Though it may be difficult to believe, being born and raised in a war zone had its advantages.
It gives top-notch war material to write about, confirms that nothing is worse than a slow internet connection, and makes an exceptionally adept Call Of Duty player, dodging drone strikes as if I’ve done it for most of my life. In addition of being around Lady Death (occasionally having her over for a cup of tea) I also get to impress people with my tales of traveling through one of the Middle East’s many conflicts to get to the USA. They seem to admire me, as if I was the one who booked the plane ride, as if I was the one who took a bullet through his thighs, the one to see friends blownto pieces. Still, sometimes it’s nice to get credit for the horrible things I never gone through. I was only seven when I left Iraq, it didn’t matter to me.
Iraq to Jordan wasn’t much of an upgrade. I mean sure, no more exploding human beings or free bullets for everybody, but I daresay I would prefer that over to what I had to deal with over the 4 years I was there. I’m half serious, but that statement does have some truth in it. In Jordan, racism was the norm, and brawling was never an even fight, much less a fair one. It also wasn’t nearly as beautiful as my Baghdad. The yellow skies and meager stars were not bright enough to light the streets like ours. Trees were scarce as gold, and even though the heat melted the tarmac, warm people were even harder to find. I was mocked by the kids because I spoke a different dialect. My tanned skin stood out as well. At some point, ten kids lined up, fighting each other for the right to fight me. At the age of nine I became so popular my parents took me out of school. My response was making my own little gang of several other minorities. We walked around with an arrogant swagger, until other gangs pulled out sticks or knives–that’s when we ran like hell.
There was more than enough food to eat with the family and friends, and we had a stable income with a decent apartment. It was relatively safe, if albeit a bit stagnant; each day was much like the one before that, except for that occasional adventure of course.
Here is the thing: Back in Iraq, people were terrified of dying; I found that funny, since in essence, they were terrified of entering heaven with the help of people who wanted to enter heaven by killing them. The countless soap operas that intensified death and betrayal, kidnapping and ransom, corruption and human greed, did not help. Neither did the news, which primarily focused on broadcasting children with missing limbs and bloody clothes, or images of the mother, holding the bloody and ragged body of her child as her screeches played in the background. I found those channels more efficient than the terrorists themselves. They were doing the job of a terrorist, spreading terror and hopelessness–but only better, and on a world scale. People–including my parents–became paranoid. They looked for someone or something to blame for what’s wrong with this world. But since it’s wrong to blame a person, they went for blaming an entire race.
As grim as that sounds, It reminds us just how precious life is. Funny how you need to see heads flying until you realize that. YOLO; You only live once. We didn’t need a song to remind us of that, since we never knew when a bullet or shell would end it. But here, in Jordan, there was none of that. Their laughs were genuine, as were their smiles, but it wasn’t full. It was missing something, and I didn’t know what. At some point, I started missing Lady Death. She taught me that life is beautiful, and I appreciated each fleeting moment of it.
I was full of joy when I left Jordan, much more than when I left Iraq. The ride, though, was agonizing. We spent hours past midnight waiting for the airplane that may or may not come. The storm outside didn’t seem to care though, its winds bellowing as if it had nothing better to do. There was little to no sleep, as we constantly had to move around the airport alongside other immigrants, all of us scurrying around like a bunch of chickens without their heads.The coldness of the airports didn’t help either. It seeped through my puffy coat, rendering a moment of comfort scarce in the four-day journey, more so for my anxious parents. The broken sleep rendered my memories vague and colorless, yet I’m almost certain that each airport we reached loathed us, as if the rest of the world was not enough.
We had reached Boston, Massachusetts, in the middle of its strongest storms during the end of 2008. It was as if the world was entirely covered in storm, from one edge to another. It was my first time witnessing the sight of snow and its chilling touch. It both terrified and exhilarated me. It felt like a present from God, his white snow a blessing. I enjoyed the snow at first. There was more than enough snow for me to swim and drown pleasantly in; an amount that only seemed to increase with each gust of wind full of an endless amount of snow flakes. The movies made snow seem so glamorous, pure, and majestic, yet they didn’t seem to mention how it melted on your cheeks and made you cold, or how it soaked into your clothes and made you even colder, or how it filled the sidewalks and forced you to walk on the streets, where the pure white snow become a contorted mess of black and brown that splattered on you with each passing car. It didn’t take long for me to start to hate it as much as it hated me.
I watched it stretch from a taxi window on my mother’s lap. It extended endlessly, covering everything in white from the Boston airport to the apartment that was rented for us in Worcester– the less desirable but cheaper city next to Boston. The landlord received us after the taxi dropped us off, leading us into an apartment that’s door had frozen solid. The door had to be forced open with a shoulder.The apartment had three rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and two living rooms, all equally frozen solid. Sleeping outside, the snow being my blanket, might have made me warmer. Except for the Kentucky Chicken and a gallon of milk in the refrigerator ( the American diet) the apartment was desolate. After laying down the mats, I and my two brothers slept in the first room, my parents in the second, leaving the third vacant. We would receive food, furniture, toys, appliances, heating, and hot water after the snowstorm calmed, three days later.
Adam Maarij was born in Iraq and immigrated to America at the age of eight. He attends South High school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and enjoys soccer, running, reading, writing, and procrastinating.
Photo credit: Suicide Bomber Kills Five In Baghdad. Photographer. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/115_1619786/1/115_1619786/cite. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.