Reflections on the New Year

By Jane E Drichta:

Sunrise outside my house overlooking a Yezidi shrine.

It's the Yezidi New Year this week, and people are spending the week getting ready. It is the largest holiday of the year, and people go all out. Of course, holidays after losing someone in your life can be very difficult, so all holidays have taken on a more muted feel since the genocide in 2014. This goes for all celebrations; my colleague Hewan tells me weddings aren't as large, and other occasions which should be joyful just . . . aren't. Add this to the list of things that ISIS stole from the Yezidi.


It's interesting the ways that people cope with loss. As in all things, there is no one way to trying to come to terms with such a traumatic event. One man I know combs Facebook obsessively, following many suspected ISIS soldiers' pages. (It seems completely odd to me that ISIS members not only have Facebook pages, but that they are public. What do they have under employment? Terrorist?) He screenshots their photographs, prints them out, and puts them in an album.


“This was my house,” he says, sitting next to me on the low floor cushion, album open on his lap.


Three young bearded men are standing in front of a fountain, the house behind them riddled with bullet holes. They are smiling, arms draped over each others' shoulders, and one is holding a bottle of Coke. One is smoking. Except for the background, they could be any young men from anywhere.


“Does it help to keep these pictures?” I ask awkwardly, wanting to comfort, wanting to make everything right.


He shakes his head. “No. But they are all I have.”


A map of all the internal displaced persons camps and refugee camps.

Other people keep their memories in their minds. Many times I have sat next to someone and had them recite the names of family members who are dead or who are still being held by ISIS in captivity. The lists are usually long, and they are always recited in the same cadence. There is a long tradition here of lamentation poems; this is the stripped-down version, devoid of imagery or metaphor, each name a bare bone.


Other people tell their stories with their bodies. Fainting is very common here. One woman fainted in my office just this past Thursday. When she came to, she could only speak of her troubles. Her 16-month-old wouldn't breastfeed anymore, and she was so afraid she was losing her milk. Her husband was unemployed. She was wearing her five-year-old's shoes because she had none of her own. It's like the thoughts in her head were so intense that her body decided she needed a break from thinking for a few minutes.


We brainstormed some strategies around the breastfeeding, but the rest of it? I can only listen.


So, it's a mixed bag, this holiday thing. New Year here symbolizes what it does everywhere: a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to move forward with hope into the rest of your life. Some years this is hard. Some years it's downright impossible.

Some of our women improvising a volleyball game.
But the Yezidi are nothing if not resilient, and so please join me in wishing our friends here a very happy New Year.