Monday, June 29, 2009

Yvonne and Mahmoud: a vignette of an Iraqi refugee and her son

On our walk to Nasser Metro Station tonight, we ran into Yvonne, an Iraqi woman and Mahmoud, her four year old son. She asked Lee and me for directions. At first, I thought she was a beggar when she approached us as a mother and child are quite common sights in the streets of Cairo.

“Where are you from? Where do you live?”

She was dressed in normal clothing meaning pants and a shirt; uncovered—with no veil. Yvonne used to be a police woman in Baghdad. I stared at her face. Somehow, the mascara in her eyes made her claim a bit incredible, but I had no basis to believe she was lying. She has lived in Cairo for a year in the new neighborhood of 6th of October. Neither she nor her husband has any work. “There are not many opportunities here.”

She revealed that she used to live in Kurdistan. (Is she Kurdish? We wondered)
In the 10 minute walk to the Station, Mahmoud had a big smile and was full of energy. He jumped, skipped, hopped, ran ahead. And did everything a four year old does—explore and see the world with fresh eyes. I offered my hand and he grasped it as if I were his older brother. Lee did the same. At times, both Lee and I held his hand, so that he would swing temporarily between us. His mom seemed more focused on talking to us in Arabic. She was on her way to a market to get some things. “They are really cheap here,” she explained.

When the name Saddam Hussein came up, Lee uttered, “Allah yarhamu” or may God rest his soul. Yvonne objected. Vehemently. I could not understand all the words, but it was clear she was upset at any mention of the dead dictator.

As we approached Nasser Station, I mentioned that I teach English at the St. Andrew’s Church and if she ever wanted to improve her English, she could register for classes there. She replied that she once stopped by, but there were just too many people.

We arrived at the Square. Mahmoud spotted a ballon vendor on the side of the road. He seemed captivated by all the figures, and kept returning to it, even though mom insisted that he not stray from her side. Before she could utter good-bye to us, I asked her to wait for one moment as I returned to the balloon man. A minute later, I bought an inflated airplane balloon and handed it to Mahmoud. He seemed ecstatic with the new toy. Mom thanked me.

We parted ways: Salaam Aleykoom!

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