Hi everyone, my name is Naseer Alkhouri and I work at Raw Fury as a Smooth Operator. During this year I have seen friends, colleagues, and people in general struggle with this global pandemic. I have as well, but perhaps not to the same degree. And there is a reason for that.
Growing up I had low-key ambitions about my life. Play a lot of games. Work with something you enjoy. Start a family and have 2.2 kids. Simple. Doable.
With my parents it was a bit different. Part of the 1968 generation. In Iraq. Under a dictatorship. They decided their ambition would be to overthrow Saddam through a revolution. My dad had a day job at the ministry of transport, my mom did accounting for a small firm, but outside of work these two met as political activists. Dad editing an underground magazine that printed forbidden articles and books, mom worked as a courier smuggling sensitive documents under the watchful eye of the Baath regime.
It was exciting times for a while. Playing the spy game. Breaking the law for the greater good. And then 1979 happened. Not going into history, but basically the regime decided to crack down on dissidents. People were tortured, murdered, among them relatives.
Between 1979 and 1985 my parents went into hiding within Iraq. Using false names, moving from city to city, wanted by the regime for treason. They were not alone in that; a generation was just as afflicted. And from that generation a group of radicals formed. They would no longer hide but fight back. In the north the Kurdish people had picked up arms and were fighting the Iraqi regime, my parents among others would join them.
And so my earliest memories form. As a five-year-old, entering Kurdistan, until I left, around 8 years old. I remember:
… dinner time and the Iraqi artillery bombing us. I am very afraid, but the grown ups laugh and explain that the explosives can’t hit us. We’re in a valley, and all the bombs can do is to hit the cliff side the opposite side of us.
… playing with a litter of newborn puppies.
… chasing butterflies, trying to catch them and collect them.
… learning to hit the ground when a jet flew by, sometimes the jet was Iraqi, sometimes Irani, didn’t matter, make yourself flat on the ground in case they drop bombs.
… being chased by a calf and hiding behind moms back.
… climbing a walnut tree to gorge on fresh, soft walnuts.
… looking at Turkish helicopters hovering in the horizon, not daring to get close because the Kurds would try to shoot them down.
… someone brought a tv in. They connect it to a generator, but no signal is received. I don’t really care, at this stage I have forgotten what a tv is, what cars are, anything modern really.
… Iraqi soldiers being brought in as prisoners, and then the same prisoners just disappearing. No one explaining how to me.
… trying to race the birds for the best figs. I swear, the birds know when a fig is at its most tasty and they kind off ruin it with their pecking. It’s a game of patience where the birds mostly win.
… spending entire days alone with my best friend Nadja just playing, chatting about life, discovering the world.
… and then Saddams regime deciding they had enough. Starting a genocide against the Kurdish population and bombing us with chemical weapons while advancing the army.
And as 8 years old I experienced my first and only anxiety attack. Jets dropped bombs on us. We ran for shelter. And inside that tiny, dark room I felt like the entire worlds worth of air was sucked out and I couldn’t breath, I though I was going to die.
The thing is that this is in no way a unique story. There are currently 80 million refugees in the world. Every one of these people has gone through some horrific, life changing event.
The thing is that this is in no way a tragic story. My parents often feel guilty when these memories surface, but I always tell them “what are you talking about?” I did not lose a childhood; I was never an adult remembering what was lost. For me that was life. It was fun, exciting, loving and sometimes scary. As life tends to be for most of us, I think.
And just to be on this amazing journey. Fleeing Iraq meant that we had to live in Turkey, Iran, Syria, the Soviet Union (in the 1990’s no less! I queued for that first McDonalds to open in Moscow.) And then as the Soviet Union fell, we had to leave again, thinking we would end up either in Britain or in Germany, because we had relatives in those countries. But then, this tiny country up north called Sweden gave us asylum. And it became my new home. On Dec 26th, 1990, a ten year old boy settled. And life before then became memories.
And so, as I see our world ravaged by an epidemic, as I see fear and worry all around me, I would like to let you know that this too shall pass. After all, we are humans, we are amazingly strong.