A Glimpse of Trust

A Glimpse of Trust

Iraq.  I’m sitting in a small room, barefoot, legs folded beneath me on a patterned cushion against a cool, barren wall.  A woman sits across from me, tries to smile as she sips her tea. She wears a traditional middle eastern robe but her headcover has been removed.  Her dark hair hangs free and tumbles over her blackened eye.


I’m covered in dust but happy to be out of the jeep where I’ve been wedged between two Freedom Shield Special Forces guys for the past three hours, an AK47 machine gun on the floor at my feet.  We’ve passed through security checkpoints, had guns pointed in our faces, been searched twice. All in a morning’s work to get to this sprawling refugee camp that houses some fifteen thousand displaced Yazidis, almost entirely women and children.


I don’t go anywhere alone.  The Freedom Shield guys won’t allow it.  Three of them are here in the room with me now, including a six-foot seven Australian Special Ops guy who goes by the name of Romeo.  He never leaves my side. Ever.


“This is what ISIS did to my children,” says the woman.


Her 15-year old son lies in the fetal position facing the wall and sucking his thumb.  He hasn’t moved since we got here and he doesn’t make a sound. Her daughter, 13, sits in a corner and rocks back and forth, rhythmically, robotically, eyes unfocused.  She’s beautiful and emaciated and she hugs her arms tightly around her little body as if trying to hold herself together. She’s in another world.


But the one that breaks my heart is the little boy.  He’s only 7, with big dark eyes and a beautiful mass of tousled hair, a living angel come to earth.  Except that there’s dried blood around his mouth and on his sleeve. And he constantly hits himself in the head and face.


“The blood, it’s from his tongue.  He won’t stop biting it,” she says.


I look around at the horror before me.  This is what’s left after ISIS was pushed back, after my guys recovered the remainder of this family from a three-year nightmare of terror, of violence, of physical and sexual abuse.  The guys themselves are silent, capable and dangerous men rendered helpless in the face of this reality.


The woman and I stir our tea and talk for a bit.  I’m lost in her pain and the sadness in her eyes. She’s been through hell and watching her children suffer through it with her has made it exponentially worse.  It’s almost impossible to imagine.


I feel a hand on my shoulder.  I follow Romeo’s eyes to the little boy who is on his feet and slowly backing toward us.  He keeps his eyes on the floor and talks to himself between self-inflicted blows to his face.  What’s fascinating is that he never looks in our direction.


The room goes quiet.  His mother glances up and covers her mouth in amazement.  This is a seven-year old child and he can’t even make eye contact.  After a few stumbles he backs straight into my lap and sits down. He folds his hands and snuggles into my chest, closes his eyes and just breathes.


I am stunned and grateful and overwhelmed.  I carefully put my arms around him and realize that he’s no longer mumbling, no longer hitting himself.  He just is. And suddenly the tears are streaming down my face. I look up and his mother, my guys, all of them are wiping their eyes.


“He trusts you,” she says.  And she smiles.


Trust.  It’s a tiny first step.  But at least it’s something.


What can we build from that?  What can we do right here, with this single devastated family?  Or with this camp of 15,000 horrifically brutalized women and children?  Or with this community of 150,000 whose homes and cities and lives have been so utterly destroyed?


I don’t know, I’m only one woman.  So I hug this child and smile through my tears.  I’m in way over my head. But isn’t that how change begins?

–       Carrie G., Iraq, July 20, 2018

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