I have to say that the best thing of travelling is not the incredible views I see or the amazing food I eat. These are enough reason to travel, I agree, however, for me, what makes me realize how meaningful traveling is, are the people I meet on the road. So I will try to share some stories I hear and some incredible souls I am fortunate to encounter.
On my way from Brazil to Vietnam, I had a 4 hours stop over in Istanbul and had to kill my time with some coffee and wifi. That was when I met Steve.
The coffee was crowded, so I asked him if we could share the table. After a while, we were talking about where we were heading and the place we were coming from, the stuff all travellers talk about. Steve was well spoken and polite. Soon enough he shared with me some main points of his life, as I was eager to listen.
Steve was born in Iraqi but now he is an American citizen and has been living in the US for few decades now, where he had a son and a daughter (if I can remember right), who are both adults. He worked for the US government as an agent for Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
At that day he was going form US to Iraqi to participate in some juridical issue, as he is trying to get back some properties Saddam Hussein’s government took from his family when he as child. He tells me that his father was killed and tortured by Hussein’s regime when he was 9 years old. He remembers coming back from the school, on that day he had passed his exams and his father had promissed him a bigger bike for that. The neighbours were waving at him from far. At first, he thought they were just greeting him, it was just when he approached the house that he saw the family dog dead by the gate, the doors open, officers carrying his father’s work papers, doors sealed. His father was never seen again not even his body was found to be buried and his family lost that property. He tells me this in a calm tone.
Later, in his youth, Steve himself had to deal with the same regime. He tells me about few times that he faced death. Once he was arrested for refusing to fight in the army. He was in a line waiting to be shot dead. He saw, before him, friends being shot, but when his turn approached, the officials were called in. They, then, decided to send him to the war front. According to him, this was a common practice in Hussein’s regime. Prisoners were sent to the war front, if they would die it was not a problem. And that was when he managed to scape. I cannot help myself but to keep imagining how is it to live with such memories?
Later on, he flew to US with his family as a refugee, running away from the authorities that persecuted him. But he was not much closer to a peaceful life. Already married, and with a small child, he found out that someone was planning to set his house on fire, because of his nationality. So he had to run again. He made his life in the US, went to work for the government and even was sent to Iraqi again, with the US forces.
But he had forgotten the atrocities he lived in Iraqi and in some way, he had always voiced for democracy and the end of the war in his country. His brothers, he says, they moved on with their lives, turned the pages, and don’t want to have anything to do with Iraqi. But he, he cannot shut up, he says. He cannot forget, and he will never. He kept protesting against the war in his country. He set up a radio to voice for women rights in Iraqi. And he is fighting another battle. The US government is prosecuting him, claiming he misused money from the UN, donated to fund the radio in Iraqi. He says that this is retaliation because he denounced that the US forces in Iraqi were using the base as a brothel. According to him, the first accusations were of him being a Hussein’s spy, due to his demonstrations against the war in Iraqi. And now this trial about funds misuse.
He says he is happy that he is family is in the US, he couldn’t think of his daughter having to follow all the rules applied to women in Iraq and remember with certain nostalgia how was the country in his youth, before the was and totalitarian rule. That is what he wants to bring back. But I ask him, after he lost his job, his wife (who divorced him due to his devotion to the Iraqi radio), after being prosecuted, why he does he want to keep shouting about Iraq and democracy there? Why can’t he move on like his brothers and forget all about it and just live the normal American life? Wouldn’t it be easier? He just say: I can’t, that’s who I am.
I cannot really say if the allegations against him are true or not. I can only say that this was an amazing encounter and that Steve is a really passionate human being. I’m glad we shared that table and I really hope he can do something to bring democracy to Iraq.