By Amina Tahera
Fatima lives with her 3-year old daughter Taqwa and faces challenges with work, rent, utilities and other expenses. She also has several medical issues related to traumas and subsequent surgeries she underwent in Iraq and goes to the hospital on a regular basis to receive care for these. She and her family were kidnapped in Iraq and she lost her husband, other children, as well as several other relatives to this tragic occurrence. She describes her life in Baghdad before all this tragedy as very comfortable. She used to be a journalism professor in the University of Baghdad for more than 9 years, working with the Ambassadors of Dubai, Switzerland and Belgium on Human Rights projects, travelling, owning more than one home and was happy. Yet, now, even as she struggles hand-to-mouth and faces eviction for paying rent late, she tells me she has never felt more blessed with all the help from Allah and people since she has faced all these tests. She has been teaching Quranic and conversational Arabic to people here, sometimes paid and other times on a volunteer basis, but it by no means covers the basic expenses. She finds release in writing about her experiences and frustrations.
Taqwa is very talkative, playful and expressive. While she was very young when she came here and seems unfazed by her circumstances, it has perhaps indirectly still left its mark on her. She recounts for me a vivid and descriptive story about asking Allah for help because she could not find her mom, though she could hear her voice. At the end, she says, “…but it was just a bad dream”. Ruqayya, her neighbor, has become like Taqwa’s older sister. “ Fatima is constantly teaching Taqwa about Allah. She always has Quran playing in her house,” says Ruqayya.
Nada and her husband Jabber have 4 children – 20 year-old Ali, 16-year old Baraa, 10-year old Bayan and 6-year old Ruqayya. Back in Iraq, Ali hoped to go to medical school, Baraa to the Art Institute, Bayan into Pharmacy and Ruqayya had so many ambitions she could not just pin it down to one. They studied and worked hard in hopes of getting into the government-paid program there, but getting into college here, not to mention paying for it, now seems a far-fetched dream. Jabber has been able to find a menial job but had to stop working because of illness related to thyroid and colon problems. Consequently, public aid has stopped sending food stamps for all of them including the children. Ali, being over 18, no longer benefits from paid medical care or food stamps. Their donated furniture is broken and on its last legs, neither do they have carpeting to protect them from the cold. In fact, any and every basic expense is a huge weight on their shoulders and the family prays for Jabber to get a job which will not worsen his health, for a decent chance for their children to be able to study and build a life for themselves, and for some measure of security in this difficult system then now find themselves in.