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Fatima*, 66, used to be quite the athlete. At the age of 13, she made her first – and only – parachute jump with Iraqi President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr watching.
“I was so frightened, but the president was astonished to see how brave Iraqi girls were,” she says with a laugh.
Fatima graduated with a degree in sports education, and she coached sports teams and led a Scout troupe until the Iran-Iraq War. She shows pictures of her old Scout camping trips and her days on the parachuting team. She speaks passionately about her travels and she has been to London twice with the Scouts and once to Japan with the parachuting team.
“I was like a mother for all of the boys and girls on my teams,” she says. “But because of the war with Iran, the schools were closed and I had to learn how to sew. There was no place for sports anymore.”
While living in Baghdad, she sewed children’s clothes, and later she went to a cosmetology school to learn hairdressing. She brought her certificate with her to Jordan.
She moved with her older brother, Assir*, to Jordan three years ago to flee the violence in Baghdad. Assir suffered a stroke and is now paralyzed. He lies on a bed in the living room, facing the television. A small window high on the wall emits light into the stuffy room. Fatima spends her days watching TV with Assir. She doesn’t leave the house for very long for fear that her brother will need something. She only ventures out to get his medicine, buy groceries, and to attend a nearby church. She says she does not go to church for religious reasons, but because it’s an opportunity to relax and socialize.
Fatima receives 150 JD each month from UNHCR, but her rent and utilities total 120 JD. Medication for Assir is provided by the ICMC/Caritas project, but sometimes Fatima doesn’t have enough money for the taxi fare to go pick up the medicine. To cover the rest of her expenses, she relies on assistance from friends.
Fatima’s niece and four children are planning to join them in Jordan. Fatima and Assir, however, may be resettled soon to Canada.
“I hope we leave soon,” Fatima says. “The most important thing is for my brother to get the help he needs, but I also feel alone. It’s very hard to live like this.”
Text by Laura Ashbaugh / ICMC. Photographs by Andres Morales.