Vernon, from Tacoma, is working in Baghdad to help re-establish the Iraqi aviation sector.
I’d like to introduce you all to Ms. Iman – her name is much longer than that, but for her safety’s sake, I won’t put it all in this e-mail. Imagine living in a world where your life could be on the line because a) you drive to work everyday, working with Americans, and you have to drive a different route each day and vary the times you leave the house, b) you have two birth certificates because your grandparents didn’t want your dad to serve in the war and the only way to get out of service was to be married and have a child, so though you are only 41, you have to tell everyone you are 44, c) you had to start school at age four because the compulsory age was six, but because you had a birth certificate that said you were six, you had to attend, and d) your American friend can’t use your full name in an e-mail for fear for your life. Any time I think I have something to complain about, I think of Ms. Iman. She loves pictures of flowers and beauty that she can have around her and on her computer. Any time she is overwhelmed hearing car bombs or mortars, she looks at her pictures and remembers that there is beauty and goodness in this world.
Ms. Iman is the oldest of seven – she has three sisters and three brothers.
Her father was a director general of a cigarette company here in Iraq –
until Saddam’s people pressured him to join the Baath party. At that point
he quit, while most of his kids were still at home. But his family had
money and they had their house. Ms. Iman went to college and graduated with
a degree in engineering. She has two brothers who are engineers, one living
in Baghdad and the other studying in Cairo for a month. Her other brother
lives and works in China. Two of her sisters are teachers and her youngest
sister is an invalid – during the Iran-Iraq war, a bomb exploded near their
house. Although there were no physical wounds to her sister, she lost the
ability to walk or use her hands. No doctor has been able to figure out
why. Ms. Iman’s father added on to their house so her brothers and sisters
and their spouses and children could all live there – they have separate apartments in the house. Ms. Iman has never married and never been pressured to be married by her father. Her mother used to say she should marry, but finally stopped after Ms. Iman asked her who would take care of her and her sister if she were to marry. Ms. Iman works all day and then goes home and cooks and cares for her parents and sister.
During the first Gulf War, Ms. Iman’s family so hoped the Americans would topple Saddam. When that didn’t happen, they tried to keep a low profile and not come to his attention. They were successful. Ms. Iman says that Saddam embarked on a campaign of vilification of Americans, so that when the second war came around, many people who feared Saddam also feared us. Her family fled to a small village near the Iranian border – fearful that we
would, again, not topple Saddam. They knew that if he stayed in power, they would not escape his wrath. When they were assured he was not going to come back to power, they made the return trip to Baghdad. They came to a bridge where the Americans were crossing with troops. All people were being forced to get out of their cars, abandon them, and walk across the bridge. But Ms. Iman’s family had their invalid sister with them. They were going to have to carry her across the bridge and hope to find a car on the other side.
Ms. Iman, not fearing the Americans, walked up to a soldier and said they needed help because of her sister. The American let them drive across the bridge. From then on, they knew that Saddam’s disinformation was truly lies. In fact, at the beginning of the war, the Iraqis did love the Americans. Ms. Iman said it took a while before the attitude changed, but that it changed on our side first – perhaps because of the change in tactics and the rise of the insurgents. She wasn’t sure, but the average American soldier began to look at them with suspicion.
Ms. Iman has voted in both elections in Iraq, despite the danger – she even had friends urging her to stay home and not risk her life for her vote. She said she could not do that. She was being given an opportunity to be part of a system so much bigger than herself and of such importance. She knew the Iraqis should elect their own government and learn to do things on their own. Much of her knowledge comes from reading manuals and learning systems through trial and error. She doesn’t suffer fools easily, but she does so patiently.
Ms. Iman wears the veil, not by decree, but by choice. She feels it is part of her faith and only women and her family members see her without it. Her clothes are always color coordinated, matching her scarves/veil – and usually quite colorful. I was fortunate enough to see her without the veil during a business trip in my hotel room. Without the veil she was playful and seemed more carefree – comfortable with me as a female and a friend. I was so honored – and her hair was so beautiful.
Ms. Iman is very intelligent, hard working, and her employees love her. The hierarchy of her organization fear her (my opinion) – they fear her intelligence and her passion for doing the right thing. Consequently they punish her in little ways – denying her travel to other parts of the country to do her job, not allowing members of her staff to take training courses. She puts up with this with a stoicism that is awe-inspiring.
I learn from Ms. Iman every day I am with her – and on many days when she is
not around – because I think of her wisdom and her leadership. She is a model of servant leadership. She finds it most important to care for others over herself. Would that we all could be like her. Pray for her safety and for the safety of her country – please.