This is a Photo Essay. The Photographs tell the story and they are followed by captions for further explanation. The captions are all quotes said by Rana, the Iraqi refugee. she is the narrator of this photo essay:
“My name is Rana Raphael-Khamo, and this is my story:
I won’t go back, even if the war ended. No, I won’t go back to Iraq. I married Alphonse in Baghdad, in a church that now became a territory for ISIL. I have three kids; Andy, Maria and Makarios. We escaped from Baghdad, found our way to Zgharta, North Lebanon and loved this place from the very first moment. I recently started cleaning homes for a living and I’m thankful that my family and I survived this war. I am proud of my culture and the memories will always be engraved in my heart and in my mind, but returning home is now hard for all of us. We love it here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t face many problems too.
This is my 6-year-old son Makarios. My son is very polite and funny, but a lot of kids bully him because he is the youngest among them. They make him say words he doesn’t want to say, they hit him and steal his money, food, or toys and that’s why he sometimes hits them back, but my son is not aggressive. He does not talk to me when he gets bullied but I can immediately tell, I want my son to go to school just like everyone else but older Iraqi refugees keep creating problems so that the school expels him. I don’t want my son to become bad or impolite, I’m always worried about him. He is so young, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how I can help him. I am a mother and trust me, no mother would love to see her child bullied or threatened while she can do nothing about it because she’s not a citizen of the country and the bullies are also refugees like us. I always ask Lebanese groups to go with him because I trust them to defend him when others attack.
Alphonse, my husband, has the “brain of a computer”, he is so creative and full of ideas. He got a backpack filled with pictures and memories we brought with us from Iraq, it is all that had left from home. Alphonse will show you the pictures and tell you a lot of memories and stories from our lives in Iraq. Did he tell you about his fight with his brothers because of lands and houses? Or about the time I wore his sister’s clothes, not to mention that she is a nun? Alphonse! Did you tell her about the parties we used to go to and how we used to dance the night away in Baghdad? Does she know that you don’t really like your mom so much? Alphonse used to be a painter. He was so happy that you saw old pictures of him while he still had hair. “My wife made me bald with her love for cleaning detergents” he jokes all the time.
I have an obsession with Cleaning detergents. I buy every possible item I see, some you’ve never even heard of. I want everything to be clean. Why don’t you take pictures of me with cleaning detergents since it really describes me well? I look like I’m doing an advertisement for a cleaning company. Don’t you think?
These are two pictures from our wedding. The one on the left is a proof that Alphonse actually had thick hair and loved me a lot. I was very young when I got married, in our country marriage is an important step in life. The picture on the right has all the family members, no friends, just one big family that is now teared apart.
You should see my long hair, it’s so gorgeous but you don’t see it because I always tie it in a bun. Yes, my hair reaches my lower back, I am so proud of it, it makes me feel beautiful again, now that I got old and tired. You could also talk about how proud I am to be a Kaldania. I even have a picture on my phone saying that. My favorite place in Baghdad is Al Mutanabi Street. This is the neighborhood we live in, here in Zgharta, it’s peaceful and there is a Church next to us, let me take you to Our Lady of Zgharta’s Church, follow me.
You don’t need to thank me that much, I am more than happy to talk to you. Thank you for sharing our story and listening to us. I will pray for you and for your family. We might have left our home there, but never our faith. God, we are searching for a destination, let it be your way. Take us wherever you want because we are lost. We don’t want to go back to Iraq anymore but please let there be peace, I pray that the war ends. But until then, farewell Iraq.”
Photo credits: Helena Saadeh