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Stories of the Displaced


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:29 pm

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It is no wonder the mother cries continually. She has sole responsibility over her three crippled children. The girls, although in their thirties, repeat the story of how they came to be crippled with memorized clarity while laughing and giggling among themselves, heads bobbing. It is hard to tell if their affliction has affected their sensibilities, and it is hard to believe that all three would be afflicted by similar events almost 14 years apart. I ask if doctors have considered genetic causes and I am once again answered by giggling, three bobbing heads, and the tear-filled face of Um Rawa.

“There are few poor Iraqis in Jordan because the Jordanian government threw them out. My two boys have lost one year of education. The UNHCR funnels money through Caritas and CARE. Some places make free meals but it takes 2 or 3JD to get to this restaurant. I don’t want a meal. I want a solution. I have an ulcer, it is very, very bad. The US must remove their troops. Sunni and Shiite will get together and be fine. Al Qaeda is supported by the US, and the US military supports the violence between the Sunni and the Shiite.”
—Amal Alwan Maseer

The first time I met Amal Alwan Maseer was in February 2003 in Baghdad just weeks before the war. She lived a few blocks from the hotel where I was staying and by then had become good friends with Kathy Kelly, cofounder of the now defunct anti-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness. Voices was responsible for bringing hundreds of people via delegations—including my own—to Iraq under the sanctions. A mother of three children, Maseer was taken under the wings of peace activists who bought and facilitated further sales of her artwork, which, among other things, has helped her family to survive.

We now meet once again in the kitchen at the al Monzer Hotel in Amman, a gathering place for independent journalists, peace workers, Iraqis fleeing their homeland, businessmen, and others. We have both come to meet with Kathy Kelly. Comparatively speaking, Maseer looks better than she did in those days of uncertainty just before the coalition bombing. Yet she is obviously agitated, bitter and appears to have signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. While her son, Ali Safa, sits quietly beside me drawing on a pad, she answers none of my direct questions but instead continues in an unending breathless tirade against the current Iraqi, US, and Jordanian governments and US troops.

“Money is coming to the Jordanian government but the Iraqi refugees are only getting maybe10 percent. Maliky gave $1 billion to Jordan. Jordanians have been very bad with Iraqis. They cut their water for four days. Most of [the current Iraqi government] has robbed the banks of Baghdad—they are the thieves of Baghdad.”
When I ask what she would want if she had a magic wish, Maseer, unwilling or unable to stray from her course, responds as if she has not heard my question. “Iraqi soldiers with a pickup truck full of dead bodies will come and say, ‘Die or stand with us.’ The US military will come and ask you: ‘How many have been killed?’ You must say ‘10 Shiite.’ In reality, six Sunni and four Shiite have been killed. Fifteen minutes later the US military come. They support the violence between the Sunni and Shiite. When they asked a man how many have been killed, he answers 10 Shiite and is paid $1,000—a bribe. When the US military leaves the Iraqi police come to the man and get $500.”

When last in Baghdad, Maseer says that while exiting the Ministry of Education building a bus exploded, knocking out four of her son’s teeth. In the next breath she tells me that a university student was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between US soldiers and al Qaeda. The bullet passed through six of the student’s spinal bones and when he was taken to the hospital one of his kidneys was stolen. Then she says that the US troops and al Qaeda are working together.

I soon stop taking notes. It is apparent that somewhere between the horrors Maseer has suffered through, her rightful anger, and the conspiracy theories that fly along the communication avenues of Jordan and Iraq, the line between truth and fiction has disappeared. Not to mention the influence of peace activists who push “talking points” and have taught Maseer how to use the media to get a message across, or the idea that it is somehow appropriate to use the “ordinary Iraqi on the street” as a source of factual information (think of your community) other than their personal experience.

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