Hadeel Ibrahim. Photo by Andrea Barcenas.

MY LONG LEAP OF FAITH

BY HADEEL IBRAHIM

When I was nine years old, I found a gun in my mother’s bedside table. She took the gun with her when she did rounds around our home three times a night, every night. As young as I was, this did not surprise me. I had the unfair advantage of being completely accustomed to the sight of violence and that was not the first time I had encountered a firearm. Patrolling one’s home was, and still is, a necessary precaution in Iraq.

The recent territorial gains and terror campaign by of the jihadist insurgent force ISIS not only mandates this continued vigilance, but almost ensures that the country where I was born and raised will be no more.

•••

I was born in Baghdad at the time of the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War and by the time I was in the third grade the United States had began its offensive on Iraq. I wish I could say I had a normal childhood with field trips and family picnics, but that is simply not the case. I spent the first 11 years of my life in a war zone and there is no way to sugarcoat it. Life in Iraq in the early 2000’s was insufferable. My family and I were sung to sleep by the rapid fire of machine guns and woken up by the vibration of underground missiles.

The unrest in Iraq did not only take the lives of soldiers and leaders, but civilians as well. Not only did the parties involved have no consideration for the civilian lives they were taking, but they had no conception of the latent effects of the destruction they wrought.

For example, my father lost his life because of an unkempt road that was pocked with bomb craters. The car flipped three times injuring his colleague and killing him. In a country being torn apart by war, he died because of a badly paved road. Shrapnel and stray bullets also took many innocent lives and at times civilians were targeted to make a point.

Fear and despair was the predominant emotion throughout the community. Death was expected at every turn and a simple trip to the market could be your last. However, a feeling of normalcy returned by the end of 2006. That is when I moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Life there was sheltered and safe, and we were lulled into a false sense of security. My sister told me once that when we left Iraq, we took a leap of faith and now we are stuck mid-leap.

I watched the events unfold in Iraq from afar, removed and objective, so it was easy to isolate myself emotionally from it. Therefore, I grew as a person with no inclusion of the fact that I was Iraqi. My experiences as I matured were a mixture of Western and Middle Eastern, and that created unique characteristics that made me an outlier. I am a product of war and globalization, and I belong nowhere.

I moved to New Brunswick in 2013. This move marked a brand new chapter in my life. It also sealed my fate, as now I will never belong in Iraq. Not only is there a huge geographical divide between my family and I, but it is now a cultural one as well. I feel a chasm growing wider every day between my family back in the Middle East and me. Being across the ocean means I’m going to gain fundamentally different experiences and thus never be fully understood by the people back home.

Prejudice between Shiites and Sunnis before the Iraq War was almost nonexistent. Since the majority of Muslims in Iraq are Shiites, there was much less prejudice against them than there is in other parts of the Middle East. After the fall of Saddam, people found solace and safety in religious belief and that could be one of the many reasons why religious extremism is at a rise in the Middle East.

I embrace the Western way of life, but I would never lose sight of how culturally rich Iraq as a country is. I have a deep appreciation for its history that spans thousands of years. It is unfortunate that the constant conflicts there overshadow the cultural and scholastic impact Iraq has had on the world. When the National Museum of Iraq was looted in 2003, a massive outcry rose from all around the world. That truly was a devastating lost.

•••

However nostalgic I get about Iraq, I know that it is a lost cause. I look at the state of affairs now and I am filled with dread and alienation. The country I was born in is now dead. After the war was over, the people turned on each other instead of rebuilding. All hope is lost because the country is self-destructing.

Wherever I am now I am crippled by uncertainty. I cannot plan my life because I don’t know where I will be years or even months from now. I do not expect to settle down for at least 10 years and I will probably not live in the same continent as my family for a long time. There are many people like me in the world, lost and homeless. I can never allow myself to feel safe and comfortable because that would be self-deceptive.

I lived in the UAE for six years but that counts for nothing if their government decides to deport all Iraqis, which is its right. I am here on a study visa and as soon as I graduate I will again be a floater. Sometimes the feeling of estrangement overwhelms me and all I could do is just leave it to chance. My family and I are still stranded mid-leap, with no idea when or where we’re going to land. Until we can all be together again, I must lead a portable life.

There’s no direction home.

Editor’s note: This story by Hadeel Ibrahim was first published two years ago in The Aquinian, the student newspaper at St. Thomas University. Hadeel is finishing her third year of studies at STU. She was recently selected as the new editor-in-chief of The Aquinian. When this story was published, Alexandra Bain, a professor of religious studies at STU, submitted a response, which I have included below. Dr. Bain’s response seems particularly on point today in a city welcoming newcomers who also have been caught in the ravages of war.

From Dr. Bain:

Hadeel Ibrahim’s article is a thoughtful, articulate, and very poignant piece of journalism. Sitting in the comfort of our homes in Fredericton, watching the news, we can hardly imagine the suffering of those caught in the ravages of war. Ms. Ibrahim brings that suffering into focus, and without blaming anyone, offers us the opportunity to consider how we in the first world might act differently – differently in our choice of political leaders and foreign policy, differently in the way we understand and support our fellow STU students, staff and faculty who come from such worlds apart. I strongly encourage all of us to reach out to people such as Hadeel, to get to know them and hear their stories. Let them know they are welcome here, and that we value their friendship and life experience. There is so much we can learn from them, lessons that are not to be found in books. We are fortunate to have you here with us, Hadeel. As far as I am concerned, and I know in this case I speak for many, many people, we at STU are ready to be your family. You are not alone, you are home.