Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Remembering Life

One of the events that was a part of my life before I started this blog was a part-time job I had as an English tutor in the commercial section of the American embassy in Baghdad (late 2004). That was an interesting experience in itself, with me heading to work every day not telling my relatives where I really worked, or what I really did; and me heading out of the Green Zone every day waiting for a car to notice me and hunt me down. I came from America, and I didn't feel like I was being a traitor doing this work. And the one cousin whom I felt close enough to to tell about this job position bashed me left and right for taking on this job. We did come to a conclusion at the end that we come from different cultures and have different feelings on all things America.

One of my Iraqi students was a young man named Firas. He had switched over to this job from another job for which he had been targeted and almost assassinated by gunmen outside his home. Only by the grace of God was he able to escape with a bullet shot to his (neck? shoulder?). He survived, but knew it was an off-chance. And he was thankful.

I left Baghdad and the tutoring job, with Firas being engaged and considering applying for his TOEFLs to study abroad. I later found out that he made it to the Sorbonne for his PhD (don't know in what field). But I also found out that his family received a special visa to travel to the States. And his mom found her death, not in bloody Baghdad but in bloody NY (see earlier post).

I posted about this tragic story earlier, but my near , near call with death in a recent car accident reminded me of Firas's story. It reminds me that death will come to you only where it is proscribed upon you, and only at the time it is prescribed for you. I hope i'm brave at that time, and ready for it. It also reminded me of the life of the great general in Islamic history, Khalid ibn al Walid, who died on his death bed with a thousand wounds, but none a mortal wound; he died a regular man's death. Fight a thousand battles, face a thousand enemies, take a thousand courageous stands, life and death will come to you only when it is time.


I like to record serious events in my life that had an impact on me, even for a few seconds, just to be a constant, written reminder of how exactly I was feeling when it first happened-so I will not forget. Because humans are forgetful, even when death stares them in the face, and they see it, and it strips them of all their power; once it's passed, they forget.

Yesterday was the strongest near- death experience I've had; not the first one, but the scariest, the one that most left me weak to my bones, strained in my neck, unable to move.

I was visiting a friend in Germantown MD to console her on her mother in law's loss. Driving back home with two of my sisters, we found ourselves lost for a bit and following a longer route home. We were laughing and talking and having a good time togeher. At Democracy Blvd, off of 270 South, I noticed that the dark highway was unusually empty, and I was relieved. I hate driving at night on busy, unfamiliar roads, with night lights blinding me, and me not knowing if I'm changing lanes into an empty lane or whether the car is actually two lanes over.

Past that Democracy Blvd exit, I was stuck behind a slower moving truck, perhaps going at 50 mph. I finally broke free and switched over to the left lane, pressing on the gas and keeping a bit of a distance from the truck on my right, and inching a bit closer to the concrete highway median to my left. I noticed a car behind me, and some lights in front of me. Smiling, my mind made me understand that these lights were from the cars driving down the other side of the highway. It was dark, but there were two white headlights lighting my road.

And then my mind realized that my sister Maryam was moaning, 'Fatima, watch out.'

It clicked.

Those two headlights were heading straight down the dark highway towards me. I was going 70, it was going fast, steady, straight down that highway. I had just passed the truck to my right, but I had no other choice. I violently pulled my steering wheel to the right, then quickly back to the left to keep out of the truck's direct path. I had no idea what was happening around me, but my SUV swerved right and left and right and left till we had passed danger.

I was spent. I could not believe what had just happened. The truck behind me slowed down to 10 mph, the car behind me too. That's all i saw in the rearview mirror. I was shaken. I couldn't press the gas, i couldn't keep my hands steady. Slowly, those two cars overtook me and long passed me. But I stayed at my 30 mph on the highway speed. My voice shook as I talked to my sisters. We couldn't believe what had just happenend. We hashed and rehashed what had just happened. I tried to steady my shaking voice; I thought I was the only one so scared. Had to toughen up.

We called 911 and they switched us over to the police dispatch. He informed us that they had gotten 3 other calls on the same car. Good. But they hadn't yet done anything to stop him. What was he? How the hell did he get on the closed highway? What was he trying to do? Suicide? An automotive version of Russian roulette? Gang or fraternity initiation? Probably not drunk. He was heading straight down that lane. No swerving left or right. Steady.

By the time I got home to my parents, I thanked God that it wasn't three deaths at once. All I could think of was that a head on collision like that would have flipped my car far, far ahead and killed us all, starting with my kid sister in the back seat with no seat belt. All I could think of was, Allah Lateefun bi'ibadih. He saved me from a violent, ugly death. And He truly saved me. He guarded me from in front of me, from the right of me, from the left of me, from behind me. I swerved from that car's way, but I swerved right into another vehicle's path. I was going for the lesser of the two evils, for a seriously scratched up car, but God had better plans. He protected me, He gave me another chance to thank Him, to realize His Mercy, His Gentleness, His power.

alhamduilllah rabbil 3alameen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Love...

I love...
Just wanted to announce that to the world before I sign out for the night.
Peace be with you always.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Yesterday was one of our happier moments in the Iraq-USA saga. I blogged about my cousin in law Bilal's murder more than two years ago, and subsequently about his brother A's forced migration out of the country. He's been in the US for two years now, seeking and receiving political asylum. And yesterday, for the first time in two long years, he was reunited with his young family, his wife and 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son who he left as a newborn.

It was wonderful to see them together again, and reminded me of what a tough life this young woman had gone through in the short 22 years of her life. Being a refugee is never an easy thing, even when its to the 'greatest country on earth.' I pray her and her family adjust themselves to this new life, this new language, these new customs and the never ending homesickness for one's family and country.

Life Happens Wherever We Are

Life happens wherever a person lives, at any time, and in all circumstances.

I think I have to write more about my tutoring work when I lived in Baghdad, but till then, here's another sad story i recently learned about the second of my four students (2 out of 4!).

F was my youngest student, a cool Iraqi youth in his mid-twenties who'd learned English during his travels with his family. He had just gotten engaged when I knew him, and had just gone through a tough, tough bit in life, where he'd faced attempted execution by the forces to be and escaped alive with a bullet wound through the neck. While driving to work, he found his car being followed by men who blocked him off, drove up to him and shot at him. He maintained his composure and drove away from his assailants, and alhamdulillah, survived, intact.

I got to know him after this bit in his life, where he was forced to switch jobs b/c of the situation. He was quiet, talked to me about what had happened on the passing. Perhaps he thought I already knew about it, perhaps he thought the entire world must've known what happened to him that day. I was shocked out of my mind, he never even told me where the bullet wound had been, but I learned that later, from my husband, just a few weeks ago when I found out the rest of F's story.

While I was tutoring Firas, he had been interested in taking the TOEFL's and applying for graduate studies elsewhere. That's when I left him.

Four years later, my husband met one of his old colleagues who told him the story of the kid who escaped death in Baghdad, made it to the Sorbonne for his PhD studies and was able to get his family out of Baghdad and into the US on a special visa.

And that's where the rest of the sadness continues. F's mom left her homeland with all its dangers along with the rest of F's family, only to face her own violent death in good ole' New York. Apparently she was at a clinic when a crazy gunman walked in and started shooting. She was one of the casualties. Allah yirhamha and may He give patience to poor F and his mourning family. She came here looking for a better life, but couldn't escape one of America's saddest realities, unexplainable violence.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding Out Two Years Later

Its been forever, and I hate coming on just to post sadness, but I guess grief is what moves us.

When I lived in Baghdad, I worked for a few months as an English language tutor for Iraqis who worked in the American embassy. (My work there and my Iraqi families reactions is a whole other post).

One of my four students was a big man named Dhahir. He was my most formal student, a man with much promise. He loved speaking English in eloquent, flairy ways, and I tried to get him to be more down to earth, more casual. But this was his way. And he was an ambitious man.

After I left my job, my husband was looking to hire Iraqis with a strong background in what Dhahir was good at. I told him about the opportunity and he went to interview at my husband's office. We exchanged emails a few times afterwards and on occasions, and he was always his friendly self.

A few years ago, I emailed him and did not hear back from him. I blamed it on being out of touch and not having his new email address.

And then Yahoo mail changed and added its in-mail chat feature. And I found Warkaa, one of my old students and chatted with her. Dhahir had been killed two years ago. I couldn't believe it. That's why my emails had gone unanswered. Ahhhh, the agony his young wife and daughter must still be going through.
Warkaa told me he had quit his job with them and gone on to form his own business, contracting with the Americans. In the year 2007, the same year Bilal was killed, and perhaps Baghdad's worst year, Dhahir was killed by similiar evil hands. Allah yirhamak ya Dhahir. Perhaps I found out two years later so that you could have a new set of people praying for you after others may have forgotten.
I still can't believe I'm writing about one of my own student's deaths. O Baghdad, may your tears and blood be stilled.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes Piece on Palestine/Israel

This is the most amazing piece I have seen on a mainstream American media about the reality of the situation in Palestine/Israel. It's definitely a must-see.

Please watch it today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Elections are Close

And the pathetic intimidation begins. Iraq is getting ready for provincial elections, and there is still a small group out there that thinks they can keep people from joining in the government based on some notion that its a false government, a toy of the occupation.
A friend of ours is running for a the Baghdad provincial council (is that what it's called?) for the IIP (sunni Islamic Iraqi Party). She's a female in her fifties, with grown children. Today, a car drove by her house and shot at the only female in sight, the intended assassinee's sister in law. She was killed in this cowardly act of violence against a woman, for no reason but that she was thought to be running for a government seat.
These crazies need to wake up and stop their foolish game of scare tactics, death and fear mongering. They need to realize that God is not on their side, He is not on the side of violence, of death, of killing, of orphaning, of widowing, of foolishness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My View of the Inauguration

I was really lucky to make it to Obama's inauguration on the national mall, though I didn't get to see him in person. The experience of being out there with at least 1 million fellow human beings was in itself a grand event. Celebrating Obama's inauguration was another. I tried to capture some of the excitement of the day with my camera, tried to capture some of the feeling of multitudes of humans out there at one time, in one place.

More on what I thought of the inauguration to follow in another post, inshaAllah.

I was standing near the Monument, near a hill, and I think this picture shows the crowds the best.


I got to watch the inauguration on a large screen jumbo-tron, out in freezing weather, but it was worth it. This was right after "President-Elect" became "President" Obama. The crowd went wild. Released all their tension from the previous years. I didn't realize that so many other ppl felt that way till I heard Bush, Cheney and everyone related to them get boo-ed like crazy every time they came on screen.

Trying to get home after the event was a study in crowd control. Seriously. 100,000 strong stuck in unmoving human traffic. This man is directing traffic from atop the porta potties. At least attempting to.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank You Bush (or not)

I was thinking a few days before Bush's last day, seriously thinking about whether in twenty years, Iraqis will be grateful for what he and Cheney have done to their country. Because right now, all I can see is the blood of many, and its so hard to see through Bilal's blood, through A and A and U's kidnapping, through my distance from my husband, the greatness that should have come from overthrowing a tyrant.

I still don't know how I feel about it.

I remember when Saddam was first thrown out, people were hurt, but it had not yet reached home for us and our family. The most tangible thing we saw from it was that Aunt N's husband was finally able to come home from exile, where 7 years earlier he had fled Iraq in disguise and on foot through the mountains, because of Saddam's promise to hang him for a 'transgression' he had not committed. He was finally able to come home to his children who were now men and women, and to his wife who he had left years ago. He was finally able to leave the tough, difficult life of a refugee.
So we were thankful, albeit sad that a country had to be thrown into war and death for this to happen.

And then, Baghdad became unbearable, but it was still worth it. Sahar's husband was kidnapped but he returned. Uncle S was kidnapped, but he returned. All with God's will, and we were so thankful.

And Baghdad grew worse.

We could not leave our homes after five, we could not visit our grandmother in Adhamiya because of the danger of travelling there, we could hardly visit any family members who did not live on our street or in our immediate community. Eid celebrations were confined to a small alley way in Baghdad, children's play was confined to homes, and fathers slept at night with guns besides their heads.

And then the boys were taken. Three young men, living in the house right in front of us, our relatives through Aunt N's husband, were kidnapped. And they did not return. Nor their bodies. Only promises and hopes that they might still be out there, two and a half years later. Their children born after their kidnapping left to grow up wondering why other children had fathers and they did not.

And our other neighbor, of a different sect, was killed in his shop. And our uncle in law's brother was killed in our neighborhood.

And then, Bilal was taken. And killed. And his body was recovered and buried by his Babby, the first one to join his grandfather, and be his companion after death.

And then, Bush's war did not seem to make it anymore. It did not seem to weigh more heavily than these young men's death. It did not seem to make up for all this blood spilt, all these tears shed, all this heartbreak and agony and permanent scarring of our young children. My heart still cries when I think of Bilal and the others, how can I imagine Aunt N's tears and heart break?

And yet, I still do wonder if Iraq will be on track in 25 years, and people will look back on these days and say they were the individual sacrifices needed to free 18 million men and women from the prison Saddam had them in. I wonder, but I can not say that I have seen that day yet, nor felt it with my heart. Perhaps one day, we will thank you Bush for what you did.

But that day is not today.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


What's happening in Gaza is a travesty. I haven't had time to blog in so long, but Gaza is on our minds. We've held a couple of Nights of Prayer for Gaza in our area and lots of rallies. Today is The Big One, in Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

May God bring peace and justice to every land.
May Palestinians have their freedom and their land.
May they feel secure in their own homes.
May their injured find medicine and electricity to get better.
And may injustice fall in every form.