An Iraqi Woman's Bleak Perspective
"I tried to imagine what I would feel like if I had to move to Sweden at the age of 72 with uncertain residence status and my family left behind in my own country which was torn apart by war," writes UCLA Fulbright coordinator Ann Kerr in the Palisadian-Post.
Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Our life was good under Saddam as long as we stayed out of politics. There was order - now there is chaos and corruption.
This article was first published in the Jan 18, 2007 Palisadian-Post.
"I MISS IRAQ so much, Ann," my former roommate from the American University of Beirut Samiya said in a sad voice when I telephoned her this weekend in Sweden. "It is so dark here."
Back in November, when Samiya went to Germany to visit her brother on a three-month visa to have a break from the horrors of war in Baghdad, they learned that Sweden might be the one country in Europe where there was a possibility for a seventy-two year old Iraqi woman to obtain a residence permit. As the unmarried eldest of eleven children and responsible older sister, Samiya reluctantly made the decision to go to Sweden with the hope that she could then bring her younger sister, brother-in-law and niece from Iraq to join her. "They are the ones who will take care of me in my old age," she told me in a phone conversation before she left Germany.
"How are you managing?" I asked Samiya. "Oh, it is very dark here," she repeated. "We have only six hours of daylight each day, Ann, six hours - it's so different from Baghdad. I miss my sister and my house. You know I had to leave everything there – I don't have a lot but I miss the carved chest my father made for me."
I knew she was staying in a small town south of Stockholm in the apartment of another Iraqi woman who had sought refuge in Sweden several years earlier. "How are things working out with your roommate?" I asked her. "She's a nice girl," Samiya replied. "I knew her in Mosul when we were growing up and then later when we were teaching in Baghdad, but I can't stay in her house forever and the immigration office hasn't called me back about my visa since my first appointment." "Perhaps, it's just a delay from the Christmas holidays," I suggested. "Oh, but others who came when I did have been contacted," she responded dejectedly.
"Have you had news of your sister and brothers in Baghdad?" I asked Samiya. "Sometimes I can reach them on their cell phones – those are the only ones that work. And my brother in Germany calls them and then phones me with their news. My sister has a nice house, but it's in the al Dorra district so they had to leave it and move to my aunt's house in another area - al Dorra is now empty. At least there are many people in my aunt's house. After a minute, she said with dismay, "I don't think my sister will ever be able to come to Sweden." "People pay $1500 to a smuggler to help them get out and if they are caught, they have to go back." And then she added plaintively, "We thought the Europeans would give help to Christians in Iraq."
"What do you think about Bush's latest actions?" I asked Samiya. Without a second's hesitation, she replied emphatically, "This is a continuation of his failure." And after a pause she continued. "We see much more news than you do in America - the BBC, the Arab stations. You will learn one day that many more Americans have been killed than are reported. They don't count the people with green cards … We don't have any more Iraqi radio and TV stations - they killed the reporters on purpose - and professors and intellectuals too, but there are Iraqi channels broadcasting from other Arab countries. Thousands and thousands of Iraqis have died."
"What about the hanging of Saddam Hussein," I asked Samiya. "It was not nice the way they treated him. They are cruel to show it. The other Arab leaders are not better than Saddam – if he had said yes to the U.S. and Israel, we wouldn't be where we are now. Our life was good under Saddam as long as we stayed out of politics. There was order - now there is chaos and corruption. We didn't have drugs before. All these new Iraqi leaders are buying big houses in the Gulf and in Europe."
As I sat in my sun drenched living room in Pacific Palisades, I tried to imagine what I would feel like if I had to move to Sweden at the age of 72 with uncertain residence status and my family left behind in my own country which was torn apart by war. But Samiya, who had lived through three wars in her adult lifetime, cheered me up as we closed our conversation. She said with a sardonic chuckle in a remark that could have applied to her personal situation or that of her country, "Maybe next month I will have a solution."
Ann Kerr coordinates the International Institute's Fulbright Visiting Scholar Enrichment Program. She has known Samiya for fifty years and last saw her in Baghdad in 1990. They have since stayed in touch by letter and telephone. Ann visited Samiya's brother and sister-in-law in Germany in December where she hoped at last to see her old friend again, but Samiya had already gone to Sweden.