Saturday, April 19, 2014

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music was written by Sybella Wilkes, with the foreword by Angelina Jolie, who is an UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. It was published by Evans in 2010.

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music is one of the most beautifully written and engaging nonfiction books I have ever read.  It begins with the story of Saddam Hussein and his reign of power.  It explains how he came to power, the people he executed along the way and the model he was to his sons, who were evil beings themselves who enjoyed killing and torturing other people, including family members.  The story of Suddam needed to be introduced at the beginning of this book so readers would clearly understand where the refugees were coming from and why they needed to leave. After reading this, I have realized how similar all wars are. The most famous was is WWII, due to the millions of Jewish murders, but all wars have had this happen. The killings are not to the extent of the millions Hitler executed, but the reasoning is the same -- they don't believe a certain group of people is good enough to live.

The remainder of the book is stories of different refugees -- from children to musicians to artists to regular people.  Each person described their hardships and what was going on in the country near them.  The first young boy, Hussam (his name was changed for the book), has only known a life of war.  He was born in 1991 when the war was approaching his city of Baghdad, so his country has been at war his entire life.  He states, "Despite the hardship, my first six years in school were happy.  I was surrounded by friends and we were able to be children.  The invasion of 2003 changed everything.  On 20 March we were all at school.  By the evening the bombing had begun.  I stayed at home, as did all my friends.  On 9 April, Baghdad fell to the Americans."  After this happened, his schooling was severely interrupted. His parents were adamant about him continuing school, but he had to often switch schools as each one became increasingly dangerous. His family finally moved to Syria where they could stay safe.

Another refugee, Waleed, is an Iraqui artist.  He had to leave Iraq and went to Turkey after the bombing at Samarra.  At this time, Saddam Hussein had been eliminated, but the new war he was living through was worse than what Saddam had led while he was in power.  Waleed didn't know who to look out for and who to avoid, as there were so many religious and political groups that were fighting each other.  He was unable to continue in Baghdad when you started to need to change your identify daily to survive.  He states, "In order to live in Baghdad you had to change  your identify or ethnic affiliation all the time.  One day you were Sunni.  The next Shiite  why? Because fake checkpoints would stop your car and ask about the identify and faith of the passengers.  All my friends hold two identify cards: Sunni and Shiite!  His spirit was exhausted by the war and he needed to leave.  Waleed's greatest wish is to go back to Iraq and live his life as before the war.

These are just two of the many examples of stories given within this book. The straightforward, easily read book, with personal stories makes you want to continue reading without putting the book down. The photographs are also just beautiful. They pull out so much emotion from the people in them and you can see the struggle they have had to go through.  There is one photograph of a row of homes. These homes have no walls. They have no floors.  They have no real ceiling.  They are barely tents, yet they are where thousands of people make a home.  To see this, compared to the luxury we live in, is an eye opener.  I feel as though the photographs would pull our students in. Many of our students do not live in the best of neighborhoods, none of them have had the life of a young child in Iraq, or any other war torn country, and I believe these photographs would help give some perspective to their lives. 

I suggest you read this book. You can find it at Worldcat.  Once you have read it, visit the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program to find out more information about Iraqi refugees, as well as ways you can help.

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