So … one week post-Middle-East-Iraqi-refugee experience. I feel lost … a bit like a refugee myself. A bit.
Trying to wrap my brain around the experience is not easy. New York looks different. My friends seem new. All I have seems shocking. And after only three short weeks! I’m trying to spend each day growing back into my skin without losing the skin I have acquired from the Iraqis we met. I don’t want to lose what I experienced in their skin. This urban refugee crisis screams for attention, although the refugees are not screaming. They are quietly waiting … for something to change … six years later…
The refugees, social workers and children swirl around my head. I keep thinking about Peter and his four beautiful children, and his brother who was shot and killed in the passenger seat right next to him. And I think about the once-famous boxer and artist who came from a family of artists, now scattered all over the world. I think about his need to tell his story on his terms, the way he wants it heard –– the threatening letters, the dismembered bodies, his inability to create anything artistic anymore, the disclosure that he feels like a bat, only coming out at night. I think about the woman whose husband abandoned her and her daughter in Damascus and who wouldn’t let us take her picture, not because of fear of persecution, but because she no longer feels beautiful. I think about the poet we met, who also was a victim of intense torture, and who chose to share a love poem with us. A love poem.
I think about the artists displaced in Damascus because art is dead in Baghdad. And I think about the hopeful Iraqi teens and young adults who are brave enough to believe in a future with education, a future of college in America. And I think about the children, always the children –– who look up at me with empty, confused eyes that have seen what children should never see.
This is what I think about now that I am back. These people who did nothing wrong but survive and flee — becoming refugees of our choice, OUR country. This is the face of our war in Iraq. This is the fallout. I feel the weight of responsibility to tell their stories as a call to action. After all, this is our mess to clean up.