Four Years in Four Days – Iraq – Day Four

Day Four

On my last morning in Iraq, I eat breakfast with all of the Women for Women International staff at the Baghdad office. Each one of them is a hero by their own merit.

There is George, a young man who speaks fluent English and wishes desperately to leave the country. “I am afraid of being called by my name when I am walking the streets, lest I get killed because my name is George. I ask my friends to call me Amjad or something like that. It is too scary to be identified with a name that could be a foreigner.”

There is Samira, an Iranian woman who escaped Iran during the revolution, fell in love with an Iraqi man and lived her married life with him in Jordan. When her husband went back to Iraq after the invasion in the hope they may have a better life there, she followed him with their two teenage boys who were born in Jordan and grew up with a Jordanian accent. Two months after they arrived in Iraq, Samira’s husband died. Now she and her children have no place to call home as Iranian law states that an Iranian woman married to a non-Iranian man may not pass on her citizenship to her children. And since her kids have grown up in Jordan their whole lives they don’t fit into Iraqi culture either.

“My children and I are afraid to walk the streets, to talk, to have friends. We are strangers in a country that none of us belong to but can’t leave.”

As I hear Samira’s story and every part of me wants to reach out and help, I wonder how to explain to people in America the situation in which Samira finds herself. We are all seen as one outside of our region—looking the same, behaving the same and believing the same. How can I explain that we look different, that there isn’t such a thing as one Islamic culture, that we can love or hate each other and sometimes we have the both feelings at the same time. How can I explain Samira’s story, or George’s story, outside the confines of our office in Baghdad?

As we wrap up our breakfast, my colleague Nouri tells me that he just got an email about the earthquake in Rwanda and DR Congo. “Don’t worry Zainab. All the staff are OK except for one who had to go to the hospital.” Everyone else is now worried about their colleagues in DR Congo and Rwanda. My heart drops as I hear the news. I pray every day for the staff safety in every country we work in. The work comes with responsibility and having our staff safe is one of the biggest responsibilities I feel towards them.

When it was time for me to go to the airport, I kissed everyone goodbye. I don’t know when I will be able to go back to Iraq. I know I think of them all as heroes—not only for their dedication to helping the women who are the most vulnerable and marginalized but also for staying in the country.

As I sat in the airport in Baghdad about to leave Iraq, there is sadness, fear, love and anger every day coming at you in every single direction. There is gratitude, humiliation, theft, honesty, incredible hate, and incredible love all at the same time. Which one is Iraq? Which one is the full picture? I do not know.

I started talking to a man about the “death triangle”—the section of road our staff drive regularly between Baghdad and Karbala, where you could be killed just for being Sunni or Shi’ah, depending on which part of the road you were on. He told me he bribed a government official so he could get another citizenship card with a common Sunni name. This way, he would have two forms of identifications: one with a Sunni name and one with a Shi’ah name and he would present it as appropriate depending on the part of the street. When I asked him how easy it was to bribe someone to get a new ID, he answered by saying “Oh, but God had blessed us with plenty of corruption in this country. You can get anything you want my dear.”

It has been five years since the American invasion of Iraq and while the mistakes made there continue to accumulate still no one has stopped to listen to what this critical mass of the population, women, have to say about solving the problems of Iraq. As I traveled the country it became clear that women know exactly what they want and what they need to take care of their families and communities. It is time to hear what the women have to say and have the humility to stop pretending that we know all the answers.


The plane is called and I get up to leave with a sense of sadness at the loss of a country at a destruction of a nation and its people. I have no words to console me except the phrase In Sha’a Allah (God Willing). In Sha’a Allah I live to see the day where
Iraq is back on its feet and is once again a prosperous country that can be filled with hope to fulfill its potential. In Sha’a Allah I can do something to help it no matter how little it may be. In Sha’a Allah there will be peace in my homeland and the home I now have in America soon. In Sha’a Allah very soon.

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9 Comments

Filed under Iraq, Zainab's Trip to Iraq

9 responses to “Four Years in Four Days – Iraq – Day Four

  1. Kathy Drue

    Thank you, Zainab, for all that you and the Women for Women International staff are doing in Iraq, Rwanda and other troubled places around this earth. It is so sad (and simultaneously hopeful) to read the intimate stories of what is happening in some of these countries. It brings it home for all of us, so that we might feel more compassion and a desire to help in some small way. Many of us here in the U.S. are perhaps too sheltered from the rawness of these stories, and the reality of the lives of so many. Please keep blogging! Honoring your commitment, Kathy

  2. Irtiqa

    What should I say? I lived & still living in this, Iraq is coming from stage to another like a patient & the doctors doesn’t know the causes of the illness so it will be like experiment field for different types & ways of healing, and this is process must take its time, long or short it must be there, as the sick must take its time in the body these events are the same with Iraq, we need a good doctor to find the illness (which is so clear) & most important than that is to know how to deal with the illness and the body. Thanks

  3. Cheryl Eschwege

    You’re article brings me to tears Zainab. I treasure the letters I used to get from my three Iraqi sisters. I had the privilege of sponsoring them four years ago. I still keep a small florist card in my bible that was written to me from Zena. Sadly, the ink is fading on the front, but the translation I wrote on the back still stays permanently in my heart. Here are her words:

    “If the sun becomes close to sunset, and you are remembering the near and far away persons, then give me part of your remembrance. Your sister, Zena”

    My heart broke when our correspondence had to end because the dangerous situation in Iraq. I couldn’t believe how quickly I fell in love with each of them. Beautiful drawings, poetry, and sincere words of concern and gratitude stay with me all these years later.

    You’re notes from the field are my only connection now. In Sha’a Allah, you will get to see Iraq bloom again and my sisters and I will reunite. I will keep you all in my remembrances at sunset. Love, Cheryl

  4. Dear Zainab,
    I want to pass something hopeful on to you. I took the country report you sent me on Iraq to my neighbor who is from Iran. Knowing she has a similar concern for her homeland, I asked what else I could do, I showed her the photographs and began to cry. I said, things are going backward, not forward. She said, “You have a big heart, Kimberley. God will work with you, God will bless you for the love you feel for others and will help you find a way. God always helps those who want to do good for others.” So, I am sending a message from an Iranian woman, through an American woman, to an Iraqi woman. Keep your courage, you are doing more good than you can see. Iraq has a beautiful future, I picture it in my mind everytime I receive an email or letter from you, I picture my sponsored-sister there, living in peace and joy, I see 6,000 years of rich history, the cradle of civilazation, being visited by people from all over the world in awe of the beauty and history, I see people becoming familiar with the rich traditions of your first country and adopting an attitude of acceptance, trust and understanding. We must first believe before we can see. Thank you for your courage and heart, your work inspires me and allows me to do something other than feel powerless as I see women and children suffering because of war. I loved the video on Kosovo, my first sister was from there, that was great to see!

  5. Janet

    I, too, want to thank you for all you and your staff have done for the women of war. You are all my heroes. While reading 4 Years in 4 days, I remembered parts of your book, Living Between 2 Worlds, which I read a couple of years ago. Such a sad, dangerous, unbelievable situation for so many. My current WforW sister is in Iraq so I am always eager to read information from WforW on Iraq. For several years, I sponsored women in Kosova so I am also interested in their situation. Thank you for this blog; keep the stories coming.

  6. Cindy Monroe

    Thank you Zainab for your notes. I passed them on to several friends so that we all can understand more fully the world of Iraq before and after. Our lives in the US are so sheltered from the devastation this occupation has caused. Hopefully through the strength of brave people such as yourself our country can become more compassionate, less ignorant, accountable and ultimately a peaceful member of the world community.

  7. Dear Zainab,
    I am an Iranian and I admire and appreciate your hard work helping women across the globe.
    In January 2008 I learned about Women for Women International Organization when a group of women had decided to organize a fund raising event in Del Mar, California. We called our event The Taste of Humanity which took place on May 22nd in Del Mar Powerhouse. It was very successful and we did raise over $24,000. I was the speaker of the event. Here is the link to my speech on youtube which says a lot about my passion for your organization.

    Thank you very much for all your effort. You are an ANGEL for many women around the world.

  8. Dear Zainab,
    I supporting women that make a difference for other women. Let me know when you’d like me to blog about you in Japanese and translate your books into Japanese. I am all in.

    Yuki Togawa
    Founder of Zoom Now

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