Of War and Waiting

November 25, 2015

Uncertainty. They say it’s actually a beautiful thing. Beautiful because anything is possible. But when that anything could be a matter of life or death, dwelling in uncertainty isn’t always the most pleasant experience.

Here we are. In the midst of the turmoil over oil, and other insignificant dividers. In the middle of the Middle East; beautiful, misunderstood, Iraq.

It’s been really both a dream and nightmare. A dream to serve and work alongside some of the most compassionate, hospitable people I’ve encountered. A dream to experience the real life astounding landscapes of Mesopotamia. A dream to be able to strategize with a team of visionaries. And yet a nightmare to even attempt to process how real the evils are. A nightmare to imagine that the dear friends I’ve made have realistically lived through the unspeakable pains that they’ve endured.

You hear about these stories in movies, in history books, and even in the media. But you still struggle to receive it as truth until you hear the accounts first hand.

When sweet Layla told me her parents were killed in front of her because they refused to convert, I thought to myself, this young girl is so strong to push through.

But I thought wrong. She was not strong. She was an extraordinary, inexplicable, overcomer. For she did not just endure the witnessing of the torturous loss of her loved ones. She also was taken in as a sex slave to ISIS. One particular militant wanted her to be his wife so he forced the occasion and impregnated her. Layla was constantly looking for an escape plan and carrying her oppressor’s child was not in those plans. She threw herself off a building to try and kill herself or the baby. After her second attempt, she lost the baby.

The oppressor found out that she was no longer with child and continued to attempt to impregnate her. Eventually she was able to escape by being purchased from an undercover buyer. No baby in belly, but carrying so much more.

He assisted her and brought her to the camp in Duhok, Iraq, where we met. Life is completely different for Layla now. She lives on her own, has her own tent, and lost her entire family. She said her goal is to be able to get a job that will allow her to be economically independent so that she can leave Iraq.

“I don’t sleep at night,” Layla said. “I constantly fear they will return.”

She will not ever fully feel peace until she completely flees the country. She hopes to make Europe or the United States her home.

I could not help but worry that due to her lack of English skills and her mere appearance, she could quite easily be a victim of the hate culture that’s spreading so rapidly.

What a treacherous irony, to be willing to dangerously flee your own home for the basic human desire of peace of mind and physical security, yet encounter a new set of problems and fears when you think you’ve finally found a safe haven. I warned Layla that the world is a little scared and blind right now, so as to prepare her for any possibilities.

Yet as much as I encouraged her to believe, when we heard the news of Iraq’s airports shutting down, an occurrence that has not happened in over ten years, I found myself in an uncertainty of my own. More airstrikes over Syria. Tension with Turkey and Russia. Tension with the United States and Russia. Everywhere, tension. The integrity of the airspace above us had been compromised, and our safety was in serious question. We missed flights, rebooked flights, cancelled flights. But ultimately, the only thing we could truly do, is wait.

We tried not to dwell on the idea of being “stuck” long term, but suddenly our emotions shifted from being so honored to share powerful memories with the people of Iraq and Kurdistan, to praying we could jump on the next flight out, location irrelevant. We had no real control over our circumstances. Ultimately, all we could truly do, is wait.

It’s easy to get used to the luxuries of the States (and elsewhere), not realizing that the rest of the world is quite accustomed to this type of panic. Not just simply accustomed, but are living with it daily. They don’t have a date set in their calendars when life goes back to normal. They don’t have a flight set to take them “back home.” For most, their homes have been utterly destroyed. All they can do, is wait.

Uncertainty is no new feeling for those who reside here. Such is the nature, of war and waiting.

-Loureen Ayyoub