I have been busy helping my sister who has recently returned from Iraq. It was hectic trying to settle her and the kids again after she and her Iraqi husband H left everything behind them in Baghdad. Now they need to start a fresh life. Her husband who survived the Iran-Iraq war ran away during the invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Following years of hardship in foreign lands he decided about 10 years later to take his chance and return voluntarily home because he was fed up of being constantly on the run. H was hoping for a presidential pardon but instead he was court marshaled as a deserter and sentenced to seven years of prison by Saddam’s men . Once in prison, a similarity in names between a wanted political dissident served to send him -a soft spoken professor of music- to the torture chamber and places which make Abu Ghraib seem benign in comparison
My sister spent a harrowing time trying to find him and prove to the authorities that he was only an army deserter not a political dissident plotting Saddam’s downfall. Her tales of journeying from one government official to another and from building to another and from one known prison to another would break your heart. She did not disappear simply because she was not Iraqi and had made her presence known at the Syrian embassy in Baghdad. My sister tasted hunger, fear and humiliation. She felt the bitter cold and the searing heat, She gave birth in unhygienic circumstances and her baby boy is a living testament to God’s will. When she recounted those episodes to me, I felt like I had stepped into a movie scene or a novel. Those things could not happen in this day and age. Or could they ?
She has aged beyond her years and her one time red hair is now mostly grey. Her sparkling eyes seem whitewashed to me from crying and I am left wondering how long she would need to recover. I will not recount how she got her husband out of that tight spot because that would jeopardize many people’s lives and anonymity especially with occupied Iraq and despite Saddam no longer being boss. But I will say one thing that she managed to clear his name and he was brought to prison where he could be visited at least, and serve his desertion sentence. In October 2002 , he was set free along with about 10 000 others through a Presidential amnesty.
By then it was the countdown to the invasion of Iraq, the tales of the UN inspectors and the famous WMD ( which incidentally have not materialized).
Still the family struggled to make a life in these circumstances, what can a music composer, or teacher do ? He took to singing at weddings. Better than starve right ? It was kind of ok. But this respite was short lived the day a US bomb was dropped on their home and the roof collapsed missing the baby’s crib by a fraction. There was no home left, no belonging and no weddings to sing at , who wanted to hire a band under the B52 sorties ?
Under those circumstances my sister could not stand the constant nerve wracking especially after the fall of Baghdad and she asked him to return to Syria . Their journey to Damascus is an epic. Suffice it to say that leaving Iraq has left them penniless, and with an elder son who walks on crutches, while the youngest son thinks that tea is milk. I felt that blogging throughout the past six months was silly and petty compared to what they have been through. However, I owed an apology to whoever is still reading this blog and hence the explanation.
On another note, the current situation with the fingers increasingly being pointed at Syria leaves me in an unenviable space. Both Lebanon and Syria are mine and I can’t think of one without the other. I will attempt to be balanced and fair but I’m not sure Lebanon remembers all those Syrian young men who died to let it keep its democracy.