Nifa’s husband was a teacher. On his way back from school one evening during the 2003 US invasion, he was killed by an American soldier. Nifa still doesn’t know the details of why he was shot, but it took 3 wrenching days for the family to retrieve his body from American hands.
Traditionally, Muslim families bury their departed as soon as possible; so funeral preparations happen even in the middle of the night if necessary. On top of losing him in such a circumstance, waiting so long to give him a proper funeral was a nightmare.
After 16 years, it is still hard for her to talk about.
It’s easy for us to think that we’re helping people who are suffering because of “the bad guys.” Because the bad guys are never us. In the camp where Nifa lives with thousands of displaced Iraqis, ISIS has been that bad guy. ISIS is the reason that she had to flee to this camp, with her teenage daughters and her husband’s family.
What happens if we’re the bad guy? When it’s our nation that has killed innocent people in our name? When it’s our heroes who took innocent lives and caused immense suffering? And no reparations are offered to the thousands who’s lives we’ve destroyed?
Coming face to face with Nifa, was to come face to face with the part we played in the destruction of her life, and that of thousands Iraqis and Syrians who have lost everything because of the battles we were a part of.
And it was to be reminded again of our commitment: that it is our responsibility to help her and her family heal. That is what brought us to Iraq in the first place. To end the wars that have taken the lives of thousands of ordinary Iraqis and Syrians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
It starts with small steps: starting businesses for widows like Nifa. So she can send her daughters to school, so they can all equip themselves with the tools to rebuild their lives, homes, communities, and nations.
Nifa’s grocery business is a small one, like the others we’ve started in camps for refugees and displaced people. They’re meant to provide income and sustenance for one family. But imagine if every family could provide for themselves, and send their kids to school without causing undue hardship to its other members. Imagine if every family had access to healthcare that the rest of us take for granted. Imagine what that could do for the next generation…
… or do we even have to imagine?
Isn’t that the world that so many of us already live in? The one where our children have the foundation to work towards the fulfillment of their dreams, without resorting to bearing arms to feed themselves?
Small businesses are so much more than food on the table. They’re hope and aspiration, the necessary work to ending war, one family at a time.
Nifa’s shop was stocked by her brothers-in-law and friends during the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims all over the world fast during the daylight hours, and devote themselves to prayer, reflection, and their community. As they finished unloading, one of her brothers-in-law asked what she would be cooking for iftar, the nightly feast during Ramadan that breaks the day’s fast.
Nifa said with a huge smile: “What of iftar? I will think of feeding you when it is iftar. I have a new shop to work on today. This is my future.”