THIS IS A STORY I WROTE A FEW YEARS AGO FOR THE FREEPORT (IL) JOURNAL- STANDARD NEWSPAPER. I THINK IT’S WORTH RE-VISITING
These are the faces I see when I think of Iraq. And when I think of a nuclear attack on that ancient place that was once Mesoptamia, then Persia, then part of the Ottoman Empire (which welcomed the Jewish victims of the Spanish Inquisition) I think of these faces, twisted in agony as they imagine their families being evaporated, or turned into virtual charcoal to die an agonizing death.
These men represent a very small community of Iraqis who blew a little breeze of joy into my days when I wrote for the Journal-Standard. I lived a block away from their little store, so I saw them every morning (coffee) and every night (whatever). They were interested, kind, generous, earnest, and full of news to share. They believed in being cheerful, and in fact did seem to find something humorous in every situation – the word that comes to mind is ‘merry’.
After the newspaper’s higher-ups (not my great editor) killed follow-up coverage of the Iraqis, I was free to hang out and talk with them on a level more personal than a continued professional relationship would have permitted. Nevertheless, we all maintained a restraint that stopped short of friendship: I wanted the option of writing about them to remain open, should it become a possibility. And they, of course, had numerous reasons to limit anything they said to an American – or any other – reporter.
That left us plenty of room. They were genuinely emotionally expressive – all of them – and in a manner that clearly showed this to be cultural. The men would reminisce about their mothers and cry freely; they also spoke unself-consciously of broken hearts, that is, “hearts broken by grief’. Since I come from a family that rejects broken hearts as strategic hyperbole, I recognized a rare opportunity to tell a broken heart story of my own.
They listened respectfully, nodded soberly, and reiterated that a broken heart is an unbearable experience.
The Iraqi men of Freeport immediately recognized the racism directed against the African-Americans who comprised the neighborhood, and were quick to express their allegiance. They didn’t win the good will of the Black community overnight. They persevered.
Years later, when I arrived and asked to hear that story, the Iraqis told me, over and over, how much people need to feel respected. THIS is something the Iraqii people – and all Arabic, Mideastern peoples – evidently don’t have to be taught.
Could it be that there are some clues here? I wonder what there is about being:
A) Black in southside Chicago,
B) Arabic in the Mid East
that drives people
C) right over the cliff –
When the same two factors of: