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Published: April 4th 2008
It was the begining of the semester and I showed up for my Turkish class. The professor had not arrived yet and there were only two other students waiting in the room: a young woman from Baghdad, and a young man from Basra. Never before have I felt so ashamed to admit that I am an American. It was a brand new experience for me, a very unexpected and emotional surprise. What exactly does one say in this situation?...
Thankfully, the teacher showed up before too much time had passed, coming to my rescue, sort of. I learned that the young man had come to Turkey four years earlier and that is all I found out about him. He left during the break and didn't come back - must've dropped the course.
Zainep, I've since grown more comfortable around now that we've had some time to talk and get to know each other a bit. The first day was very difficult though. "My family and I came three years ago. We would like to return to Baghdad, but the situation is very bad there..."
I actually tried to put into words something of an awkward apology that first day, but as the words were stumbling out of my mouth I realized that there is no right to say "I'm sorry that my country has repeatedly destroyed your country..." Furthermore, the response to that is definitely not "no worries, it's no big deal..."
Another thing that struck me at first was seeing an Iraqi in a normal setting. The typical images that I have of Iraqis are of yelling men in crowds or of weeping women in black robes next to explosions; images of war. A healthy, attractive young woman, dressed in European clothes for some reason does not fit into my idea of what an Iraqi looks like. Have I unknowingly bought somewhat into the dehumanization of Iraqis promulgated by the Western media and the Bush administration?
Conversing with Zainep (her English is pristine and her Turkish is quite fluent too) is heartbreaking. Baghdad was, centuries ago, the intellectual center of the world. Zainep radiates that brilliance though her young eyes have no doubt seen the worst of human sadness... all for the sake of power and oil.
Even though Zainep clearly understands that my anger with the Bush administration is shared by many other outraged Americans, there is still this terrible feeling of guilt that overwhelms me whenever we are together. She is a refugee here because of MY government's shameful, greedy, and inhumane actions.
After graduation, she would like to return to Baghdad, but she does not know if she'll be able to find any work. She's considering a visit there this summer, which sounds unimaginable to me. Even though it is very dangerous, because of one of Bush's terrible wars, it is her HOME.
Please share with me your thoughts on this.
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