Over the weekend, my wife and I drove to New Paltz, New York to see Amal and her children, who have come here as refugees from Iraq. We hadn't seen each other for six very long years, the length of the U.S. occupation of Amal's homeland. We met in 1998 during my fourth trip to Baghdad as a peace activist, and have been close friends ever since. Now we are more like brother and sister. So reuniting after a six-year separation was a momentous occasion for both of us.
A few months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, I went to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness (now renamed Voices for Creative Nonviolence). When it was time for me to leave, I had no idea when I would see Amal again or if she and her family would survive the military juggernaut looming in the background of our final days together. One of the most resourceful and resilient people I have ever known, Amal did indeed survive. She loves her children with a fierceness born of incessant struggle against what some might say were impossible odds. Time after time, Amal has risked her life for the sake of her children. Their safety and well being have been uppermost in her heart and mind through a six-year odyssey from Baghdad to Syria and then to Jordan.
Amal was not content to remain as a displaced Iraqi living in Amman with little hope of re-building her life. So she applied for the right to immigrate to the U.S., believing that immigration was the only path open to her and her children. Some of her friends doubted that she would ever be able to leave Amman and counseled her to return to Baghdad or move to some other country in the Middle East. After all, she lacks the sort of specialized skills that facilitate resettlement for some professionals, and she never worked for the U.S. military, so getting a special immigrant visa was out of the question.
Despite these obstacles, Amal would not give up. She is a fighter and for over three years she fought against despair, isolation, illness, and poverty to make her case known to immigration officials as well as to members of the U.S. Congress. And now she is here, living with her children in the home of an American family while grappling with yet another daunting set of challenges.
(Photo taken in New Paltz of Amal and her children with George and Nancy. The image on the wall is one of Amal's paintings.)