The next thing I remember is us with the Christian family in Sulaimani. I remember us walking in a crowded bazaar where the war felt less intense. Since we had no place to stay at in Sulaimani, we resorted to an abandoned school for a few days, then to an old church that was said to be housing lots of refugees and displaced people like us. The church’s annex was connected to the main building and contained many rooms that were full of refugees from different Iraqi cities, especially from the north and the middle parts of the country. People were not only Christians. In fact, many were Muslims or from other minorities and ethnic groups. According to what we had heard from people there, the church was also getting a small portion of ration food from a UN organization. Many other humanitarian organizations were also providing aid to the refugees on the Iraqi-Iranian borders, which were only a couple of hours from where we had been staying. The church provided the families with one meal per day, which consisted of: Two apples, two boiled eggs, and two loaves of bread for each family, regardless of the number of the family members. This small amount of food was just to keep people alive.
Despite the few memories I have about the time we spent in that church and the time we spent in Sulaimani, I still clearly remember how dark and gloomy the rooms of the church were. The rooms were square-shaped, without windows, and with depressing, dimmed lights. I think the fact that the war was in progress, and we had been away from home made everything look even darker than it was. It felt that there was no difference between days and nights. All I could see as a child was an endless dark tunnel with no light in the end. It felt like the sun was not going to ever rise again, and there was little difference between the light outside and the light inside those rooms—nothing but endless darkness. It was perhaps in such days we learn how to see so much and better in darkness.
One of the biggest surprises to us was to meet the same family we had met in the building that collapsed in Erbil (the Kurdish man who convinced us to leave that building before it was turned into debris and rubble). The father, I learned later, was a history professor. Both parents were professors and the daughters were undergraduate college students. They liked my mother and spent hours discussing literature, despite the time and the place, or perhaps because of them? I think in times of war and death, books become a means to remember and to forget the pain. At the end, they asked us and the Christian family to join them and go to the Iraqi-Iranian borders. They heard that there were many humanitarian organizations there providing better care for refugees and registering them to be resettled in Scandinavian countries. We joined them and took the trip to the Iraq-Iran border.
Once there, we found thousands of Iraqi families living in tents waiting fate. There were flags all over the place, each representing one of the humanitarian organizations involved. The humanitarian organization flags looked like multiple countries divided by tents next to each other. It was as though each organization was promoting itself by displaying its logo on each and every item they handed the refugees and displaced people. Human beings are so brainwashed with flags and logos that they do not seem to be able to function without them even under the most difficult and pathetic conditions.
During our stay there, the Kurdish family tried to convince my mother to join them and register with one of the organizations helping Iraqis to get resettled in Europe. The professor was overjoyed at hearing about this opportunity. He told us that we should go for it. My mother refused firmly and told him that she cannot possibly leave without knowing what had happened to my father. The professor argued (a thing that professors like to do even in warzones) that if my father was still alive, he can always follow us later. If he was not alive, there was no point putting our lives in such a risk with an uncertain future by going all the way back to Kirkuk. My mother insisted on her position and said that she was not going anywhere without my father.
Indeed, many people staying in that camp were resettled in Europe, but my mother decided that the only way to know my father’s fate was to return home for it is the only place for him to return looking for us, if he was still alive. This story was my first lesson about the meaning of love and how far one can go to reconnect with the ones they love. To me, apart from the sufferings and the ugliness of the war that surrounded us, my mother never lost sight of how much she loved my father, despite the difficulty of having to make such a hard decision. A pregnant woman refusing to save herself and her six children for the sake of the man she loves.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,
while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu