I am sitting on Suzi’s couch. “Tea or coffee?” she says to me, heading into the kitchen.
“Oh anything,” I say.
“I don’t have anything—I’m sorry,” she says. “Only tea or coffee.”
I suppress a smile. Tea it is, then.
We squish on the couch—like most refugees, their furniture is other people’s cast-offs, and couches are often missing springs or have broken frames. We tend to fall towards each other, but I’ve learned over my years in the Arab world that my comfort space is much larger than theirs. I’ve learned to relax, ignore their hand on my knee or their elbow in my side. And really, once you get used to it, it’s a nicer way to be.
Suzi spends the morning showing me pictures of Iraq on her computer—former Iraq, she specifies, not current. She shows me ancient monuments, a modern city with streams of traffic, a waterfall in either the north or south of the country (she gets directions mixed up). We try to find her old house on google earth but we can’t get it to work. “And now…” she pauses, lost for words. “Terrible?” I offer. She nods. “Every day I cry,” she says. She hasn’t seen her family in 5 years; they’ve never met her youngest.
This is what I’ve been noticing a lot lately, as the clouds lift and the sun shines in Oregon—the terrible unrelenting pain my Iraqi friends carry. I’d noticed manifestations already, in the countless trips to the clinic, for unspecified aches and pains. Beka bled for a year, she told me. Eve gets back aches. When they came for lasagna, while her husband and Donn were off discussing art and photography, it all came spilling out—stories of gunfire strafing her house, of death threats specifically against her because she wouldn’t allow a militia access to her roof so they could shoot her neighbours in the street. Her husband having to argue for her life, while she was frantic about whether or not he would return. They all carry such a burden of memories with them. I want to help them lay that down, but there’s not much I can do. I listen as they shape their mouths around unfamiliar syllables, struggle to find words, occasionally lapse into their own language out of frustration.
I read this article recently and found myself nodding in recognition.
“It is estimated that some 4.5 million refugees have been uprooted from their homes since the Iraq conflict began in 2003 and escalated in 2006… approximately half of whom are children and adolescents. In many cases, they are neither able to go back, nor forward with their lives, as experiences of torture, kidnapping, severe violence, and grief continue to fill their lives.
The lack of psychosocial support means that Iraqi refugee families are left unaided to cope with the trauma they have faced in Iraq…Insecurity and hopelessness due to an uncertain future all have a significant impact upon the family unit, which in turn affects the health and well-being of the younger generations of Iraqi refugees.”
The article was focused specifically on the diaspora in Syria and Jordan (and can you imagine fleeing war in Iraq and being in Syria now?) but I found it very applicable to my friends here.