Sinasi’s Conversion

Published Wednesday, August 27, 2008 in The Register-Guard.

(AMMAN, JORDAN) Medical Technologist Sinasi (not her real name) might be five feet tall on her tiptoes, but she is standing tall against the despair and isolation that so many of her fellow Iraqi refugees face every day. She works for Direct Aid Iraq (www.directaidiraq.org) and focuses her work on providing medical care for Iraqi war casualties. Iraq has been at war or under economic sanctions continuously since Sinasi was eleven years old. She’s 39 now and doing important work. But five years ago, she barely wanted her life to go on. She holds the full story arc of so many Iraqis in her tiny frame — struggle, then despair, then resolve, and finally hope.

Sinasi grew up in Baghdad, and worked first as a lab technician. She and her family are Mandeans, followers of John the Baptist. Their numbers in Iraq have shrunk from an estimated 70,000 to now only 5,000 or fewer.

“I was taking care of a Muslim woman in the hospital. She was dying, but she had no family. I told her I would stay with her; I would be her family.” Sinasi’s compassion for others has always been strong. “But the night before she died, she learned I was not Muslim. When I came to be with her on her last day, she refused me. I asked her why. She said she wanted to ‘die clean.’”

She applied for an exit visa from Iraq in 2003, and moved to a new job in Syria, hoping for safe passage to Europe. But the news when it arrived was not good. The war with the United States was beginning, and Sinasi’s exit visa was declined.

She and her family agreed she should not re-enter Iraq. Instead, they would wait for an opportunity to meet in Syria. She was in Syria, alone. The door of opportunity ahead had been closed, and the past she had known was closed behind her. Without a future and without a past, Sinasi found that she didn’t want to live.

In the summer of 2005, Sinasi and her family came to Jordan, where her father could receive better medical care. She was ready to start a new life. She found a doctor who needed somebody to run his medical lab. The doctor told her he wouldn’t pay her the standard salary of 300 dinar. He offered her 100 dinar, the same wage paid to the cleaning woman.

Sinasi asked why he was offering a wage so low. “You are Iraqi,” he said. “I don’t pay you what I would pay a Jordanian.” Sinasi refused the job. She didn’t know where to turn, but found a Chaldean priest who listened to her plight. She realized then that there must be many others in her situation, despairing for their future with no place to turn.

From that moment came her fiery commitment to help other Iraqi refugees in Jordan. First she and the priest offered English classes. Then computer classes. Then a kindergarten and sports programs.

She met an American who was starting Direct Aid Iraq for Iraqis who could no longer count on governments to assist them, not even for their most basic needs. Sinasi understands the system and she works with it as best she can.

Sinasi

She draws strength from helping others. Her discovery is a simple one: “If you see the problems of others, you’ll see your problems are simple.”

She digs deeper. “We have to understand why they make war. It’s very simple. It’s business. But the money lost on war is lost on both sides. We’ve lost our homes. We’ve lost parts of our families, even parts of our bodies and our spirits. But Americans lose too. The soldiers and their families get hurt. The bombs cost money. It’s your money. You have the right to better medical care and free education. We can make money better with peace. We can make it together.”

“Direct Aid Iraq is building a peace bridge. War brings war, and peace brings peace. We need many soldiers for peace.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) is writing from Iraq and neighboring Jordan this week and next. Additional entries, including Sinasi’s withdrawl plan and why Iraqis have recently developed a distaste for fresh fish can be found elsewhere at www.dksez.com.