Nobody talked to his grandmother like this.
Samir was only 10 years old when the black-clad men arrived with their guns and their insults. He’d heard of this group, known locally as “Da’esh” (ISIS). He’d seen their black flags and heard rumors of what they were doing to his people—and now they were here in his hometown.
When the ISIS fighters jeered at his grandmother, Samir stood up for her. He put himself between her and the militants, shouting back at them defiantly.
In response, they lurched forward, grabbing Samir and pinning him to the ground while another went for a can of gasoline.
Samir struggled, smelling the gas as it spilled out, soaking his pants.
He kicked and flailed even harder.
The *chik* sound of a lighter.
Then, with Samir’s grandmother watching in horror, the lighter fell, igniting his body.
“Please, don’t ask him to tell how he was burned,” his father told us with tears in his eyes. Whenever he talks about it, he wakes up screaming in his sleep for nights after. Please, just, don’t ask him…”
The despair in this father’s eyes was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen.
I did not ask Samir about being burned, only to share what he was comfortable sharing before or after. The trauma this family has experienced is unimaginable, and the last thing we want is to make it worse. His father shared these more painful details himself so Samir didn’t have to.
The pickup truck lurched down the road, and Samir felt every bump. His entire right side, from his hip down to his toes, was charred. In some places, his pants had melted into his skin. The ISIS fighter driving the truck threw truck into park and got out. Samir recognized the little town—it was on the way to ISIS’s stronghold of Mosul.
“Come to the shower and we’ll wash you,” a militant told Samir.
“We are going to take care of you now,” the fighter said. “We will teach you to fight.”
ISIS held Samir and his grandmother captive for several weeks before freeing them near the Kurdish border. The family was reunited and relocated to Zawita Camp, where we met them.
“My leg still hurts, especially when I walk,” Samir said. “But my father took me to a hospital here and I’ve had four surgeries so far.” Later in the conversation, Samir’s father interrupted to brag on his son. “He is number one in his entire school, the first in every subject.” Samir looked down and gave a shy smile, the first we’d seen on his face. For the family, many aspects of life have become ‘normal’ again. They have chores, meals together, and discussions about the war and when they can go home.
But Samir’s leg is a reminder of what happened and the fact that, while life goes on, it will never be the same.
When we asked Samir’s grandmother what she thought of her grandson who’d stood up for her, she said loudly, for the whole tent to hear, “He’s a good boy! Yes, he really is such a good boy.”
I wish there were an easier way to end Samir’s story, but there isn’t. It isn’t over. We won’t leave him behind or abandon him or his family because he is exactly the kind of person we’re looking to love over the long haul, starting with a listening ear and the provision of egg-laying chickens and regular deliveries of water.
Thank you for leaning in to love the most afflicted, most traumatized people rather than burying your head in the sand.
Thank you for believing things can get better, even in the most painful situations.
Thank you for loving and standing alongside Samir.