Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Abu Diah and family

I find myself sitting in an internet café trying to get down some thoughts on a beautiful Iraqi family i met last night, all the while trying to tune out Fifty Cent singing about niggers and whores and what he needs to be satisfied. It can be disconcerting in the Middle East. The things I find most depressing about American culture are readily available here and do little to encourage understanding, co-existence and love. The rap music, the violent TV shows, the advocates of a consumer culture. It's all here. Yet people still have an image of America as a land of possibilities. And for people with nothing, America still holds hope, something the exiles from Iraq are in desperate need of.

Abu Diah, his wife and 6 children live in a 3 room flat in a poor section of Amman. They spend their days waiting. They have been approved for resettlement to the United States in March 2008. As spring has changed to summer and summer to fall, no final word has come as to when they will be told to leave, or where exactly they are going. Abu Diah has heard mention of Kentucky, Oregon or perhaps Miami. As far as the family knows, the delays are due to security issues, though they have no definitive information. Um Diah is concerned about the move, she asks, can her youngest boy play and make noise? She has been told that children in the US must be quiet. Abu Diah asks if we think they will be all right in America. I want to reassure them, but i don’t know what to say. i try to imagine what it must be like to be going to such an unfathomable place. Cathy, who i am working with in Amman, speaks of Abu Diah’s internal strength and tells them the love of their family will sustain them. i say that so much is dependant on where they go. They will face many challenges.

i imagine them dropped in Kentucky without a network of family and neighbors they can count on. You see, Abu Diah lost the sight in both eyes during the Iran Iraq war twenty years ago. His oldest son, seventeen year old Diah (i am told Diah means "light" in Arabic and the beauty and poetry of a man blinded by war naming his oldest child "light" does not escape me), has a 3rd grade education. The family is a traditional family- the women all wear the hijab. No one in the family is fluent in English. Imagine yourself for a moment in their circumstances. They were forced to flee Baghdad with little or no possessions. When they are finally notified, they will leave Jordan quietly and quickly with only 2 suitcases each and be relocated somewhere in the US with no family, no connections. What awaits them? Rumors and misinformation abounds. Imagine the uncertainty, the daily stress of not knowing when or where they are going, or how they will manage when they arrive. Every aspect of their living is tenuous. They have lost all control over their lives. How would you cope if you and your family were uprooted and dropped with nothing in a completely alien environment? As i photographed them i was moved to see their smiles, their joy, and their love for each other.

Um Diah tells us her elderly mother is not well. She has lost two sons to the violence and misses her daughter. Um Diah's only wish is to see her mother before she leaves, yet this simple wish will not come to pass. She cannot go back to visit her ailing mother before they leave. If she were to go back to Baghdad the Jordanian authorities would not allow her to return to Amman even though her family has been approved for resettlement.

When asked about the possibility of remaining in Jordan, where there is at least the common culture and the common language, Abu Diah is firm in his response. They must leave. They are not welcome in Jordan. As Iraqis, they are not permitted to work, they depend on monthly cash disbursements from the UNHRC that barely cover their expenses. The children, especially the boys, face discrimination from the administration and harassment from the other students at school. The present is full of uncertainty and the future in Jordan holds no possibilities. The United States, though alien, rekindles dreams and the hope of a brighter future. As i take my leave, i give them my phone number- perhaps when they land i can at least get them in contact with someone they could call "friend". i have an uneasy sleep considering the possibilities.