Stories from women on the battlefield

The more I got into storytelling, the less interested I became in the news. It reached a point where I realized I often consider news homework and stories playtime. Of course, I care to read if the Sputnik vaccine is working and without any side effects. But as the pandemic has shown us once again, what makes it into our news is very narrowly defined.

Meanwhile, all the technological developments are only leading to the creation of more news. Yet I don’t want to follow the tweets of another country’s president. I’d rather learn from other people’s experiences. How do they endure a dictatorship, losing their home, their job? Those are the stories that rarely make it into the news.

I admit, I easily get infatuated by a story. And I’m well acquainted with the disappointing experience of not finding a news outlet willing to publish the story. Well, that is, not until another war breaks out. (I once offered a story with interviews of people who had just fled from the fighting in what would soon be called the Islamic State – the national Dutch newspaper I was writing for told me they were not interested unless I went there myself.)

The funny thing is, news happens again and again, like the waves in the ocean. But to see the current underneath, you need to take a step back. To truly understand what is happening, to let other people’s ordeals resonate within us, to be transformed by their experience, we need stories that tell about the current, not the waves.

The anthology “Kurdish women’s stories” by Houzan Mahmoud shows the current. It consists of 25 stories of Kurdish women, narrating their lives and their history from the ‘50ies onwards. Women from the Middle East are often portrayed in Western media crying over a coffin. These women show in contrast their resilience. They didn’t passively undergo the conflicts of their nation, they fought against it.

I’m happy that two stories I worked on with my friend “Hatau” have been published in this wonderful anthology. These interviews took place over a series of days and put current events into a context. Let me give you two quotes.

Kobra (who is now in her mid-fifties and talks about when she was a young woman): “I was taken to a torture chamber in the basement. I could see chains hanging on the wall and a metal bed with a black top. The man told me: ‘I will make your life as black as the top of this bed.’”

Nasreen: “My unit had been good fighters. Most of us were young, some not even sixteen, and incredibly brave. Why had we been ordered to march into a battlefield between two armies? Why was there no back-up plan when the Iraqi and Iranian army advanced on us?”

I carry their stories in my heart. They have taught me something invaluable: that I can be stronger and that we all are capable of much, much more than we think.

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