04 August 2015

New shoots on the withered tree

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the ISIS assault on Mt. Sinjar.  August 6 is the anniversary of the massive displacement from the Nineveh plains.  Iraq has about 3.1 million IDPs (nearly 10% of the country's population) from the conflict over the past year and a half.  Every once in a while, for the next while, I will post vignettes about people we have met who have been displaced. 

“It cuts one sadly to see the grief of old people; they've no way o' working it off; and the new spring brings no new shoots out on the withered tree.”

A few months ago, against all my typical habits of privacy, I invited a strange old man into our office for tea.  We had just sent some visitors off in a taxi from the curb in front of our house and were about to head back inside, but there he was, standing near our front door in dress pants and a faded suit jacket.  After exchanging pleasantries I discovered that he was waiting for the dentist next door to open, and after a few more pleasantries, I got the distinct impression that he wanted to sit down somewhere, so I invited him up for tea in our front office—the typical, appropriate thing to do.  

Khaled, we soon discovered, was from Baghdad, but had moved to Qaraqosh a few years ago during the worst of the violence in the capital.  His wife had died a while before, and now all his sons live in Germany, so he has no close family here.  Last August he had to flee Qaraqosh to Ankawa when the Islamic State advanced
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young displaced person in Iraq today.  They are losing their education and with every passing month their future seems like it is going down the drain.  But in many ways, the plight of the elderly is worse.  They knew a different Iraq.  Prosperous, secular, stable.  Their country is gone, their children are gone.  Their jobs are gone.  And in a labor market flooded with young unemployed men, those jobs are never coming back.  They have nothing to do but remember what happened to them and wait around for the pensions to come--or not, depending on the financial situation in Baghdad that month.   

I could tell Khaled had been drinking, so I was worried that it would be hard to get him to leave, or that he would start asking for money or favors (in the moment, my discomfort is usually stronger than empathy) but he left after we had our tea together.  Walking down our front stairs, he lit a cigarette, then hung around the dentist’s gate, pacing, smoking, waiting for the new set of dentures.  The dentist was late, and after a few more minutes, he walked away. 

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