Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Iraqi Student

I was sitting at lunch the other day when one of my future students (I start my class next week) came and sat down next to me.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“U.S.,” I said.

“Do you know where I am from?” he continued, smiling slightly.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re the Iraqi student.”

The theatre department gets most of its students from Hyderabad and the local area, but an Iraqi student enrolled as well this year. He speaks English and Arabic, but no Telugu or Hindi. He has a wife and children living in Iraq, and won’t see them for the entire year.

I asked him why he had come to Hyderabad to study theatre.

“There is no theatre in Iraq,” he said. “Just one or two plays occasionally in a university.”

He explained that he had written a play about a group of Iraqi soldiers, and that he wanted to have it staged, so he was seeking a place that would let him do theatre.

I asked him “is there no kind of underground theatre movement in Iraq?” remembering that in times of crisis a nation often produced some of its most interesting and provocative art and theatre.

No, he explained. It was too dangerous. Any time a person left his or her home to go anywhere there was great risk of death from bomb or bullet, so people only left when absolutely necessary. They went to work and went straight back as quickly as they could. No one wanted to risk traveling to theatre rehearsals.

That was something I had not considered. I wanted to tell him look, I think the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq, and I staged an anti-war agitprop play a month after the first invasion, and I’ve done the whole “march for peace” thing… but we all know how ineffectual and outwardly shallow the majority of U.S. war protests have been, Cindy Sheehan notwithstanding. So I refrained from sharing my white liberal guilt.

Instead, I asked him if he would like to bring his wife and family to Hyderabad.

“No,” he said. “It is lovely here but I belong in my own country. I will take this theatre course and do some research that can be published and stage my play but then I will return to Iraq.”

He paused. “We will probably all be killed. I do not know sometimes if my family and I will live for another year. But I cannot give up my country. I want to die an Iraqi.”

I wonder how many Americans would say that.


Daniel said...

While I know a lot of Americans who would rather die an American than live elsewhere, I would so much rather move to Canada, England, France, or Germany than die.

I'm not terribly patriotic.

Anonymous said...

Moving to another country is not so easy in war torn places especially cause people have to face myriad issues such as many people's close relatives- even fathers, sons and husbands or daugthers serve in the army, or getting a visa seems terribly impossible, or staying live enough to get to the embassy or the passport office in itself seems a daunting task, and more so, some people, even if they get an asylum in another country, may not want to leave behind their old parents or say the wive's parents to die... So please lets not pass judgments on other people whose biggest problem is survival, while we sit in our comfortable homes and cushy offices wondering what topping to order on our pizza, or how to get that promotion.


Blue said...

Thanks, Anna. I hope I did not seem like I was judging him. I was just curious, because this student had come to Hyd to pursue theatre in a "safe" place, and had left his family in Iraq. Just curious to know if he wanted to bring them to Hyd with him.

Anonymous said...

Not at all Blue, in fact your posts have always been very non judgmental and balanced ad definetly not patronising. My comment was in context to what the first commentator had said, especially because i often come across many people who share the same view.


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