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    Baghdad, Iraq – Vian’s Story

    By  Kathleen S. Roos Ph.D.

     In this installment of interviews conducted by Kathleen S. Roos, PhD. of immigrants to the USA, Vian Barker recounts her stories and memories from childhood growing up in Irag.

    Edited by Anne Albaugh – Citizens Journal

    Interview with Vian Barker June 18, 2021

    Where were you born and raised and what was it like growing up in Iraq?


    I was raised in Baghdad, Iraq but was born in the United States, in Gulfport Mississippi. My parents traveled to study abroad. I was brought to Iraq when I was less than 1 year old. I was in Iraq from about 1983 to 1999 when Saddam Hussein was in power. Boys and girls went to separate schools. If someone wants to be with you
    (dating), they must ask the entire community.
    What does that mean: does that mean to be just a friend or date?

    No, not really to date, it means if a man wants to marry you, he has to meet with the mother and sisters of the clan first and if approved by them, then the men will meet. They will then decide if the man can marry the woman. It is very strict for women and remains so.
    My cousin, Zainb got married in Iraq and was pregnant in 2001 when she was sent to the U.S. Her husband intended to follow her to the U.S. Since her husband was a dentist and thus considered wealthy, he was kidnapped and had to pay his own ransom. He paid and just days before he was to leave Iraq he was found cut into pieces in a ditch.
    Was it because of his faith Shia or Sunni?

    No, it was just about money. It does not matter if you are Shia or Sunni. It is all for the money.
    My Mom left her home to visit me abroad. An Iraqi citizen came to visit Vian and told her mother that their home was being taken over. She was notified by local

    neighbors that other Iraqis were moving in and taking over her home. Anyone can take your house especially if you do not have a husband. My mother and father were divorced and my dad lived in Australia. My Mom returned to Iraq and had to go through laborious efforts to prove she owned her home. While my (Vian’s) grandparents were there everything was OK, but when you are a woman alone people will take what they want through, what is the word? (Vian thinks): intimidation.

    My mother was told they could take her home as she was not married or they would marry her to whomever they chose for her. She had to pay to have fake marriage papers drawn up to say she was married to another man just to keep her home. My Mom is still having a hard time. I want to get her out of there. My Mom’s health is bad and it is just hard for her.
    Iraqis in power told my mom she has to have a boy. She gets what you call social security from my grandparents. My Mom told them she cannot have a boy. She told them she is in her 60s!

    Medicine is very expensive, more than here (in U.S). You often don’t get the right medication; the dosages are not correct or they are fake medications. Pharmacies are located in strip malls.
    I have been trying to get my mom out of Iraq since her Green Card expired. The Iraqi government uses fake documentation against you. You are required to stand in long lines to get papers. Often you cannot get them without paying someone off. This is how my mom’s Green Card expired.
    I don’t really like Saddam Hussein but growing up there I did not see the kind of things that are happening now. The assassinations for money would not be happening if Saddam was there. No one is strong enough to be in charge. There is no system for anything.

    What did you experience growing up in a war-torn country?

    I remember in kindergarten; a missile was dropped onto the school. It did not explode. There was major panic to get the kids out. My mom came and got me. Schools were totally open, not enclosed buildings like here. You sit on top of layers of red sand. Ricochets were a common cause for injuries. Electricity was intermittent. You had to study during daylight as there was minimum lighting available. You weren’t allowed to have lights on so they could be sighted for explosives.
    Everyone sleeps on the roofs of their homes in Iraq since it is so hot. I would remember roaches flying all over, got into your hair and your ears. It was awful. I would pull the covers over my head to keep the roaches away. My cousin got one in her ear.

    Sand storms are common and then the rains would make conditions even worse. We always had problem with water availability. Turkey would shut off flow of the rivers and Iraqis down-stream would suffer. My Mom is half Turkish.

    How were you impacted by the government during these times?
    This is true even today, the government controls hours you can be out. At 5 o’clock they say you should be in your home. Certain hours are specified that you can shop or be out and about. It is very restrictive.

    I asked if there was a reason for the restrictions?

    No, just regulations and control. Sometimes when the religious people came into town, there were more restrictions put on everyone. You had to be in your home by 5 o’clock unless there was an extreme emergency.

    How did you meet your husband?

    My husband is in the U.S. Coast Guard and we met in Maryland where much ship building and maintenance is done. I was a hotel manager where the Coast Guardsmen would be put up. We met through other people.

    My dad stopped talking to me when I got married because my husband is non- Muslim and non-Kurdish and is considered an infidel. Though my dad has been married multiple times when he was younger. My dad had 4 wives and wanted to keep them but Australia would not allow.

    My dad threatened my mom that he was going to kidnap me. It is written in Muslim law that the father must take care of his daughter/s until she is married and then her husband takes on that role. My dad didn’t take care of me, he thinks he is Noah!

    He stopped talking to my mom also when I got married because I married a sinning person and my children that are 4 and 6 are from a sinner. My cousin stopped talking to me for almost 5 years when I ate a piece of bacon in a sandwich from Panera. I told them to remove the bacon but it was not taken off and I just ate it. My cousin got upset and then the argument escalated out of control.

    I am both Sunni and Shia. Iraq is all about the family and the clan’s name you are from. It is really all about money. All of my family go out of Iraq. They are in Syria, Jordan, or Germany. My mom has to go to Yemen, Bahrain or Turkey to complete paper work. I could help and go there to help my mom when I was single. Now as an American with children and a husband I do not feel safe to go.
    I have been trying a couple years to help Mom come to the states. COVID put another year delay in all this.

    I asked if her dad would or could help her mom.

    He could but would not. He has the finances to help. If he got me to Australia that he had planned I would be married to a Muslim Kurd now.

    What do you see or value here in America?

    In America we have electricity all the time for the Internet etc. I would say the schools are better but the education is not. In Iraq all we did is go to class and study. We just studied more in Iraq. When I was in U.S I was told by an Army recruiter when less than 20 years old I could be an officer due to my education.
    I was learning English in first grade! We only had 30-minute lunch period then it was class time from 8-4. Most schools had Muslim classes as well. I had many Catholic friends and I would go to their church services with them.

    I don’t think the U.S. has ‘crazy freedom’ but though health care is expensive I have it. There are many more opportunities here especially for work and especially for young women and teenage girls. Teenage girls cannot work in Iraq unless they work for the family. Iraqi women, especially teenagers don’t get to go out and do whatever or go wherever they want. The families have to approve a male driver who will take the girls to school, or shopping but he is known as “approved” by the men of the clan.

    Can women drive in Iraq?
    Yes, women can drive but not younger women. Not teenagers.

    In comparing the U.S with Iraq, how do they compare?
    I miss the hominess of Iraq. Family was always together for tea or coffee. Iraq is much more family oriented. You are always surrounded with family. I miss that. I don’t think Americans have that closeness.
    When I first came here, (to US) I experienced some pretty mean people in school. I was called a ‘sand crab’ and much worse. In Iraq we didn’t have bullies like you have here. I am a fun person and not hateful so I did not let it bother me.

    Are you glad to be in America?
    I am glad my mom got me out of Iraq because of the wars and all that has happened. She got me to Jordan first. My mom was told she got me out because she knew the war was coming. My mother did not know any wars were coming, she just thought the U.S was a better place for me.

    My grandparents raised me as my mom was always working and my dad was in Australia. I was with my grandfather when he passed a short time after my grandmother passed in 1994. Funerals in Iraq are in the home and continue for 40 days of mourning.

    The body is wrapped and placed on the kitchen table. Plain wood, closest to the earth, coffins are used. Prayers are said over the body. Mattresses are laid throughout the home for people to sleep during the 40 days. All wear black clothing. I remember wearing black for 40 days. The women and the men do not mix. They come together only at the burial.
    I miss these cool traditions but I don’t like many middle easterners who have come here. They change when they come here.

    I told her she has a “bubbly personality and is very outgoing”.
    I am bubbly here but I could not behave this way in Iraq. I would be much more reserved. I was asked to marry many men mainly to get them out of Iraq. I could have married my cousin. I thought this was weird.
    I am sometimes told I think weird, or am not compassionate. I am very compassionate but I tell them I was brought up in a war-torn country. That makes me a little less emotional about things. I don’t get all gooey or ‘oh poor you’.
    I love Babylon which is just south of Baghdad and I loved to go there. There were beautiful schools, one the oldest in Baghdad. It was just beautiful. My uncle is a famous archaeologist and told me all about its history. When I am asked what the difference is between Allah and our God, I tell them it is the same God. Ours is just in Arabic. She thinks these people are not very bright.


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    Mary Matera
    Mary Matera
    2 years ago

    This article highlights comparisons of life in Iraq with that offered to a young woman in the U.S. For example, while Iraqi women have little power to make their own life choices (own her own home, marry whomever she pleases) she cites the more extensive priority on education in Iraq versus her assessment of education in the U.S. While she finds America offers more opportunities for jobs and careers, she misses the closeness she attributes to her family in Iraq. To be able to choose her life in the U.S. speaks volumes about the gift of freedom many of us take for granted!

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