Friday, August 1, 2008

Raad The Hero - Healing with Happiness

It was Raad (right) who kept insisting that Ahmad (left) pose for the camera, I took the shots in low light, hiding the severity of the facial injuries. Ahmad was pleased.

Raad and Ahmed outside the physiotherapy room at Kaser Zedha Hotel, where MSF is hosting over 40 victims of war and their companions, often close family relatives. MSF doctors perform the operations at the Red Crescent Hospital. Raad has already had 4 operations on his hands and is waiting for his hand to heal before continuing with the reconstructive surgeries.

Raad and Ahmed having fun posing for photos. These are two great guys, we joked, imagined them in Canada, laughed til we cried.

A car exploded in a busy part of Kirkuk. Raad Sahad a tailor by profession ran to help, that’s when the second explosion occurred. Raad suffered severe burned on his face, arms and hands. He is now sponsored by MSF and has lived in the Kaser Zedh Hotel since August 9, 2007. He has had 4 operations and with a laugh tells me is now has moment in his hands.

Raad is one of the most remarkable people I have met during my stay in Amman. Though he suffered a huge tragedy he keeps everyone at the Hotel laughing. He is optimistic that he will be able to hold scissors again, to make clothes, to start a business, to do anything he wants, as soon as he gets full movement in his hands.

Raads’ close friend at the Hotel is 22 year old Ahmad Hukala. Ahmad suffered severe burns in an explosion in a mosque in Mosul. When I see Ahmad I see the pain and longing of a young man to have a normal life, to visit friends, to have girlfriends, to get married. Ahmad unlike Raad is embarrassed about the way he looks, he envies his friend Raads long thick hair. When I see Ahmad alone he is quiet, sullen and depressed. Then along comes Raad and Ahmad is at least for the moment transformed into a smiling joking young man enjoying talking with a good friend.

Bomb at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad

“My hopes are to walk, continue my studies, get married and have a future.”

The prosthetic hand of Hasanen Basim Khudier.

Hasanen Basim Khudier puts on his prosthetic hand during a trauma session with resident MSF phychiatrist Yousef.

In 2004 Hasanen Basim Khudier was a 21 year old a mechanical engineer student at Al Mustansiyra University in Baghdad. He was in the hallway of the university when a Katusha rocket hit. From the explosion he lost the muscles in his left thigh, 20cm of bone from his left shin, and 4 fingers from his right hand. He saw his best friends head explode.

He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, but there was no treatment, facilities or medicines available. The doctors did what they could and sent him home. Eventually he was fitted with a prosthetic hand. In 2005 Hasanen raised US $10,000 from private donors to come to Amman for reconstructive bone surgery. The operation failed.

He is now sponsored by MSF and has had several operations, including bone transplants. To straighten his leg the doctors have attached a platinum external brace. They are waiting to see if the bone will develop, it’s a slow process, but Hasanen is determined to keep his leg and eventually walk again.

Waiting, waiting, waiting

“There were many threats and terror by the Muslims against the Sabeans, but it was hidden, no one talked about it, we were all scared,” said Amir Hadar of the situation of Sabeans in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Amir, his mother and 2 sisters show their UNHCR refugee status.

In 2000, Amir a single man, now living with his mother and 2 sisters in Amman worked as a cameraman for a TV station owned by Oday the much-feared son of Saddam. Odays’ guards would tease and threaten Amir making his life miserable, “it was like a sport for them,” said Amir of his ordeal. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so in 2001 I fled to Jordan and applied for asylum.”

Amirs’ father died (a natural death) in Iraq in 2003 leaving Amirs mother and 2 sisters to take care of themselves and the huge home which had been in the family for generations. Then came the threats. It got worse and worse until one night masked men broke into their home, pointed a gun at the eldest sister and the mother and told them to get out or they would kidnap them. The 3 women left as soon as they could get a passport taking nothing but a bag with them to Amman.

“ We cannot go forward and cannot go backwards, we are in a prison,” said the sister of Amir.

Savings gone

"I used to be so rich now see how far I have fallen," says Ali Halif a goldsmith from Iraq now living in Amman, Jordan.

Ali Halif shows his identity card which gives his profession as goldsmith. Ali Halif is extremely bitter about his situation. He never planned to stay in Jordan for going on 8 years.

The family of Ali Halif in their courtyard.

The courtyard where Ali Halif spends his time building a garden.

Ali Halif had a flourishing business in Diyala during the reign of Saddam Husseins Baath Party. Like many in the Sabean community, he is a gold smith and made his living by importing and exporting gold. Many though not all of the Sabeans’ I interviewed told me they were persecuted because of their religion, telling me that if a Muslim kills a Sabean he will go to paradise.

Ali Halif tells me his fear and intimidation began in 2001 when his sons, at the time 3 and 7 years old, were out playing during the Shia holy celebration of Hassen al Hussain a
To honor this day Shia families prepare huge plates of traditional foods, which they share amongst each other. Ali Halifs’ sons were curious and looked at the food, for this sacrilegious act they were caught by teenage boys who said they had polluted their food and therefore no Shia could eat it. The teenage boys said they would teach these Sabeans a lesson and poured boiling hot water on the sons of Ali Halif, scarring them for life.

Ali took the boys to a hospital, but the staff at the hospital said they would not treat them unless they filed a police report. Ali then took the boys to the police gave a report, on the way back to the hospital Shias working with Saddam Hussein told them to retract the statement. Ali then took his sons to his relative, a doctor. Five months later the police took the oldest son to jail for 5 days. Shia strongmen kept coming to his business demanding money. He tells me he had no protection from the police or government so he sold all of his assets and escaped with his family to Jordan in 2001.

At that time the Halif family was still rich, and able to afford a good life in Jordan. I asked him why he did not start a business in Jordan at the time when he had money to invest. He told me that when things calmed down or even during the first year of the War in Iraq he planned to go back to Iraq. He also told me he had no plans to seek asylum or refugee status. He has relatives who were also in Jordan during 2001-2003, relatives he helped financially, relatives who sought and were accepted to third countries as asylum seekers.

Finally in 2004 realizing there was no future for him in Jordan or Iraq, the Halif family filed with the UNHCR as refugees. They continue to wait for resettlement to a third country.

Ali Halif was visibly angry when he told that just this week (July 29, 2008), he called the UNHCR to inquire of his status. According to Ali, the worker told him not to call again because he is annoying them and if he calls again they will refuse to resettle him.