My Cousin

My cousin, Salam, was born in 1994, the third son in my uncle’s family. The family’s oldest son was born in 1989, and his name is Samer. The second son was born in 1991 and his name is Maher. In keeping with custom, my uncle was supposed to name his third son a name which complements the names of his other sons, Samer and Maher. For no particular reason, my uncle named his third boy Salam, which means peace in the Arabic language. I don’t know why my uncle decided to name his child that instead of following the custom; perhaps he was hoping to have peace in the family, but their life and Salam’s did not follow that path.

My uncle’s life took a drastic turn when he was 18; with the beginning of the war with Iran in 1980. He served in the army for most of his adult life. The 1980s were very hard on all Iraqi people; many families lost their sons during that time. Sadness and fear were unavoidably prominent on people’s faces and in their conversations. Women were especially affected by this great sadness. For this reason they mainly wore black colors, representing the grief that they felt. I remember, as an eight-year-old girl, seeing the pictures of martyrs hung upon walls in the homes of our friends and relatives.

Some families had lost a son in that war, others lost two sons, and some had lost both father and son. As a child, while looking at portraits of families that I knew, it was hard for me to distinguish between the still living and the dead; both were in deep silence. What else would a child my age have thought? I prayed to God, along with the rest of my family, to bring my uncle back safely from that war which lasted eight long years. We spent most of that time in fear and anxiety of losing our loved ones.

In 1988, the war ended, and we thanked God for bringing my uncle back safely. After a few months, he married. I remember that day very well. The harmony of song and the sound of dancing was amazing. Everyone in that party struggled with their own painful memories, but everyone tried to let go and start over. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to experience happiness and joy because only two years later, my country became involved with yet another war. This war against our neighboring country, Kuwait, began in 1990. Many youth, elderly people, and women and children died in that war.

drinking-tea-iraqThe war finally ended two years later, and my uncle had his third beautiful boy named Salam. Since his birth, my country was under political and economic sanctions placed by the United Nations and the United States. Many families sent their children to work; Salam at eight years old was one of these children. The children didn’t have a choice or even the ability to choose the kind of life they wanted to live. Salam couldn’t go to school to get an education. Instead, he went to work just as his brothers did. My uncle sent Salam to work with our cousins who owned their own restaurant because he thought that would be a safe haven for his youngest child. Salam spent his childhood cleaning the floor and tables, and delivering food. He did not deliver by car or by bicycle, as he did not have access to either one, but rather by foot.

Iraq was suffering horribly from schisms between the Shiites and Sunnis. The situation didn’t get better as we had hoped after the United States army took control over Iraq, in February of 2003. There was no official Iraqi government that could control the country at that time, which enabled many evil people inside and outside of Iraq to take advantage of the general chaos all over the country. Thousands of innocent people were killed, all in the name of God. Then the unthinkable happened; a terrorist entered my cousins’ restaurant wearing a belt loaded with explosives. Fifty people were killed during that explosion, including two of my cousins. My uncle’s desire to preserve his son’s life, by sending him to that “safe restaurant”, was tragically cut short by a terrorist’s bomb.

The restaurant employees had been serving customers who had simply stopped into the restaurant to enjoy a nice meal. Salam, the nine year old, was also there. Because of the bomb, Salam’s body flew, along with his dreams, which he never had a chance to live out. His body flew, and the toys which he did not have time to play with were left untouched. The peace of heart and mind that my uncle had yearned for his family and his country at Salam’s birth; that longing for a peaceful life did not last for long, when Salam’s body came back not in peace but in many pieces.