Healing the Wounds of War

by Mary Patterson

I watch my daughter jump into the still pool. Ripples spread out then bounce back. I think about war, about the thousands of unknown waves spreading for years across families and continents. How one bomb or death threat can fling a family across the ocean for generations to come.

Kansas City has received scores of refugees from Iraqi Operation Enduring Freedom over the past 2 years. The first family came to Kansas in 2007. “It was like landing on the moon,” they say. Clever, funny, and educated, they left a country that is no longer safe for them. Sometimes these refugees had to drive a different car every morning in Iraq, or had to take different routes to school to avoid bombs. They endured kidnappings and death threats. Houses were burned. Some fled without even gathering family photos.

One boy told me that he watched the bombs fall from the rooftop of his home. “Why,” I asked, “didn’t you go into the basement?” He looked at me blankly, “What difference would it have made?” We naively forget the power of bombs.

4.7 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes since the beginning of the Iraq war—roughly 2 million as refugees and another 2.7 million internally displaced. The U.S. allowed 12,000 Iraqis into this country in 2008 and are set to allow only 17,000 in 2009. This is in stark contrast to the late 1970’s when over 130,000 Vietnamese were allowed to resettle here. Clearly, the U.S. has the capacity to allow more war victims into our country.

The Iraqis come to the U.S. as political refugees and are sponsored by agencies that provide help with Foodstamps, Medicaid, and cash assistance. The sponsoring agencies furnish apartments with furniture and pick refugees up from the airport. They receive a social security number and then must wait 5 years to become a U.S. Citizen.

Here in Kansas City Iraqis begin a whole new life. They want to know how to get a bank account, how to buy a car, how to get a job. Iraqis need help finding English classes, getting their driver’s license, negotiating the healthcare system. One day I got a call, “My son’s school says they need pipe cleaners and puff balls. What are these things? We have looked everywhere to find out.” Another family asked me how to cook acorns.

I warn them that the first Wednesday of every month there will be sirens. Thunderstorms strike terror and bring back frightening memories of the bombs. They have no idea why Americans insist on having animals in our homes. They ask me if Americans are really like those people on The Jerry Springer Show.

It is difficult finding work despite their high education and excellent English skills. Job interviewers sometimes ask, “So are Iraqi’s glad America came?” They are asked, “Are you Sunni or Shiite?” Engineers are told they are overqualified for many positions. These are difficult times in the U.S.and especially difficult for Muslims from a foreign land.

Health problems are numerous. War has meant 7 years with no healthcare. High blood pressure went unchecked. Heart problems, diabetes and children’s handicaps did not get proper treatment. Stress has surfaced, physically and mentally. There are sleep problems. The long healthcare void has touched just about every single refugee family.

Fortunately, the Iraqis are hopeful people. The children do great in school. Their birthday parties are loud, joyous occasions. At one party in the park, we were cheering the birthday boy so loudly that I noticed other picnics stopping to stare. Hannah Montana is popular, as are the Power Rangers. Soccer balls and bikes are scattered around and there is lots of running and jumping.  Headstart has helped the preschoolers learn English is just a few months. English programs at the public elementary and high school levels have helped tremendously.

Iraqi food is delicious and they always offer it freely. The first winter they were here, I told a woman how much I liked her coat. Immediately, she took it off, put it in a bag and handed it to me. Whenever you tell Iraqis that you like a watch, or jewelry, they take it off and it is yours. So, caution is advised when complimenting! People who have lost everything giving all they have. This is the gift we have received in Kansas City. Let us do all we can to heal the wounds of war.

 

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