Next month Sharook will turn 29. When we first met, she was still in secondary school in Baghdad. One afternoon in April of 1999, she and her aunt Sundus came to a relative's house in order to meet the strange American who was coming to Iraq on a regular basis and spending time with families. Because she was studying English, she and I could communicate fairly easily. We liked each other from the start and have sustained our relationship first through sanctions and now through war and occupation.
Until fairly recently, Sharook called me at least once a week from her mother's apartment in Baghdad to tell me how things were going in her life, to keep in touch, and sometimes to ask for support for her mother. She had wanted to go on to college and eventually become an English teacher but the invasion of Iraq forced her to postpone a college education. A few years ago she decided to pursue a career as an optician and began taking classes. But when militias began escalating their attacks on each other, murdering civilians who belonged to the "wrong" sect, kidnapping professors, and in some cases even raping and killing female students, her mother insisted she stay home and not put her life in danger by attending class.
Her father, who had divorced Sharook's mother years ago, pressured her to marry and begin a family but Sharook continued to dream of having a career and becoming an independent woman. She turned down marriage proposals from various suitors and went on living with her family while the violence around them intensified and eventually forced them to abandon their apartment and move to a relatively safer neighborhood.
At one point, her brother was falsely accused of murder and locked up in an Iraqi prison where he was beaten repeatedly and forced to sign a confession. After spending almost a year behind bars, he was finally released thanks to the intercession of human rights advocates. Fearing one of the militias would try to kill him, he fled to Syria, leaving his wife and child in Baghdad.
While her brother was in Syria, Sharook accepted a marriage proposal from a man whom her family had known for some time. Last year, she left her family and went to live with her husband and five young children from the man's previous marriage. They live in a small town about a five-hour drive from Baghdad. Since there is no phone service where they live, she can only call me when she returns to Baghdad to visit her mother.
Lately, her visits have become more frequent. She needs medical attention for what may be a serious illness. A few weeks ago, Sharook had a CT Scan after experiencing bouts of dizziness. For the past week, she's tried to reach me by phone to tell me the results of the scan. So far, we haven't managed to connect, partly because of the 7 hour time difference and partly for other reasons. I am hoping the doctors have told her there's nothing to worry about and that she can get on with her life as the sensitive and loving person she is.
(Photo: Sharook in her aunt's kitchen in Baghdad, December 2002)