I’ve never been pregnant so I don’t know what it feels like to wait and prepare for the arrival of a baby. I imagine it must be a wonderful time, full of anticipation, anxiety, joy and the heavy knowledge that you are about to do something life-changing. While certainly not on the same level as bringing a person into the world, delivering the fruits of the Iraqi Voices Amplification Project to New York City and beyond has non-the-less brought a lot of sleepless nights.
For the last two years, I have been working to bring No Place Called Home into the world. The play, based on interviews with hundreds of Iraqi refugees across Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, is an unexpected love story. It tells the true story of an American woman and an Iraqi man, a story about one refugee and 4 million, a story that isn’t supposed to be a love story.
It’s also the fulfillment of a promise. A promise I made to the countless Iraqi refugees I’ve met over the last two years who asked me to tell people about their suffering, to try and help them move on with their lives, to get a new home, a new start and a chance at a real future.
The first time I ever meet an Iraqi was in Lebanon in 2008. My colleague Eduardo Vargas and I had been sent to observe the situation on the ground for Iraqis living in exile. In meeting after meeting, the plea that emerged over and over again was that the Iraqis were stuck in a holding pattern—unable to return, unable to get resettled and unable to put down roots in their host countries—they were languishing in urban cities out of sight (and mind) of the whole world.
After I returned home, I couldn’t get the faces of the people we’d met out of my mind. The young mother whose son had been kidnapped out of her front yard when she’d gone into the house to get him another glass of milk. He was returned three days later, after she paid $5,000 in ransom, but he had been beaten and taught to smoke—four years old. Or the mother of five children whose husband had been missing for months and she still wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive or what to tell the children.
Amid all the cups of tea, the tears and the story-telling, the question that hung heavy in the air was– “what can I expect for my children now?” With no options for legal residency or employment, limited access to education and no end in sight to their situation, the future that these mothers could offer their children was uncertain at best. And yet these women were certainly not giving up on their expectations for their children to have a normal life.
Perhaps the fact that No Place Called Home is ultimately a love story is not so unexpected after all. It was a love for all the people in this world regardless of race, religion, country or creed that motivated this project to begin with. It was a love of the arts and a belief in their power to change the world that motivated eight American artists to spend three weeks soaking in stories of survival, torture, perseverance, heartbreak and pride. And it is the Iraqis love for their children and their continued hopes for a bright future that makes this a story that simply must be told.
Photos by C. Eduardo Vargas, Amikaeyla Gaston and Alissa Everett