Turn right out of the health clinic in this village east of the Tigris River in Iraq, turn right again, then stop at the big metal gates set back from the road. Bang hard on the gates, and call out “Hello! Are you home? Can we visit?”
Wait for the gate to open, for the women and curious children to spill out of doorways into the courtyard. Make your introductions. Listen.
They are widows, you learn. And orphans. This area was liberated from ISIS a short time ago, and they’ve just come back home.
They’re in a tough spot. These ladies have no way to support themselves back in the village—there are no factories here, nowhere they might find jobs. Some of their neighbors have government salaries or a pension, and they have helped sometimes. But war has created 400 widows and thousands of orphans in this area alone. The neighbors’ help can’t stretch that far.
The children show me their rashes and red spots. All of the children here have skin diseases, in part because of dirty water. They’ve been to the health clinic around the corner—one of the clinics you helped to open and run. They’re taking medicine, but what they really need to get on top of the situation is soap.
There just isn’t money to take care of their needs.
You might expect the visit to be bleak, but it’s anything but. These women are funny! Widowhood and poverty have not stripped them of their character.
We carry in hygiene kits, enough for each mom and her kids. Soaps to wash their bodies, hair, clothes and dishes. Bleach to sanitize. And packs of sanitary pads that will allow these women to take care of themselves.
In this moment it is obvious that you aren’t meeting these women in their need. You are meeting them in their resiliency.
They remain widows, rather than remarry someone out of need. They choose not to give their honor to someone who would use them for a while and then discard them for someone younger. Meeting our gaze with dignity, you met them there.
These are the kind of women you hope to have as friends. Their whole pattern of life is tied up in looking out for each other.
We just met these women, yet they feel like the girlfriend who gets her period unexpectedly so you share your supply. They feel like the friend/sister/daughter/wife you stop at the store to pick up pads for on your way home from work.
In this dusty Iraqi village, it feels like life—and we are in it together.