"Coyote" Part 3
Note from the writer
I keep wanting to say 'author' here, but I didn't dream the story up, I'm just the one writing it down, but here we are again following Samir and Sara as they try to work out what next in their situation.
They're back in Iraq, but it's not the Iraq they left, it's a lawless place where the only rule is the law of the gun. There's no social security network, you don't work, you don't eat, but is there work? Where will they live? Who's going to help?
No one to turn to
They tried everywhere, the local authorities, the local churches (there were two) even the mosques, nobody had anything available. Zakho, a town built for maybe twenty thousand people was accommodating nearly ten times that, whole extended families living in spaces designed and built for just 'mum, dad and a couple of kids!’
“Surely there's got to be someone can help us?” Samir was trying hard not to sound desperate, they'd come to the people at the UN building as a last resort.
Haj Mohammed was the senior UN guard in Zakho, an older man with close cropped hair that told the story of a senior Army officer, he, and the whole contingent were officers in the Bangladesh Army, seconded to the UN as 'guards’ working as a 'point of contact’ between the UN, the NGOs and the local authorities. He had authority, but in the same breath, he also didn't have it! He had their respect, but they didn't have to do what he said, he could only ask.
Kurdistan in winter
“I think there's still one group we might ask,” Mohammed replied, “They're really good, if anyone can, they'll find a way,” he turned to the driver, “Waheed, take us to Operation Mercy”
Waheed was another of the UN guards, back home in Bangladesh, he had the rank of a Major, (Mohammed was a Brigadier) not that it meant much here, most of the people they were dealing with were civilians.
The fact was Operation Mercy was the one organisation they really liked, there wasn't any 'standing on ceremony’ with them, you had a need, then if there was any way on this earth to help, they would find it!
“Thank you so much, you are so generous,” Samir was just grateful they were trying, “I don't know how I can repay you” they were all three on the backseat of the Land Cruiser.
“Allah is generous” Mohammed replied, “We just respond to him” he couldn't help a little smile though, “besides, I can't make any promises, look, here we are,”
They had literally just turned a corner in the street, they were on the main road into town, but slightly north of the main part, on the right was open ground, with the road about thirty yards away and running parallel, on the left were the walls for gardens to the houses that were behind them, one house about half way down had another small but opposite it, there were people milling around.
Not your average NGO!
- Kurdish Region of Iraq
Op Mercy isn't your average 'NGO' by any means. They're the people I worked with, read a little more about them, they deserve it!
Welcome to our world
“Haj Mohammed” how nice to see you, a female voice greeted them as they started climbing out of the vehicle, “to what do we owe the pleasure, you will join us for some tea, won't you?”
“Thank you Mrs Pauline, we'd be delighted to” he began, “we've got someone here I'm hoping you can help”
Pauline, all five feet nothing of seventy, maybe seventy five pounds, and that's dripping wet! But never let the slight build deceive you, behind all that facade was one who could charm the most battle hardened heart, or if that didn't work, a scowl could leave the same heart 'quaking with fear’. All the UN personnel liked her.
Sara noticed the braids, apart from them, Pauline looked just like an Iraqi, olive skin, brown eyes and a huge smile.
“Merhaba” Pauline held out her hand to Sara, greeting her, not in Arabic, but a Turkish word the Christians sometimes use instead of the traditional Arabic or Islamic greeting.
“Merhaba” she returned the greeting, a hint of a smile briefly appearing on her face, trying at the same time to appear shy, Samir wasn’t the kind of man who’d get frustrated at his wife taking ‘centre stage’ but it wasn’t the norm, the only thing that made it acceptable was the Mrs Pauline, even though a woman, was clearly in charge.
“Mrs Pauline” Haj Mohammed began, “This is Samir and his wife Sara, can we go inside to talk?”
“By all means let’s” Pauline turned to one of the men standing around, “Ramadan, Mr James should be back soon, can you tell him to come straight in when he gets here?” she spoke in passable Kurdish, without waiting for a reply she turned and carried on in English, “Azeem, can you come with us?”
In Kurdish culture, it’s not the ‘done thing’ for men to visit with women when their husbands aren’t home, even in the business world, it still isn’t appropriate, the problem was Op Mercy’s office was also in Mrs Pauline and Mr James’s home, there was an ‘office’ side where they would be meeting, but it was still awkward.
Azeem wasn’t just an employee, he was also a good friend and sort of a ‘culture mentor’ to James and Pauline, he was a well respected member of the community and there were times when he had to step into the role of ‘older brother’, truth was, Pauline and James were such good friends, he’d happily ‘take a bullet’ for them, helping by being in a room with these people was no problem.
The west loves these, Russia hates 'em and they're Al Qaeda under another name!
Hope at last
The room was simple, a Persian rug covered much of the floor, surrounded by cushions to sit on. Everyone took their shoes off as they entered the room, Samir was reluctant to at first, but Jamila, Pauline’s girl in the kitchen knowing the issue came out with a bowl of hot water and a towel, she was going to wash his feet.
“Please no!” Samir was afraid, he hated for them to think bad of him.
“It’s okay” Jamila said, “You’ve had a hard trip” she spoke in a language Pauline didn’t recognise, but knowing Jamila, it had to be Aramaic, her eyes lit up. “Your wife can come with me, into the kitchen if she likes”
“Thank you” Sara replied, “I would like”
Samir insisted on washing his own feet, and the feet of his wife, Sara headed into the Kitchen while the others sat to talk.
Tea was served, along with a few moments of general conversation, then Haj Mohammed steered the conversation back to the pressing subject. James joined them about then and they both listened intently, neither said anything until both Haj Mohammed and Samir had said all they needed to say.
Samir’s heart was in his mouth, he’d bared all to these strangers, and he had no idea why, it was just that something, maybe someone, drove him to tell everything that had happened.
It was only after that he realized that both James and Pauline actually had tears in their eyes, it was as if they’d felt the pain that he felt, they didn’t even stop to talk to each other,”I think we can help!” Pauline said, “at least for a week or two anyway, we’ve got a team member away for a week on holiday, he’s an Englishman, but he wouldn’t mind you staying at his house, it’s not the best of places, but at least it’s a place with a roof, and we can give you an extra heater! How does that sound!”
Before we go
I think I want this story to raise awareness of what's really done in some countries. I wanted to just 'tell the story' at the beginning, but I don't think as writers we can just 'leave things there'
Before you click off and head about your day, I want to ask you to do two things.
1. Go to the link for Op Mercy I put at the top, they're there, right among the worst of things and they need ll the support they can get.
2. Take a look at the video, it's two Syrian women standing up for their country and calling things the way they see them. They're taking on the 'opposition' and rounding on them as being "Muslim brotherhood' a fundamentalist Islamic group that was banned in the Middle East until the 'Arab spring'. They are Islamic extremists. (They threatened to shoot me a few times, but that's for the story!)
Follow the link for the next part
- "Coyote" part 4
Samir and Sara are back in Iraq. They have nothing, nowhere to go, and no money to live on, they're living in someone else's house, and they don't know the person, what will happen when they meet?