* 5 min read
April 2, 2015
Next day as I was boarding the flight to Amman, around sunrise, I was excited to be leaving Iraq, especially because I would be meeting my cousin and my aunt’s family for the first time in over 20 years. That filled my heart with joy all through the next two hours of the trip.
After landing in Queen Alia International Airport and clearing customs, I walked through the airport with great anticipation. When I finally got outside I found my cousin Laban waiting for me. We gave each other a good strong hug – it had been so long.
He and his family are from a village of Tesqopa, near Mosul, and along with many other Assyrian Christians, were forced to leave recently because of ISIS. He is my second family member leaving Iraq this year, as part of the Christian Exodus. Barely anything of our extended family is still left here. We are approaching extinction in the region.
Laban and I drove to his two-room place in Alhashmi al-Shamali. It is one of the poor areas in Amman. It’s difficult to use the word home for this place. His rent is about $150 dollars a month. The condition of the house and the quality of his life as a refugee is difficult to witness. And seeing his three kids and wife living like that is heart breaking. Even more so because I know they’ll need to continue this way for the next year or longer, while they are waiting to process through to Australia to join his brother. I know about how this all works, because 20 years ago I was a refugee in Amman too.
I wanted to show him the places and things I had discovered while I was there. We took a taxi to visit the Roman amphi-theater in the downtown area. After recognizing our accents the taxi driver started up a dialogue. He was telling us about the Syrian refugees. He said they’re being labeled as “the Jews of the Arabs” – a term that made me laughs so hard. He was explaining that they had a reputation for being very frugal, and that most of the Jordanians are not renting their homes to Syrians, preferring instead to rent to Iraqi Christians. Syrians keep the houses dirty he told us, even destroy them sometimes, and almost never pay their rent. He claimed many had been taken to prison for it.
After we had toured the Roman Theater and ate Habiba Knafeh we walked together, and I pointed out some of the restaurants and other places where I had been. Then we took the Serveece, a shared Taxi, to the 2nd Circle, to visit the building where my family had rented an apartment.
Then we continued on to al-Etihad church where I had spent much of my time. Being there, as part of the Christian community, was a great relief against the anxiety of being a refugee. Tuesday nights were always allocated for the Iraqi service. Most of the Assyrians who were there at the time had gathered as part of the post 1991 war Exodus. And now, 20 years later, another wave of Assyrian Christians were fleeing Iraq – ignited by the ISIS crisis. And the church has opened its doors again.
Laban had invited me to stay with him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I needed to get a hotel. I had told him there wasn’t enough space for all of us there, but that wasn’t the real reason I declined. So after the church, we took a taxi back to my hotel. We had decided that was the best place for all of us to meet and spend the evening together.
This time my aunt and her family would be joining us too, including her daughter, another refugee at 18 years of age, who has succeeded in leaving Iraq, but has yet to claim any place home. Around 7pm, I came down to the lobby and was waiting anxiously. A few minutes passed and I was shaking my leg nervously – playing with my iPhone like someone smoking cigarettes – trying to push the time to go faster.
At about quarter after they arrived and our hugs had the intensity that can only come after long separations. Laban, his wife and children, joined us a few minutes later.
So there we all were, talking and telling each other stories. Sitting there in the lobby and looking at their eyes, I was heart broken for their situation.
I am going to America, and they are staying behind.
I wasn’t sure if I should call this a re-union or another goodbye. I know I will not see them again for a long time – that is, if we see each other again.
It was a short meeting after a long time, too short for another long time before we meet again.
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