(Written by Peggy in Iraq, in 2005)
Leaning over the tall metal gate, an Iraqi guard watched us as we approached. Soon my Iraqi friend and I were standing in the middle of about 15 mentally and physically handicapped men who were millingaround the courtyard of this special home in Kerbala for about 70 men. They were curious about us. I was looking for Omar, a handicapped 16-year-old boy who had been transferred there last August, fromthe Sisters of Charity (of Mother Theresa) Orphanage in Baghdad.
The worker told us to wait there and that it would take a little while to clean him up, but then he would bring Omar out to see us. Some of the men began to approach us. At first, I shrunk back, repelled by their appearance. Many appeared dirty and unkempt. One man, born with a facial deformity, had had surgery, but part of his upper lip hung down in an unsightly manner. It struck me that these men hadn’t had the advantage of modern western medicine and had not received the care that they would have had with the Sisters of Charity.
My friend also seemed taken aback by the conditions of this place, but then began light conversations with those who could talk. I felt bad about my initial fear of them. I had been able to see Omar asthe loveable boy he is, and hardly saw his twisted body from cerebral palsy. Each one of these men was also a loveable human being bu hadn’t received adequate love and care. I began to greet them.
One man told us that his family thought he was retarded, so brought him here from Baghdad. He had been a welder.
When the worker brought Omar out, he seemed small in the midst of these men. He also seemed frightened, not knowing why he was suddenly bathed and dressed and brought out here. As soon as he recognizedme, he smiled broadly, and we talked. The worker was surprised thatOmar could speak English. I took a picture of him and said I would show it to the children in the orphanage in Baghdad. We agreed to bring him a book the next time we came.
My Iraqi friend asked Omar about his parents. “I have no father or mother,” he replied, “Will you be my father?
When we visited the second time a month later, we brought him booksand other gifts that the Sisters of Charity sent with me. That timewe were invited to visit with him in his dormitory room, so it was more relaxed. I had a more positive sense of the interactions in the home. The men seemed to care for each other and were like a family. I wanted to stay and give all of them more love and attention.
I felt sad that we couldn’t provide the loving home Oman deserved. At least for this moment I could let him know that he wasn’t forgotten. I tried to hold back the tears as we finally had to say goodbye.
Before leaving, I asked him, “Remember, in Baghdad, when you would ask me over and over, ‘Where’s Charlie?’ (Charlie Liteky was a U.S. Military veteran who had received a medal of honor for bravery during the Vietnam War, but later turned it in because he saw the effects of foreign policy on the people of Central America. Before and during the invasion of Iraq, he was a fellow member of the Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad and with me volunteered at the Sisters of Charity orphanage) “and I answered, ‘Far away!’ Well, now, because we miss you, Yasser, Allah, Quar Quar, and Amil ask me, ‘Where’s Omar?’ Then I throw up my hands and say, ‘Far Away!’ He thanked me and beamed.
(The stories posted in “More Iraq Stories” are ones that because of shortage of space, didn’t get printed in Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation).