Last week a group of five female Iraqi Playwrights visited Bell Multicultural High School for a conversation about writing, tolerance, and living in a discriminatory society. Alaa Najem Abdullah, Azhar Ali Hussein, Hawar Sharif, Hayat Haidar Mohammed Ali, and Kholod Jabbar Obeid Mary Al-Amiri all share impressive credentials — including experience acting, directing, writing plays and stories, teaching, and translating from Kurdish to Arabic. Yet, as women in a male-dominated society, they have all faced adversity in their native country. The conversation centered around what it is like to be a woman pursuing a creative career in Iraq and how these five incredible women overcame their own personal roadblocks to become as successful as they are today.
One of the day’s biggest breakthroughs came from Bell senior Reyna Rios, whose brother had served in the war in Iraq. She reflects on the visit below:
I was in 10th grade when my brother was shipped to Iraq. I was in 10th grade when my rage towards Iraqi people began. It started off slowly with me leaving a room when they were mentioned. Then it escalated with comments about their bestiality. I hated them because in my mind they took my brother. Everyday I lived in fear of him not returning. I would think he was hurt or even worse dead and the cause to blame were the Iraqis.
I wasn’t the only one. Around the US people bluntly stated their opinion of them and it wasn’t good. I didn’t have anyone to tell me otherwise. All that I knew was that my hatred for them was not solely mine. No one corrected my vehement thoughts. No one told me that it was wrong to think the way that I did. So my disturbing comments continued.
It wasn’t until my brother returned that my rage decreased. It wasn’t until I met these 5 Iraqi women that my rage ceased. When I met them they were gracious and eager to learn about us. Right away we started asking them questions. “What their lives were like being women and having the job positions they had?” was the question asked when all five of them passionately volunteered to answer. It was then that I realized that they lived a challenging life. My problems compared to theirs were so incomparable! They had to go through maltreatment from their community, their jobs, and their household. They constantly had to fight to live a life they loved. They were inspirational women and they didn’t deserve my disrespect. Sometimes we live life doing things that are wrong, but one day those things that we did come back to teach us a lesson. Consider this a lesson learned, life.
We would like to thank Ms. Elwell and all of the students in her book club for their participation, enthusiasm, and great questions. You can read a blog entry by Ms. Elwell here about preparing for a Writers in Schools Visit with writer Chris Adrian. We would also like to thank Evan Schmitt of FHI360 and the State Department for hosting the playwrights and getting in touch with us about this fantastic opportunity.