February 3, 2008

More Exiles

It was gratifying to hear Obama and Clinton mention the plight of Iraqi exiles in their LA debate.  Otherwise, how often does one hear about the four million?

About three weeks ago, I introduced you to a project  — by BNN contributor Lori Grinker — to profile the stories of particular Iraqi refugees.  At the time, we told you about Amer, a young Iraqi — now living in Jordan — recovering from burns from an explosion.

Today, we introduce you to Mike.  Before fleeing to Jordan, he worked as an interpreter with an American contractor, and also with US Forces.  This photo was taken last April.  Lori writes:

Mike is living in a new apartment with Iraqi friends. He applied to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and says the case is now with the IOM (International Organization for Migration—who are working with the UNHCR helping translators). He applied for a visa on June 18, has had two interviews and, last I spoke to him, was waiting on a third interview to be scheduled.

He is concerned that it is taking so long.  They told him that he has to wait until his name comes up on the list from the USA.  With no legal status, he is unable to work in Amman. He is desperate to find a job but will not work illegally for fear of being deported from Jordan and thus, sent back to Iraq. He is given 80 Jordanian dinars per month from CARE International. His rent is 100JD per month and he needs another 50JD for food. He has borrowed over 200JD from friends and does not know how he will get by next month.

Mike fell in love with an American contractor (a truck driver) in Iraq. They left and got married in Jordan, Tally (her nickname) and Mike applied to the US Embassy for a visa (with hopes of going to the US together and him getting a green card). After a few months Tally left for the US saying she had to take care of tax problems and never returned or contacted him again. He was very distraught and had an even more complicated time applying for refugee status after they applied to the US embassy for a visa for him. It is not unusual for contractors of military to find relationships abroad. It is unfortunate that this seems to have been a love affair, which brought much despair to Mike. He is 26, she was about 20 years his senior.

Besides a sense of desperation, Mike’s look has the quality of an appeal.  However, the element I found most curious here was the blackboard.  I asked Lori about it, both the purpose and content.  What she told me is that Mike had been using the board to teach Tally Arabic.

Here’s what is even more painful though:  Three different translators studied the picture and couldn’t really figure out the message.  All three agreed the first line, in English, says “God first.” From there, the interpretations are all over.  Two of them felt the Arabic says something about “looking for God first,” but aren’t sure of the rest.  Another writes:

(After) God first, the rest of the words are written in English letters but I did not understand any of the words! They are neither standard Arabic words written in English letters, nor Arabic slang words in English letters!!

The fact the chalkboard looks to be speaking for the translator, but the message isn’t clear enough to be understood, is about as lucid a communication of debility as you can get.

As usual, I welcome your reading — especially if you haven’t shared your thoughts with us before.

Schedule Note: If you’re in or near New York on Tuesday, Lori will be part of a panel at Fordham University Lincoln Center from 7-9 pm.  Moderated by Fred Ritchen from the Tisch School and pixelpress, it also features Amelia Templeton of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First for the Lifeline for Iraqi Refugees Project; Nour Al-khal, who was a translator in Iraq for the journalist Steven Vincent, and is now working for the Steven Vincent foundation; and Matisse Bustos Hawkes, Communications and Outreach Coordinator at WITNESS.  RSVP by Monday, February 4, to martinezb AT humanrightsfirst dot ORG.

The Forgotten Iraqi Exiles (BNN – previous post on Iraqi exiles)

Lori Grinker website

Afterwar: Veterans From A World In Conflict.  Photographs and Interviews: Lori Grinker

(image: © Lori Grinker.  Amman, Jordan.  April, 2007.  USED BY PERMISSION)

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