too afraid to resettle to the U.S., as they heard on the streets it would be very hard for them in the States. They will await resettlement, instead, to Germany. They ask us, "But how it will be for us, there?... as Muslims?" We do not know. We do not have any answers.
We can only care. We do care. We are proxies for you who cannot be here. We know that shared grief lessens the load for each. We are moved, profoundly, every day we are here making a chronicle of these once-proud people's stories, so that they will not be lost along with everything else.
We brought small and inexpensive gifts for the girls. Wings that light up, one purple pair, one bright pink, and crowns with fluff on them. The sisters look like fireflies, eyes sparkling with pleasure and with delight at this small present. I think they look like angels.
Out of the bedroom came a girl, Sahra, aged 10. We did not know she would be there. We have brought nothing for her. She brushes this away, all grace, and kind-faced too. She speaks little English, but really tries her hand at communicating. "Hello. Hello. I am Sahra. How are you?" She kisses us on each cheek, looking directly into our eyes. She is intelligent and soft.
We discover that she is Abu Rukaiyah's niece. She recently arrived in Amman with her mother, after her father was killed in Iraq. She listens silently while her uncle explains all this, displaying no emotion at all. She just looks at me. We make an arrangement to return to meet with Abu Rukaiyah's sister, who has, so far, not received any aid at all.
After dark, we leave. As we walk down the many, many stone and marble steps, the children call out, "bye!.... bye!... sala'am... bye!" I cannot see them, but they are there, close to the sky. We hope their new micro-project helps them. We will come back again, another day.
Posted by Annie Tanner - CRP volunteer in Amman