For Iraqi reporter, the hardest job is being a mum
By: Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - People ask if it is tough being a journalist in Iraq. For me the hardest job is being a mother.
The daily fear for my son overwhelmed me last year when a car bomb exploded near our home during the fasting month of Ramadan.
My son Hani, who was six at the time, had just finished playing soccer with his friends in the street. He came inside, sweaty and cheerful, washed his face and hands and sat down at the dinner table to break the fast with my mother and I.
The noise of the explosion was deafening. Glass from a window shattered on my mother. We jumped from our chairs. I grabbed Hani and ran to the safest place in the house.
Moments later I remembered my job as a reporter and rushed out to see what had happened. I could see only dust and hear people screaming. I shouted: "What happened for God's sake!" and heard a neighbour answer: "A car bomb, a car bomb."
Six people were killed including a five-year-old girl. One of Hani's friends who had been playing soccer was hurt in the stomach, another lost the sight in one eye.
I still cannot imagine what would have happened if my son had played just a few minutes longer in the street.
AM I A SHI'ITE OR A SUNNI?
Hani is now in his second year of school. I moved him from the state school near our home to a private school near the Reuters office. They teach him English and music, subjects I did not study at his age. He is learning well.
But he is lucky to spend two weeks at school without missing a day because of security concerns. I feel so frustrated every time my son loses out on teaching because of our fears.
And school is not his only place of education. A society torn apart by sectarian violence is teaching him lessons I never learned as a child.
Sitting around the dinner table one day, Hani asked me: "Mum, am I a Shi'ite or a Sunni?"
I have always resisted dividing people by sect.
I said to him: "Hani, just say 'I am a Muslim.'"
The bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in the town of Samarra in February 2006 unleashed a wave of sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and forced many more to flee their homes.
It would be tempting to just lock him inside to keep him safe. But I know a growing boy needs to get out.
When I was his age, I used to go with my family to swimming pools and social clubs, and enjoy picnics in parks with my parents and school friends. These things are impossible now.
But Hani loves soccer and plays it every day, spending at least two or three hours in the street.
It is safer now. The army blocked off the road and put in a checkpoint where the bombing hit last year. But a man was killed six months ago by a mortar bomb attack in the next street.
We Baghdad mothers stick together as best we can. Every day I speak on the phone to my friend Om Ali -- who lives on the other side of the Tigris River, which splits Baghdad in half. It is too dangerous to meet in person.
She is ill with high blood pressure and exhaustion from worrying about her family. She has three kids, which means her worries are triple mine.
Ali, her oldest son, 21, is her biggest source of fear. He has a typically Shi'ite name, and they live in a mostly Sunni Arab neighbourhood. He goes to a college in a Sunni area.
"I forced him to postpone his studies this year, I was so afraid he might get hurt, especially when I heard gunmen went to his college and took two Shi'ite students," she told me.
Sometimes the frustration gets to us mothers, and we take it out on our children. Then we feel guilty. Om Yusur, 26, who has a three-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old baby, is married to a police officer and panics when she can't reach him at work.
"It affects how I treat my children. I shout at them," she confided. Sometimes she slaps the older daughter in rage.
This year, I took Hani for three weeks to Syria on holiday.
It felt so good to see him sitting in cafes, going to gardens and parks. Hani asked me if we could stay another month.
But we had to return because of my work. I'm proud of my job. But sometimes I feel selfish. Am I risking my son's future?
I spend whole nights awake worrying about this question, just another burden carried by a mother in Iraq.