My battle scars
A scar the size of a small spider mars the left side of my head. It holds the memory of a four-year-old boy, who only knew war for the first four years of his life. His playground was an empty field and his toys were cannonballs, found among the ruins.
One day, the boy fell into a deep sewer and slit the left side of his face. He cried hysterically while his mother frantically searched for him. When she finally found him at the bottom of the hole, he was unconscious, severely hurt, with a deep cut that required stitching.
I was that boy, and I have the scar to prove it. It looks menacing, with a tail like a scorpion, full of poison. It earned me stares, cruelty from the kids at school, and eventually the nickname Scorpion.
Every scar that mars my body tells a similar story. I am a child of war, born in the middle of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. My family had to move from one place to another since we lived at the epicentre of the war. Additionally, the Kurds tried to hide the identity of their males to avoid them being forced to join the Iraqi army. Being born as an unidentified person, coupled with the battle scars I had collected, traumatized me.
Barbarity and brutality became a routine part of the life of the country; people, including children, turned against each other. Most of my generation has several battle scars. The scars are so clearly visible that I’m still embarrassed by them after three decades. I counted the spots: one, two, and three… I found ten. Each scar represents war and has a deep tragic memory.
Physical and Emotional Scars
Saddam Hussein’s regime used chemical weapons against our neighbouring town of Halabja and killed around 5,000 innocent civilians. My parents managed to escape to a suburban village in Sulaymaniyah City. There was a lot of brutality and violence. One cold grey day in the fall of 1989, for no apparent reason, I was severely injured by a wild boy as I left our home. A boy from the neighbourhood stood two storeys up from an adjacent building and threw a block of cement with nails. It hit me hard on top of my forehead and I immediately passed out bleeding profusely. I didn’t know what had happened to me or who picked me up from the ground until hours later when I found myself on my mother’s lap.
My head was severely injured, but there were no doctors or medicine. My mother put a fried egg on the wound and tied it with a rope as a way to reduce the tissue of the scar and heal it. Although she always said the wound would heal, it left two parallel scar lines which will remain with me forever.
The scar on the right side, the one that looks like a waning moon is my third largest scar. In 1991, when I was seven years old, my family fled to Mariwan in Iranian Kurdistan to escape threats from Saddam Hussein. We were sheltered in a remote village called Darzyan. We fled with only the clothes we were wearing and started from scratch.
One day, I went with my older siblings and started working to strip off bark from chinar wood (from a tree used for building) to earn some money because my family suffered from hunger. During the work, I saw a donkey passing us, and my older brother, Ary, told me to take it for myself. Happily, I ran and stopped it, but I did not know how to tame it. I held its tail instead of its head. My siblings shouted at me to leave it, but I insisted on not giving up. After a few hours, I found myself in a hospital. The donkey had kicked me in the forehead.
According to the Iranian regime, we were referred to as Iraqi foreigners and we had no rights to any health benefits. As a result, I was not treated well at the hospital. The scar did not heal well and I was discharged too soon. Every day I bled painfully, and as the hairless wound healed, it took on the appearance of a deteriorating barren land.
I now live thousands of miles away from the country where I grew up during the war, but the sounds of the police cars, warplanes, cannons, bullets, and ambulances still echo in my ears.
Dealing with trauma
The dark days have passed, but the unpleasant memories may never go away. I do not want to resurface the skin of the scars because the visible scars will always represent my emotional scars.
It had been a long time since I had tried to figure out how to alleviate the trauma of my past to regain emotional normalcy. Doctors’ treatments or counsellors’ advice haven’t helped me much. Later, I came to find that writing and sharing stories were the most effective therapy for me. This helped me not only to talk about myself, but also to share the suffering of my people.
When I started writing my stories in Canada and sharing them with people, I finally found a way to express myself and pour out my many years of sorrow. It also enabled my readers to become familiar with what happened to me and my people.
Parallels in History
The other day I phoned my mother regarding her knee-replacement surgery. As usual, we talked through several recent occurrences and events. She quickly stopped talking about her severe knee pain and mentioned the war in Ukraine. She expressed her concerns for the Ukrainian mothers who had fled to neighbouring countries just as we had fled during the Kurdish exodus to Iran in 1991. I recalled my 40 relatives, all cramming themselves into a tractor to flee. After 31 years, I’m encountering similar images, seeing Ukrainian children crammed into trains to Poland.
Many Kurds have similarly expressed their concern for Ukrainians as they remember their difficulties and struggles with brutal neighbouring governments. The painful memories and the scars they came with still remain.
Besides the facial scars, I have emotional scars from the several terrible nicknames that brought me additional pain. They were times I wished I was not born or had died during the wars. My thoughts, feelings, memories, imaginations, and dreams were never those of an average child.
I now realize it was neither my fault nor that of the savage boy who inflicted the pain that caused one of my scars. We were a generation born into war; we became part of the heartless, insatiable machine of war. Now I worry for other children — the ones in Syria, Ukraine, Uganda, and Iraq. They too have become victims of war.
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Diary Marif is an Iraqi Kurdish journalist and non-fiction writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Marif earned a master’s degree in History from Pune University, India in 2013. He is an author at New Canadian Media. He also wrote in Kurdish for several years and his writing has appeared in the Awene Weekly, Livin, and on KNNC TV where he contributed as a documentary researcher. Since moving to Vancouver in 2017, he has been focusing on nonfiction writing. He shared his stories with several writers’ groups and wrote the draft of his first nonfiction/memoir, He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
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