Interview with Majida Hasan Mujemer from Najaf
Interviewer: Laura Hamblin
Translator: Hala Al-Sarraf
Transcriber: Laura Hamblin
East Amman 1.15.08
LH.: Could you us give your name, and age and where you’re from?
M.M.: My name is Majida Hasan Mujemer, and I’m from Najaf governorate. I was an accountant in the department of education in the Najaf governorate. I was a leader in the student’s union in the governorate, and I was in charge of the Jerusalem Army that was established during the previous administration.
L.H.: What is the Jerusalem Army?
M.M.: The Jerusalem Army is an army that stands on its own that was established by Saddam god bless his soul.
L.H.: How does it differ from the other armies?
M.M.: It’s different from the regular army because it’s an army composed of the people from the governorate to serve and protect the governorate itself.
L.H.: I’d like you to tell me your story.
M.M.: I came to Jordan on 19th of June [she misspoke here--actually it was the 19th of December 2006], so basically I’ve been here for one year. After the fall of Saddam’s regime, the Mahdi Army started looking for people like me, and then I was chased by the Mahdi Army. They crossed to our house twice and I am alone with my daughters. And that is the reason why I came here [to Amman, Jordan].
H.A.: When did you get married? What happened to your husband, and that story?
M.M.: My husband died in 2001, and it was of natural causes. He was working in the private sector. And then I became the main supporter of my family.
L.H.: How many children?
M.M.: I have four daughters. And there is no work permit in Jordan.
H.A.: How do you live here?
M.M.: I went through very difficult times until I reached here. I’ve seen days I thought I would never see. I served in the houses, and then I worked as a hostess, so these are not good days. My daughter, Sarah was born 1993, and Hernia is younger. What have they committed to work until 12:00 at night to earn five JDs per day?
L.H.: What work do they do?
M.M.: No actually they serve. My daughters have been taken by a woman who organizes parties and weddings. So she organizes parties and she takes my daughters to serve in these wedding parties, to serve food, serve drinks and help in organizing the parties.
L.H.: Is that here, or was that back in Iraq?
M.M.: No, no, in Iraq they were not working they were studying. Only here they started to work. Otherwise where can we get money to live from? The rent for our house [apartment] is 150 JDs a month.
L.H.: How much money do they get paid?
M.M.: Around 150.
L.H.: A month?
M.M.: It’s not a monthly pay only when they are asked serve, so they get like 150 JDs whenever they work. And in winter there is no work because people don’t celebrate in winter. Now I haven’t paid my rent for two months; neither have I paid for the water or electricity because there is no work in winter, so we can’t get money.
I registered in the UNHCR when I first came, and I told them get me out. Send me anywhere where you think I can live in a better life than what I am living now. Yesterday I went to renew my approval document, or my refugee document and I told them I want to go out, but nothing has happened.
Also, my daughters when they come at 12:00 at night from the parties where they work and serve, they are harassed by the guys in the neighborhood. The other day my daughter Sarah came back with tears dropping from her eyes because she was harassed by somebody who followed her up to the door. What have they committed, what sin have they committed those orphans to live this life?
L.H.: What was Iraq like for you both before the war and during the war?
M.M.: The problem is not Saddam; the problem is that in my country I would take anything to live. Now it’s over—Saddam is over. What have those dogs [referring to the government] who came afterwards done to the country since the collapse of the regime?
We have no income, we have no pensions.
H.A.: How many years have you serve in the country?
M.M.: I served for thirteen years. I have no income. I have no pension no salary. Nothing. I only came with the clothes I have. And I have asked for resettlement for a year, but nothing has happened about that yet.
L.H.: How do you afford food?
M.M.: I hardly make it. I have no body in Najaf who can send and money. I have no family here; I only have my daughters.
L.H.: So do your daughters go to school?
M.M.: Only the younger ones go to school. Because if the older ones go to school then how do we eat and how can we afford to pay the rent?
L.H.: What was life like for you during the war? Were you in personal danger?
M.M.: I was happy. I owned my house. I never thought that I would face such a day, and I never thought that life would treat me like this.
L.H.: Was there a specific thing that happened—a specific incident which made you feel like you had to leave Iraq?
M.M.: Of course. They [the Mahdi Army] crossed the fence to my house twice when I realized that I am real danger is when they killed my colleague. She’s my very good friend, and she’s one grade lower than me in the party, you know in the category. She was walking with me in the street; I just happened to be delayed, like a few steps behind her. The Mahdi Army came; they hit her very strong when she’s pregnant in the marked, she dropped the baby in the market, and they killed her. That happened in front of me. Yes—it was public it was done in the vegetable market.
L.H.: And no one did anything?
M.M.: No. Who will dare to do anything? Everybody is scared.
L.H.: What’s the situation with your house now? Do you still own your house?
M.M.: My house, I have a share in the house. It belongs to many inheritors, so the other inheritors are taking the house.
L.H.: Do you see yourself ever being able to go back to Iraq?
M.M.: No. It is impossible for me to go back. I have four daughters. I’m not going to sacrifice them.
L.H.: What do you think has to happen in order for there to be peace in Iraq?
M.M.: What do you think can happen after the fact that Maliki is in power and [with] this poor performing group? Nobody is coming to build Iraq. Everybody is coming to build their own interests. Everybody is taking whatever he wants [for him] self.
L.H.: Do you think the situation would improve, stay the same or get worse if the US military were to leave?
M.M.: Of course if the U.S. military leaves Iraq it will get worse because the country will be left for the thieves only.
L.H: Where do you see yourself in five years?
M.M.: I really don’t know where I’ll find myself.
L.H.: Where do you see your daughters?
M.M.: There is no security in this country. My only hope is if I get a chance to take my daughters out where they’ll be safer.
L.H.: What’s your best memory of Iraq?
M.M.: I remember the good days I had in Iraq, which turned to be very bad now. I remember my family, I remember my relatives. Those days I remember.
L.H.: How is your extended family, your parents and your siblings?
M.M.: Yes, they get in touch with me and they’re fine.
L.H.: They are safe? They are not in harm?
M.M.: No, they are safe. Nobody is threatening them because I was on my own and I lived on my own [I was threatened].
L.H.: How do you spend your days here?
M.M.: If I find a job, I go out and do some work. Other wise I sit home. How can I spend my days? And winter is difficult because there is no work.
L.H.: So have you’ve been here for two years?
M.M.: On the 19th of December 2006 I came, so it’s only been one year.
H.A.: Did you bring money with you?
M.M.: Yes, I brought a little money but they are done, they are finished now.
L.H.: What do you see as your greatest needs right now?
M.M: I need everything. Everything.
L.H.: What makes you laugh?
M.M.: I will laugh, I will be happy to leave this country, because I’m tired of this country. I’m tired of protecting my daughters and I’m tired of looking for a job myself.
L.H.: Is there anything you’d like to say which we haven’t asked?
H.A.: How do you get your health need, how do you get your health services done?
M.M.: Through the Jordanian Red Crescent here. In the last fifteen days I have developed diabetes and high blood pressure. So I am going to the center because I keep thinking of the girls, because of the sorrow I live in, so I have been going to the center. Now I am on treatment so they give me medication to organize the level of sugar in my blood.
L.H.: Are you on insulin or just pills?
M.M.: I’m on pills.
H: Who pays?
M.M.: I don’t pay when I go. The two daughters are attending school. They don’t pay. I only pay the 13 JD for each one of them. The third daughter was enrolled in school, actually she was in a private school to study [?] Islam, but I had to stop her because she needs to work and help her sister in earning money.
H.A.: Did you get any opportunities; do you get any food aid, blankets from CARE or any organization?
M.M.: No I have been kicked out when I went to Care.
L.H.: What did they say?
M.M.: It’s been one whole year now. They tell me go, and when it’s time we will come and interview you and visit you, and it’s been already one year. So again, I went to [?] and I tell them you are to support orphans and my daughters are orphans—they have no father—can’t I enroll them with you? And say it’s not with us; their names are not with us so they have to come from another area. So I couldn’t register them. So basically the whole family is dependent on Sarah and Hanina and Sarah is fourteen and Hanina is thirteen years old.
L.H.: May I interview your daughters?
L.H.: Could you all tell me your names and ages?
Sarah Hasan Aziz and I’m fourteen years old.
Hanina Hasan Aziz and I’m thirteen years old.
Sabrine Hasan Aziz twelve years old.
Fatima Hasan Aziz and I’m seven.
L.H.: You have lovely daughters—beautiful, beautiful. Do you understand the project that I’m doing here? [H.A. explains]
Sarah: I finished until sixth year primary school. And then I stopped studying because my mother joined work and Fatima was a baby so I stopped studying to work.
L.H.: Until sixth grade? Would you like to continue your studies?
Sarah: Yes, I was hoping I could continue my studies and become a doctor.
L.H.: How old were you when the war began?
Sarah: I was nine years old.
H.A.: Were you veiled in Najaf?
Sarah: Yes. Now I’m used to taking off the veil, I’m used to going without it.
L.H.: How do you spend your days?
Sarah: I met this woman through my mom’s uncle who knows her, and they told us about her. The lady would take us in a group and we would go to halls, to wedding halls. We go to Zahran in Amman, in zhab and we go to Arena [Hotel] in Gardens, and she takes us back at night. [26min]
L.H.: Do you serve the tables?
Sarah: Yes. We start at five o’clock and we continue until ten or eleven and sometimes we stay until one o’clock in the morning. I don’t wash dishes, I just serve the food and sometimes I organize the tables and remove the chairs. The woman pays five JDs and sometimes she pays seven JDs. Sometimes it’s continuously parties, and sometimes nothing. For the last couple of months there has not been any served party.
L.H.: What is your best memory of Iraq?
Sarah: The whole Iraq is beautiful.
L.H.: Give me an example
Sarah: I miss my grandfather’s house and I miss my uncles.
H.A.: Have you been to the capital?
Sarah: Yes, I was very young when I went, and I don’t remember it very well. I was born in Baghdad in Kazmiyah Area.
L.H.: When you look at your future do you see yourself going back to Iraq?
Sarah: I don’t know.
H.A.: How long after your arrival did you start work?
Sarah: After we ran out of money, around two months.
H.A.: Would you have rather studied here?
Sarah: Yes, but the English part, which is very difficult here.
H.A.: Do you have fiends?
H.A.: Iraqi or Jordanian?
Sarah: I keep away from Iraqi friendships because I always end up with problems with them, so I keep distance. Yes, it’s because of work, because there is a competition for work.
L.H.: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Sarah: I see myself getting out of this to any other country.
L.A.: Is there any message you’d like to give to people in the west?
Sarah: Basically just [I want] to leave this country [Jordan].
L.H.: May I interview you Hanina?
H.A.: The meaning of her name [Hanina] is nostalgia—being kind, belonging to something. Do you have nostalgia for Iraq?
L.H.: How old were you when the war began?
Hanina: I am only one year younger than her [referring to Sarah—meaning Hanina was eight when the war began]. I loved Sarah but I loved studying now [?]
L.H.: What grade did you finish?
Hanina: I just now left studying, just before mid term. It wasn’t because the education was hard but we needed somebody to work and support the family. I go with my sister to the halls and we work together there.
L.H.: Do you like your work?
Hanina: I need it.
L.H.: Bit if there isn’t a lot of work now because it’s winter why isn’t she still in school?
M.M.: It’s difficult that she goes in and out of school. It has to be always.
L.H.: What is your best memory of Iraq?
Hanina: I love the whole of Iraq and my I love my grandfather’s house and my family.
L.H.: How long has it been since you’ve seen your grandfather?
Hanina: One year.
L.H.: Are you able to communicate with them at all?
L.H.: What message would you give to westerners?
Hanina: I want to tell them that we are really suffering here and our hopes are that the UNHCR will do something to take use out of here. The difficulty I face here is that always men harass us. They always say things to us, and we don’t like that.
L.H.: Do they know that you are Iraqi?
L.H.: You’re so young to have to deal with that.
Hanina: The perception is when we are coming home late at night we are doing something else. And the perception is that Iraqis do these things, so they tell us things we don’t want to hear.
L.H.: I’m sorry. That’s terrible for little girls. Do you really have to worry about the immigration officers as well?
Hanina: Yes we do worry about them because we don’t have residency so we are subject to the immigration officers. The immigration officers, they go to the party halls and when the immigration officers come to the halls, the hall owners tell us to hide so we hide under the tables because they look for Iraqis. So the guy tells us so we hide.
L.H.: Do you sleep well?
Hanina: Yes, we sleep in the daytime.
L.H.: Do you have a best friend here?
Hanina: We’re not dear friends, you can’t say “best friends” but we have friends and they are from work.
L.H.: So what do you do for fun?
Hanina: I have no time. I enjoy my time with my sisters and sometimes when I go to work I have fun with the friends at work, but we have no time.
L.H.: May I interview you? How old are you Sabrine?
Sabrine: I’m not very cleaver, I’m medium; I’m average in class. But my problem is that the boys in class, they always make fun of me because I’m Iraqi.
L.H.: What do they say?
Sabrine: The boys make fun of us. The guy makes fun of my name, and he tells my friends to call me different names, so together with another Iraqi girl, so they also make fun of me.
H.A.: Does the teacher allow this treatment?
Sabrine: They are not scared of the teacher. The teacher smacks them but they are not afraid of the teacher, and they continue calling me these things.
L.H.: What is your favorite subject in school? What do you like to study?
Sabrine: I like math, Arabic, and religious education.
L.H.: Math—that’s very good!
H.A.: Did you attend school in Iraq?
Sabrine: Yes. Both of them were nice. The ones in Iraq were easier, but the ones in Jordan are better.
L.H.: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sabrine: A doctor.
L.H.: Hanina, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Hanina: A pediatric [doctor]
L.H.: And, how about you?
Sarah: I had the wish to become a doctor and serve free of charge.
L.H.: What type of doctor do you want to be?
Sabrina: An ophthalmologist. When I was living in the other neighborhood, there was a girl who was always smacking me. And when I tell her why do you hit me, she tells me, “I am free to do what I like to do—you are living in my country.”
L.H.: Oh, I’m sorry. It’s not easy for little kids. . . .
H.A.: Do you like Jordan?
Sabrine: Yes, I like Jordan.
L.H.: What do you like to do you like to do in your free time? What do you do for fun?
Sabrine: My friends in school are Iraqis and Jordanians, and I enjoy having fun with them at school.
L.H.: What’s your best memory of Iraq?
Sabrine: Iraq is my family, is my grandparents’ house, is my whole country.
L.H.: You sound like you have wonderful grandparents. That’s all their favorite place to be. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Sabrine: I would love to see myself back in Najaf in five years.
L.H.: What would you tell western people about your life here?
Sabrine: I would love to tell that I want to be in another country because everybody hates us here.
L.H.: Do any of you have memories of the war itself, of soldiers?
Sabrine: We were afraid because we used to see the dead bodies in the streets in front of us, and they were carrying those bodies in a push carriage, and we see cut arms.
M.M.: When there is an opposition between the Mahdi army and the police, the bodies are left in the street.
H.A.: Were you there during the attack in Najaf during [Iyad] Allawi’s time?
Sarah: When we were seeking refuge in grandparents’ house in Diyala [another governorate] and we were going to shelters to hide. We remained like two days in the shelter and we had nothing, no food to eat. We remember that, and it wasn’t only us it was everybody else, the whole people were with us in the shelter.
H.A.: Were you worried about your mom’s safety?
Sabrine: Yes for sure.
L.H.: Tell me about your mom, what’s she like? Forget that she’s sitting here.
Hanina: Our mother was our mother and father at the same time. She never made us feel that we need anything else for us. She was the compensation of the father for us.
L.H.: Do you have memories of your dad?
Sarah: We were very young.
H.A.: Are there things that you wish to have that you cannot have?
Hanina: Yes, my wish is to see Iraq back healthy again and that everybody will go back.
L.H.: When do you think that will happen?
Hernia: It will take a long time.
L.H.: Can I bring the little one in and take a photo?
H.A.: I want to ask the mother—you belong ideologically to a different thought—as a Ba’ath party member. I want to see it from the women’s perspective in the Ba’ath party.
M.M.: I can speak for my state—in Najaf—women were more liberated before than they are now. Before, women used to join the work force and they had their full share of everything, but now since the Mahdi Army took over, they don’t allow women to leave the house and therefore women are staying in the house.
H.A.: What do you think of women training on weapons like we saw them on TV in Karbala?
M.M.: This is driving us all backward. Believe me this is all for destructive purposes. Nobody has come to fix the city or work for the city.
H.A: How do you see women in Najaf? The same women [who] were before—during Saddam—are the same women living now. How do they . . .
M.M.: Women[’s] role is very limited now in Najaf because of the strong group of the religions men. So from hamal, akim [?] to the Mahdi and others, women’s role has been diminished and now they—women are even veiling their faces so that nobody recognizes their faces. This is all limitation to their active participation [in society].
H.A.: Can women change the situation?
M.M.: Impossible. They [the religious extremists] are in full control of the country.
H.A: Do you know of women leaders who can work to change the situation?
M.M.: I wish I would have been the first one to do so if it is possible.
L.H.: [to Fatima] What’s your best memory of Iraq?
Fatima: When we were living in Iraq. . . . Najaf.
L.H.: What do you like to play the best?
Fatima: I don’t have toys to play with. I don’t have a doll.
L.H.: You don’t have a doll?
Fatima: No, no dolls.
L.H.: Do you have a ball?
L.H.: Do you have a jump-rope?
Fatima: No. I don’t play with toys. I just play with my friends.
H.A.: What would be a toy that you would love to have?
H.A.: This is equivalent to Barbie.
L.H.: I know Fulla.
L.H.: I want to know [from] all of them. What toy would you like?
Sabrine: Me? I would like Fulla.
L.H.: Everybody likes Fulla.
Hanina: She wants an Islamic Fulla.
L.H.: Oh, the one with the abaya?
Sabrine: I think it’s nicer.
L.H.: With the whole abaya or just the hijab?
Sabrine: It’s nicer than unveiled.
L.H.: How about you two? What would you like?
Hanina: We like sports.
L.H.: Oh you like sports?
Hanina: We would love to have a training suit. We like boots or track suits.
L.H.: Well, you have an amazing family. Is there anything that any of you would like to say in closing?
M.M.: I wish we could receive any kind of support whether the UNHCR to take any action to take us out, or any agency to provide us any aid. As you can see we are a family of four [children] and all of them are young. Any kind of support that could come would help.
L.H.: Ok. Thank you.