Monthly Archives: February 2017

Singing and Writing Plays – Part I

Category : English Posts , Short Story

Despite all of the hardships we experienced and the confusion during the war years, there still laid a very thin line of hope in a fresh beginning. As a child, I was thrilled with the idea of writing and directing a play or a movie. In my small world as a child, I believed in my ability to influence my friends and some of my cousins to become part of the crew. They were excited about being on the team even though I only needed a few performers while I took on the role of the director. Whenever my parents would take us to visit our neighbors or our relatives, I would start pulling them aside to explain my idea. Then I would assign roles to my “Beginner actors.” Then as a team, we would look for a location where our movie or play would take place. Usually we would go to find an empty room but sometimes we would go to the roof of the house and then start to arrange the area. We gathered what was possible as far as furniture or clothes to use as part of the show. Once the stage was set, I called “Action” to begin filming. I created my own safe haven where I could let my imagination take me to a better place, where I could enjoy a peaceful life and have fun. I believed that was my way to cope with the stress during wartime.

Three years after my brother was born, my parents desire to have another boy was still strong. The seventh child that was born was a girl. My dad wanted no more children so he suggested that we name my sister Nihaya which in Arabic means “the end”. My dad was satisfied with six daughters and could not look forward to the possibility of having more daughters. That was his logic in choosing the name Nihaya. Again, my mom would not let that happen, because she was still hoping to become pregnant with a second son. Therefore, my parents agreed to name my sister Eman, which means faith. Neighbors and relatives would felt sorry for my parents, and they would often say, “Poor Luke, he has six girls.”

During that time, my parents felt the necessity to move closer to the area, where most of my aunts and uncles were living. My parent’s destination this time was the city of Mosul in Nineveh province. This city is located in the northwestern part of the country, on the west bank of the Tigris River. It is the second largest city in Iraq, around two million in population. The city’s history dates back to more than three thousand years. Mosul has the largest culturally diverse population made up mostly of Sunni Arabs. Many other minorities, such as Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds and Christians also live in Mosel. The entire fabric of this great city, its culture and its history was torn and destroyed when some radical Muslim groups invaded Iraq and Syria in 2014.

I was in third grade when we moved to Mosul. I had mixed emotions at that time, feeling sad about leaving some of my cousins and friends at my school in Baghdad, but also feeling excited about moving closer to our roots. This made the possibility of visiting the different villages my siblings and I were born and lived in much higher. My parents attempted to make the move easy on us and calm us down by choosing to move by train to Mosul. The excitement over taking the train for the first time in our lives helped us to forget about the sadness of leaving our friends in school, our neighbors, cousins and all the memories we had in living in Baghdad for many years. My parents rented a house in the old part of the city, called Maydan, which was on the east side of the Tigris River. Some of the houses were built near the river; we used to see people go fishing in the early morning on our way to school.

Maydan is about four hundred years old and was originally built during the Ottoman Empire. The old-style architecture was characterized by adjoining houses by a shared wall from one or both sides of the neighbor’s house. It might seem that there was little privacy in living in this type of structure but the wall between neighbors was very high which provided the privacy needed for each family. In the neighborhood we lived in, we had the greatest population diversity imaginable. People came from different religions, spoke different languages, and belonged to different sect groups, such as the Kurds, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Arabs. However, we used to live a relatively peaceful life in comparison with what is currently happening in the whole country under the name of democracy.

The Outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War – Part II

Category : English Posts , Short Story

The news constantly reported the Iraqi military victories and the number of the dead soldiers and prisoners of the Iranian army. The policy of the press was to cover up the defeats and the losses of the Iraqi army. However, the government could not fool the Iraqi people for long. For several years, there were massive casualties to soldiers and civilians in both countries and destruction to the military equipment and infrastructure. Many women lost a son or two, or even had been widowed at a young age. I personally lost several cousins to that war. We were, as children, surrounded by terror, grief, and confusion, which certainly damaged our childhood. That environment forced us to change rapidly from innocent children who were supposed to care mostly about playing and having fun to a confused version of childhood, we were lost between two worlds – the world of childhood and the world of adulthood.

My dad worked two jobs as a teacher. He worked mornings at the elementary school and evenings at a literacy school for both men and women. The education system in Iraq was very strong. President Saddam Hussein ordered that the illiteracy rate in Iraq be eradicated. Anybody who disagreed with his plan to eliminate illiteracy could lose their jobs. At the very least, they would not advance or be promoted, even if they were the most qualified candidate.

My dad used to travel a long distance to get to his work at the literacy school. These types of schools were not located in the center of Baghdad, but in remote areas which lacked public transportation. That alone was a very time consuming and exhausting daily process for him. In addition, my dad was required to participate in military training on using weapons. In case of a national emergency, he and his colleagues would be expected to join the war effort against Iran.

It was not easy for my mother to take responsibility for the whole family, with my father gone such long hours. Sometimes my dad would join us for lunch in between his two jobs. We would gather around him and want to talk and play with him. My siblings and I did not like it when he would get ready to leave. He would tolerate us asking why he had to leave. However, he would feel aggravated whenever we asked him why he had to wear the army uniform. We begged my dad to stay longer with us. He would smile and promise to come back soon. But that did not satisfy us unless he would promise us he would bring cookies with him.

The psychological effect of the war on us as children was more than we could comprehend at that early age. Yes, we still used to get together with our cousins and neighbors to play. Nevertheless, most of the time we would go to one of our unoccupied rooms, to be alone to play. We pretended that we were singing in a choir. The songs we used to sing mostly were the patriotic songs. I remember us shedding tears while we were singing. How would a child be able to pretend being sad the sadness to the point of crying? I believe that was our only way to express all these suppressed feelings of anxiety, fear, and instability we experienced under the war.

The Outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War – Part I

Category : English Posts , Short Story

My parent’s happiness in having their first boy was troubled and interrupted with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in the beginning of 1980. Their anxiety over providing a safe environment and the necessary financial support for six children was increasing. My parents’ savings were decreased little by little because the living expenses in Baghdad were much higher in comparison to living in a small village in northern Iraq. For many years, my dad’s salary was plenty not only to cover all of our needs, but we also had the luxury of traveling for vacation during the summer months throughout his early years of working as a teacher. Gradually, that lifestyle began to shrink as the years went by.

My parents and the majority of other people managed financially was by sending their children to public schools which was paid for by the government. In addition, for many years most of the elementary schools would distribute breakfast to students and teachers alike at no charge. Great emphasis was placed on the importance of a strong Iraqi educational system, in the sixties, seventies, eighties and the early nineties. Families from all over the Arab world sent their children to study at the Iraqi colleges, especially to the universities of Baghdad and Mosul, which is the second largest city in Iraq.

I remember waking up in the early hours and feeling excited about going to school with my younger sister, walking with my dad and holding his hand. We were students at the elementary school where my dad taught. That put extra pressure on me to behave in a way that brought pride and honor to my dad. Every time before we went to our class, he would say, “Girls you better listen to your teacher and don’t make trouble.” I used to pay extra attention to my teacher’s instructions and always completed my homework assignment on time. One reason was to please my dad and hear him say, “Well done,” or “good job.” That meant the whole world to me, even though my understanding of the whole world was yet so simple and limited.
My younger sister and I loved the school, and we were treated nicely, not just because we were good students, but because we were teacher Luke’s daughters. He was well known and respected by all the other teachers and students. Most of my memories as a child were peaceful, except when the war with Iran began. Hearing the warning siren was terrifying for us as children especially when we were away from home. Most children at the school would cry and want to be with their parents. Some of them would wet their pants because of their fear, but in our case, we would feel so much relief when my dad would show up and tell us, “Don’t be afraid, it’s going to be alright.”

The city of Baghdad, where we lived at that time, was far from the battlefield and we were fairly safe, mainly in the beginning of the war. However, as children we could not distinguish between more dangerous and less dangerous areas of fighting. We knew something terrible was about to take place. Most of what we heard from the television or the radio was related to the war update. The television was constantly playing patriotic songs. The adults talked about the war all the time. They would express their agony and anxiety over the future of our country and our way of life. We could sense their fear when they talked about the war and we even sensed their anxiety more when they tried to hide their thoughts and feeling.

The Coming Messiah – Part II

Category : English Posts , Short Story

My parents wanted to have the biggest party ever to celebrate my brother’s birth. Why not? Is not that what they were praying and hoping for through many years? They were no longer considered to be the abnormal family. The son they had now had changed their status to a “normal family”. After all, he is the one who will carry on the family name. As this little child would grow, he would become more familiar, not just with his privileges, but also his responsibilities as a first-born son. Let us not get distracted and worried about the future of this little boy. Let us first celebrate his birth which brought hundreds of people to the party that evening. In reality, even my parents told me the number of guests attending did not exceed a hundred people, but I did not want to change the number in my recollection of this event, because, for my understanding as a child, hundreds was any number larger than ten. At least it felt this way to me at that time.

All of my cousins, relatives and friends were invited to join us to celebrate my brother’s birth. There were many people attending that day. AS children, Most of them we did not know. In fact, our guests knew that my dad, teacher Luke, had a bunch of girls, but finally God had granted him a boy who would carry on his father’s name. At the celebration, some people were dancing. Children were playing, and men were playing games and having fun. The women were cooking and preparing all kinds of delicious foods. My four sisters and I were allowed to eat and do whatever we liked since we had not had this kind of gathering for many years. Everyone was super happy. All the men and women were dancing the traditional Chaldean dance, with loud music playing.

Months and years went by while this little boy grew. We needed to take care of him and protect him, so when he grew up he would provide for us what we could not provide for ourselves. Not because we were incapable, but simply because we were girls. That in itself should communicate a lot about our culture and the way we were raised. We loved this boy so much, we wanted to be around him continually. We would dress him up in our dresses and we sometimes put makeup on him. My mother would laugh at the way we were entertaining and interacting with my brother. However, she would rebuke us for not behaving. It was her fear of raising a spoiled child. She wanted him to be a type of child who would be prepared for the task, which was assigned to him as an older son.

Culturally speaking, when someone has a son, people refer to the parents as the father or the mother of their oldest son. Therefore, my dad was called Abu Ammar and my mother was called Oum Ammar, which refer to the father and the mother of Ammar. Ammar is my brother’s name. For almost ten years prior to my brother’s birth, my parents were called by the name of my oldest sister. That kind of privilege was taken from my oldest sister without even having a discussion with her about it. I remember hearing some neighbors talking to my parents about their decision to automatically change their name. They were saying that is not fair. For our neighbors it did not make any sense to be called by my brother’s name, just because he is a boy. Honoring the tradition was more important than evaluating the ramifications of these traditions than to see which could have negative consequences.

My parents were super thrilled about having a son. However, they got anxious too. They felt they needed to have another son to help with their family responsibility. Here they were again putting themselves under the same kind of stress they had experienced for many years, while they were waiting for their first baby boy to be born.

The complete number of children my parents had was nine living children not counting the two babies who died at an early age and the one baby my mom miscarried. What are the genders of the three children who would be joining this family and thus make my parents feel satisfied with what God has blessed them with? That is what we will find out through this journey.

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