San Diego, CA hosts the largest Syrian refugee population in the US and the refugees’ plight has connected me with a women from the opposite side of another war: A war that dominated much of my childhood.
We met for the first time while delivering supplies for the Syrian refugees living in El Cajon, CA. Dilkhwaz Ahmed is from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and I come from Iran. We spent our childhood growing up on opposite sides of Iran-Iraq war, but as we got to know one another, we realized that our experiences from that time bore striking similarities.
I remember being seven years old, doing homework in the darkness of our basement as the earth shook by Iraqi bombs. She recalls being fourteen in another basement dreading the possibility of another incoming Iranian missile. This war that plagued our childhood lasted eight years and claimed over one million lives. We both recall the palpable fear and the brutal loss of our family and friends. In the course of our conversation, I considered the possibility that given the staggering number of the dead and injured, it was likely that my family and acquaintances (who had been drafted by the Iranian army) may have been responsible for the injury or death of Dilkhwaz’s family and friends, and vice versa. For us, this was another grim reminder of the nature of war.
“I remember being seven years old, doing homework in the darkness of our basement as the earth shook by Iraqi bombs.”
Today, we find ourselves in San Diego with the common cause of helping Syrian refugees. Dilkhwaz along with Bridge Organization and their volunteers have been working tirelessly in helping these refugees settle in their new home. The day we met, she took me to the motel where the refugees were temporarily housed. Spending time with the Syrian families and looking into the sweet faces of these children, I imagined the trauma they have encountered and the considerable challenges that lay ahead of them. Who can turn away? Fortunately, much of our community feels the same way as we have a tremendous outpouring of support from people of San Diego and other parts of the country.
Perhaps because of our childhood in war, Dilkhwaz and I were both attracted to the same cause and hence have another common interest: We separately joined the nonprofit Musical Ambassadors of Peace (MAP), dedicated to creating musical and poetic bridges between societies that are in conflict.
“Spending time with the Syrian families and looking into the sweet faces of these children, I imagined the trauma they have encountered and the considerable challenges that lay ahead of them. Who can turn away?”
With MAP’s support, Dilkhwaz travels to Kurdistan to help with musical healing of Yazidi sex slaves who have recently been freed from ISIS. In these music session, Dilkhwaz hands each woman a drum and leads them in a circle of music and singing. She told me that in these musical sessions, they sing songs that connect these women to their roots, the same songs they sang with their family before ISIS took them. Through the connection to their past and one another, the women release some of the trauma, allowing them the possibility to rebuild their lives. Dilkhwaz has seen positive outcomes, but recognizes that these women and children would benefit from more continuous and sustained support. She is currently working to expand this program.
Meanwhile with the help of musicians and singers of MAP, I have been going on speaking engagements and musical and poetry performances. These events provide bridges between the Middle East and America and the audiences have come to describe them as medicine or therapy-formance. The proceeds from these events help fund musical healing of both refugees and the former ISIS sex slaves.
“I walked away from our meeting considering that perhaps changing the world isn’t the goal, but a simple byproduct of building nourishing and sustainable relationships with ourselves, each other and our environment.”
At the end of our conversation, Dilkhwaz and I decided to join forces for a future trip to Kurdistan where we can provide mental health support and musical healing for Yazidi women. But for now, we will continue our work with the Syrian refugees and educating audiences not about a Middle East that they hear about in the news, but a culture rooted in kindness, inclusiveness and celebration.
I walked away from our meeting considering that perhaps changing the world isn’t the goal, but a simple byproduct of building nourishing and sustainable relationships with ourselves, each other and our environment.
Ari Honarvar was born into a family of poets and poetry lovers and raised in Shiraz, the Persian city of gardens, love and wine. She is a translator, performer and an artist who blends Persian calligraphy and painting. Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, Elephant Journal and NPR. Her book, Rumi's Gift is forthcoming in 2017.