They won’t talk about the rape, if it happened. To be honest, the story seemed quite sanitized to me. I studied their half smiles and downcast eyes and wondered how they were coping.
Because, really, how can you look in the face of evil and ever be completely okay again?
I watched as two of Hayam’s* three small children climbed all over her lap, pulled on her headscarf and begged to play games on her phone. I could see the tired frustration over not being the master of her body anymore, and I wanted to reach out in solidarity. I’d left my own almost-two-year-old at home with my sister-in-law.
I watched her eyes as she told the basic facts of her abduction, after her village had tried to fly the white flag, her transport from city to city, and eventually her escape followed by six days of drinking rain water and eating grape leaves as they trekked miles and miles with small children in tow to safety.
Were other women with you sold as wives to ISIS fighters? Yes. I saw one sold for 5,000 dinar. The equivalent of $4.
Did they try to sell you? I told them that my cousin’s uncle, who was abducted with us, was my husband, so they couldn’t.
Where is your husband? We were separated at the abduction. I don’t know where he is.
I tried to imagine myself sitting on her four-inch foam mattress across the room, uttering these facts. What would I be like after wrestling my two children across plains into the mountains without the support of my husband, always worried that the men in black masks were going to catch us again and continue abusing us and infiltrating our lives with terror?
While being held, Hayam followed the Islamic practices forced on her by her captors, rather than maintaining her Yazidi faith.
I wanted to ask her so much more. I wanted to speak her language, and hold her hand, and cry with her.
As her story came to a close, we started asking questions of Bushra*, a twelve-year-old relative who was also taken by ISIS. She and her grandmother had tired while climbing the mountain to escape, and they sat down for a rest. By the time her father had gotten the rest of the family to safety and turned back to get Bushra and her grandma, ISIS had come between them. It was impossible to get them to safety.
Most of Bushra’s story was told by her father. His long nose had been inherited by his beautiful daughter, and though I wanted to stand in solidarity with Hayam, I found my heart constricting hearing Bushra’s journey -- how she cleverly pretended to be handicapped so she would be kept with the handicapped captives and not separated from her grandmother. I was inspired by her resilience, but even more in awe of her mother and father.
Bushra’s mother had been in the caravan when we first got there and had our prerequisite glass of tea. She had picked up my four-month-old, Haven, and taken her to meet her three-year-old son. She smiled at us and talked with us. When Haven fell asleep she retrieved a blanket to keep her warm. As we talked longer, she grabbed a kerosene heater and set it in front of us to keep our bare feet from freezing.
I wanted to grab her and ask how she did it. I wanted to know how she remained strong when her little girl was taken and held by the terrorists for five months. Five months! Longer than I’ve held my little girl in my arms, her little girl was missing.
And though I think I'd spend every day crying in deep anxiety, she couldn’t. She had six other children depending on her, children who hadn’t been taken by ISIS, who were still tugging on her skirt and asking for snacks.
Hayam and Bushra’s mother are very different from me. They wear headscarves; I braid my blonde hair. They are Yazidi; I am Christian. They speak Kurdish; I speak English. They live in a camp with 4,200 other people, all of whom have fled their home because of the imminent danger nearby. I live in an apartment complex with people from all over the world who chose to be here because we want to help.
We are so different, and yet we are the same.
We stay strong through terrifying illness, school shootings, long nights.
We sacrifice bright eyes, our identity, our hobbies.
We endure unknowns, empty nests, broken hearts.
We give up our bodies, our independence, sometimes our dreams.
We are, above all else, resilient and sacrificial.
We are mothers.
Kylie is a mom and wife chasing dreams around the world. Her current home address is in Washington, DC, but that is always subject to change. She spent six months out of the last year in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, managing the educational non-profit she and her husband started, EDGE, and loving the displaced people of Iraq. She blogs a little at justfootnotes.com and is venturing into designing over at convergencetees.com.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.