Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sometimes, irony is evil

On Sunday, two massive bomb attacks killed 170 people in Bagdhad and wounded hundreds of others. Those are hard numbers to comprehend, let alone think of on an individual-by-individual basis. What does that look like? Who were those people? It was so far away, does it matter?

In the United States, war tends not to meet us on a personal level at all unless it is one of our own who dies--specifically, a soldier. In those cases, we get the full press treatment all the way from family reaction to funeral.

Well, yesterday, one of my own met the war head on and did not survive. You won’t read about it in the news and you certainly won’t hear the story singled out on television. That doesn’t make this loss any less significant. The war has a face and it is the face of Hadiya Ali.

Hadiya came here with her family in March, 2007. She was part of my life on a daily basis for almost a year until she was ready to enroll in school. She also took a free English class on Saturday mornings, a class that had been set up for refugee women living in on the east side of town.

Her participation in both classes is what brought her to be one of the first four women who became the core of the refugee women’s empowerment group. Hadiya was our champion. She not only learned the concepts faster than the others, she taught newly arrived women why it was good for them to be part of the group. She cried when she had her first speaking engagement, and then she asked me to help her write about the experience.

Hadiya was a one-woman public relations machine for women’s empowerment, and she was never subtle about it. She wanted everyone to know about the work we were doing, even after she left us to speak on behalf of Iraqi women and refugee causes.

Hadiya made friends everywhere she went. She met the Mayor and the Governor; she did two public radio interviews and she was the subject of at least two newspaper articles. She knew almost everyone it seemed, as well as a hundred more beyond that. She loved Barack Obama, books (and she read them in English), education, empowerment for women, and being as social as possible. She cooked many excellent meals for Frank because she felt sorry for him, knowing that I was too busy to cook for him myself.

Hadiya used to love to sit and talk. We would talk for hours sometimes. She knew when I was hiding something, and she gave me a hard time about a lot of things. Sometimes she was a major manipulative pain in the ass and when that was true, we didn’t get along at all; of course, it was probably just because we were both hard-headed and opinionated.

Hadiya loved to travel, and her sons made it possible for her to go overseas to visit her other family members. On this trip, she said she would go to Germany and then to Jordan. She stayed far longer than she had said she would, and many of us were wondering if she was planning to come home at all.

Unbeknownst to her family, Hadiya sneaked into Iraq late last week. She was so close and the temptation was too great to ignore. She had some unfinished emotional business she needed to take care of. Hadiya’s elderly father was murdered while Hadiya and her family were in exile in Jordan. The crime was unrelated to the war and it remained a cold case. Hadiya never had closure—she had no way to say goodbye to her father, and she was always pained that he didn’t have a proper funeral. As his only child, she felt his loss keenly. She often spoke of the day she could return to Iraq to visit her father’s grave and to say goodbye properly.

When Hadiya called her husband to say she was with relatives in Baghdad, he was furious. He told her to get out of the country immediately. Who knows what Hadiya was thinking. Perhaps she thought the conflict had eased to the point that it really was safe enough to visit. Apparently, it wasn’t.

Ironically, Hadiya was at the travel agent’s office making arrangements to return to the U.S. when the bombings occurred. Her relatives who survived the blast called her husband, Majeed, to tell him that his wife had been killed.

Hadiya was outgoing, creative, tenacious, stubborn, witty, amazing, and full of personality—probably enough for several people. She had many friends and many fans. It was easy to be impressed with Hadiya.

All who knew her and who have heard the news are mourning. Frankly, most are heartbroken. We work with refugees and we understand more than most what the true cost of war really is. We know why refugees aren't supposed to go home during an active conflict, and we know that for many, never going home again is the deepest wound of all.

Hadiya had said numerous times that when she died, she wished to be buried in her homeland, a country she loved and missed deeply. Unintentionally, she has truly gone home to stay.

Hadiya was buried in Baghdad yesterday, in a grave alongside her father’s.

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