“I don’t normally open up about what I went through during war, but when I do, I immediately get persistent flashbacks,” Farrah (a pseudonym) said as she knotted her fingers.
Farrah, now a sophomore architect student abroad, was living in Baghdad until ISIS launched a crackdown on the Christian community in the city. “What I remember the most was the time my mother put us in her bedroom and turned on the radio so we wouldn’t hear the screams of the people getting killed next door,” Farrah said as she ran her fingers over the scars on her wrists.
Her previous rosy life ended abruptly. Without a transition, Farrah and her siblings ended up living in a car for months as her parents struggled to find shelter.
Farrah currently has a scholarship that covers 85% of her tuition; she pays the remaining 15% on her own. “I learned to depend on myself because my family needs my help especially right now. I work and get my check at the end of the month. I try to spend it wisely, so I don’t have to ask my parents for money.” The only problems she faces now are the flashbacks of war and the suppressed memories that show up every now and then.
She shared that another post-war effect was severe anxiety. “I have to keep myself busy so I don’t remember what I went through,” she said as she struggles to push her hair behind her ears. “Sometimes I stay in my room for days doing nothing because I feel so depressed. And then when I don’t do anything productive, I get even more depressed. And at other times I just feel like I want to commit suicide, because there’s no hope for me to get better.” Farrah mentioned that she is currently seeing a counselor once a week and has found that it has helped maintain a sense of balance in her life.
Farrah then handed me a cup of her favorite tea, saying, “We used to drink this all the time in Baghdad.” She then opened up again, but this time about how she developed an eating disorder while in high school. “I remember tea was the only thing that tasted the same after war. I used to drink this all the time. But when it came to food, I had to force myself to eat. Food was either too sweet or too sour,” she said with half a smile.
What were some of the things you used to do to get your mind off of the war?
With a faint smile she stated, “My brother used to take my sister and I to this garden near our house. I’m surprised as to why the garden wasn’t damaged during the war. I like to believe that it could be a sign for Iraq to get better.” As she began to anxiously chew on her fingers she continued to explain, “But I still remember the rosemary that filled the air whenever we passed by that garden.”
What is one piece of advice you would give to people dealing with war today?
“War can give you the hardest times of your life. But don’t be heartbroken that these memories can never be repeated, be happy they happened,” as she shifted in her seat.
If you had the chance to visit Iraq again, what is the first thing you would do?
“The first thing I would do is go to the nearest beach and see if there are fish brave enough to swim back to the shallow water. It would give me a feeling of content to just witness fish alive and healthy. It gives me hope that even if the land isn’t safe, it doesn’t mean the sea is dangerous too,” Farrah revealed gently nodding her head.
Farrah continued sipping on her tea as she began to describe how frightening it was to walk to church as a young Christian young girl. “Every Sunday I had to make the decision of whether or not I was strong enough that day to take the risk and have my life taken away,” she explained further while tightly clutching the big cross hanging from her necklace, which she surprisingly wore wherever she went during her stay in Baghdad. “It felt like death was going to happen to my family and I, and I just didn’t know when that was going to happen. I decided that since there’s a high chance it would happen, I might as well live the life I want to live while I’m still alive,” she explained. “Each time I enter the church, there’s one more person missing. I used to see those same faces every Sunday before the war. Now all I recognize is the fear embedded deeply in their eyes. We wouldn’t even talk to each other. We all knew what we were here for and we wanted to pray as fast as we could to stay alive.”
Were there any happy moments you looked forward to during this dark time?
Without hesitation, she replied, “Yes, actually. My nightmares forced me to stay up till the very early morning, because once there’s a hint of light in the skies, the birds begin to sing. That was something I looked forward to every morning since it made me feel like I could finally get some rest without worrying.” Farrah pursed her lips, revealing wrinkles at the corners of her mouth and dimples, and claimed, “I trusted that the birds would hint to me once there was trouble. They would simply just stop singing.”
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