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The Hanoudi Letter: Saying Hello from Christmas by the Lake PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 30 December 2012 01:04

For almost a month now, I was running a piece on my blog called “my book and the story of the book” which was about a book I was working on for the last year, after the passing away of my son on the 21st of December 2011, I was very lonely and depressed, because during the years of my son’s suffering I have at least been doing something useful with my time.  I thought that the best thing I could do after the end was to write about what had happened to our son and to me and my family which was a very good idea and a great help in dealing with the sadness and bereavement which followed our son’s departure.

The book is called the Hanoudi tragedy which as I have already mentioned is a recounting of the events which followed the tragic and mistakenly shooting of my son in Baghdad on the 29th of March, 2004, the repeated surgeries which were frequently followed by very serious complications that left Nazar in a very badly damaged brain which commonly referred to as a vegetative state.  The situation, forced my son into a desperate struggle for his life and plunged us into a terrible nightmare which lasted for almost eight years and during all those years and until the end.  Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories. Jacki was always at our side graciously helping and kindly supporting us during the terrible and agonizing months and years of our tragedy.

The last update of my blog was very successful, the site was visited during the last month by at least three times more than its average ratings, it was also the first anniversary of my son’s departure and on top of all that I had fallen in a public transport bus in Mississauga/Ontario where I was spending the Christmas holiday with my daughter when I was returning to my daughter’s house after spending few hours in a public library.  To make things even worse I actually fell down and injured my right knee joint which was already very badly damaged because of my longstanding arthritis which left me completely bedridden for the last ten days which left me very dejected and depressed.  I suddenly received a message from Jacki on the night of the 25th which was absolutely amazing which changed my stance completely and inspired me to go ahead with this update, the next part of it is a copy of the whole letter and the title of this update is in fact the one which was at the head of Jacki’s message which is coming next.

Hi Dearest Najeeb -- We've had an absolutely lovely Christmas, and I hope that you have, too, in Toronto.  I was thrilled by your news of teaching next year.   Here is the writing I was doing en route here. I will continue it and send you some pages which are direct transcriptions of your conversations.  I'm so happy we've been such close friends and more than that, a family.

Lots of love from our house to yours today... Love, Jacki

Iraq, October, 2003.

The war was escalating day by day, with the hardening and inexorable calculus of loss.  Every correspondent wanted the same thing-- Iraqis with whom they could connect; Iraqis who were able to bridge two cultures (at least) who didn’t resent their presence so profoundly that the war and Iraq’s history might be discussed.   We were looking for these people, and they were looking for us.   We were, after all, a new class of invaders in Baghdad:   journalists wandering around, impossibly ignorant but also impossibly free to ask questions, to go to the wrong places, to get into all sorts of dangerous complications, from an unintentional insult to a bullet.   A colleague mentioned a Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi of Mansour, whom he’d met while following some American soldiers.   I went to the home of Dr. Najeeb; but he had taken a short vacation in Amman.

It wasn’t until the next year in the spring of 2004 when I actually met and became a guest of the Hanoudi’s.  People say this often of Dr. Najeeb:  we just clicked.  I’d come down through Kurdistan on my own in the spring of 2004, working on a book project.  Along the way I’d rescued a very lost young woman -- and this can happen in war zones.  Improbable people turn up in your life, most of them you shoo away but some of them, well, even the hard-boiled take pity. She’d been stranded at the Turkish border.  Juliana was half-Russian, half-Azerbaijani, and thoroughly a crazy sort of war tourist, who wanted to see the greatest shrines of Islam.  The Hanoudi’s didn’t bat an eye.  They took in this rambunctious female, and me, so that made two of us, somehow, and they fed us and carted us round the neighborhood. (A Muslim neighbor actually took Julianna to Samarra, Najaf and Karbala, and a good thing, too, as by the next year it would have been impossibly dangerous to there).  I’m sure we were quite an amusing distraction!   She with her misguided mission (when a friend of mind met her in Moscow, she was working as an executive for a cosmetics company.  In Baghdad, she wore chador, no makeup and prayed five times a day and me with my, I hope, rather more serious one:  how to find cultural connectors, how it was we made the mistakes that we made, little ziggurats of misapprehension.

In writing this, I’m cloaking the scene with something like normalcy, just the way that Um Nazar did each day, knitting and sewing baby clothes for her brand-new grandchild, her second, a grand-daughter with Nazar’s huge blue eyes.   The baby had been born in Australia; Nazar’s wife being unwilling to subject herself and the child to the deprivations of the war.  And he would be going there to join them within days. Nazar was a quiet, lovely presence, nothing like his voluble father, but a man who clearly had the respect and love of his family and friends.

Normal, but of course, nothing was normal.  Nazar was working on an American military base.  Every night scores were settled.  Every morning, bodies turned up on the street.  Yet another young woman that spring worked with Iraqi civilians.  I’d always admired her for, yet always looked upon her as someone dangerously reckless and naïve as well.  Indeed, one day she was horribly murdered in a bomb attack on the airport road.  Her name was Marla Ruizicka. On another day, four contractors were set upon by a mob in Fallujah, stripped, beaten, hung and burned.  These things suggested the darkness that flowed along in Iraq; the brutality the brutalized people can commit.

I write this to remind myself again of what a sanctuary the Hanoudi home was full of light and good food, and good conversation. We rambled over Iraqi history, and Dr. Najeeb forthcoming hopes for his ophthalmology practice, once things ‘calmed down a little’.  He’d been educated in England, and had relations in America (including one son) and was as hopeful for our lives as we were for his.

And then, the tragedy.   I was in the North the day of Nazar’s shooting, In Iraqi Kurdistan.

I called the Hanoudis to say one last thank you, one last goodbye before leaving the region and to express my sympathy and sadness about their tragedy which has struck them.

To be continued.

Jacki’s message which I have copied here is incomplete, it was apparently written in a great hurry and is to be completed, I hope at a later day, which in its incomplete form was sent now to share with us our grief during the first anniversary of the loss of our son and to extend to us her tender and loving hopes and very best and sincere wishes which she always does on such occasions.

Najeeb Hanoudi

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Southfield, MI

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