Lost and Found
By Jane E. Drichta:
Humans tell stories, it's what we do. Existence is by turns inspiring, awful, peaceful, chaotic; whatever the experience, stories help us define and integrate an occurrence, even if it did not directly happen to us. It's how children learn, and it's how adults process. Truth has a way of hiding behind the clouds, and it cannot be revealed until the word wind blows them away.
Genocides are full of stories; each one revealing these hidden truths, each one a mirror to a certain person's singular experience. No two are alike, obviously, although there can be similarities.
I've heard a lot of stories in my time in Iraq, some told through tears, some through giggles, some through screams. Sometimes there are words, sometimes the body tells the story. Today I heard one sharing a perspective I had not heard before. It struck me deeply as a mother and a person who has devoted her life to women and the people who love them.
There was a mother in the hospital in Sinjar, the seat of the Yezidi genocide, giving birth to her third child. The pregnancy was normal, the baby much wanted, and the birth anticipated with joy. The family was loving, economically secure, and the mother's other births had been uneventfully beautiful.
She entered the hospital the afternoon of August 3rd, doing the work of women all over the world—that dance between mother and baby that is the most common holy miracle. The baby was born, in the high darkness, around 3 a.m., safely and into love.
And then the world shifted.
During the night, Daesh had come, cutting off Sinjar from the surrounding area, spreading death and terror. By the end of the next day, over 5,000 men were summarily executed, pushed into mass graves or left where they fell, and over 7,000 women and girls were now captives of Daesh.
The hospital was taken the next morning; the mother and her baby, merely hours old, were bundled into a truck and driven through the fields, through her village, past her ruined house and the corpses of her neighbors, and finally across the Syrian border.
I can imagine this so clearly: her body aching after the rigors of birthing, her uterus cramping, the blood running down her legs as Daesh is not so careful about postnatal hygiene. The newborn, wrapped in a scarf that must be changed (as Daesh also doesn't think about diapers), trying to breastfeed in a bumpy truck over tracks that can barely be called roads. Her fear that her milk won't come, that her baby will starve.
And when they reached the destination, a small village in Syria where the mother is told she is now wife to a Daesh fighter, the fear that her baby will be taken from her or killed.
For seven months they lived with the Daesh fighter and his first wife, and then one day when the mother returned from an errand, the baby was gone. It was just one more mouth to feed, she was told, one more child who had no worth.
There was nothing the mother could do, nothing she could say. It was over, the final horror. After that, there was no more fighting, no more resisting, no plotting to escape even inside her own head. Her milk dried up, and it was done.
But this story, like many others, has a second chapter. After 3 years, the mother was rescued and taken to a camp in Kurdistan. Her husband was dead, but one of her other children, now 12 and having been through her own horror, was there. They tried to rebuild their small lives, filled with holes and flashbacks. There was no medical care, no help for the post traumatic stress that was their normal now. There was almost no aid and definitely no money. While she was ostensibly free, in reality, she was held captive by circumstance, and she languished there, living a life without hope.
However, life is strange and unpredictable at the best of times, though this certainly was not among them. However, almost a year later, a group of Yezidi children were freed in Syria, and somehow it was determined that her baby, now 4 years old, was among them. He was brought to the camp and reunited with the mother.
"How did she know?" I asked. "How did she know he was hers after all that time? He wouldn't know his name, he wouldn't know anything. How could they prove that?"
The young woman telling me the story smiled sadly. "How could they prove anything? But maybe it doesn't matter if he was the baby she lost. What might matter is that he was the baby she found."