A wedding marks Baghdad family's rising optimism
The Monitor checks in with the Methboub family in Iraq as they celebrate vows – and improvements in their lives.
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"I am very happy, but I am a little afraid because I am leaving my family for a new life and I don't know what it will be," says Fatima in a private moment before relatives arrive for the first night's festivities, a "henna party" in which dancing and sandwiches will be capped by daubing pasty brown henna into the palms of the bride and groom and those closest to them.Skip to next paragraph
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'My life will change now'
With glitter in her purple eye shadow and black braided hair falling down the back of a plum-colored satin dress, the bride-to-be was marshaling for her future. "It is difficult, because this will change my life, and I will spend it with a man. It's a total change," she says. "I want to stay with my mother's memories."
Those memories include being taken out of school at the age of 12 after her father died in a car crash, leaving the family destitute and Methboub unable to cope with all the other children. While Methboub eked out a living making bread at home and subsequently getting occasional work as a hotel cleaner, Fatima was the workhorse at home.
Letting her go was not easy on her mother, an otherwise unflappable matriarch. "I worked hard to raise these girls and I pray to God they will be happy," says Methboub, tears rolling down her cheeks in a private moment.
"It's too difficult to be away from [Fatima]; I never left them for long," says Methboub, accepting a tissue while sitting on the floor at the foot of Fatima's bed. "The girls watched their mother and learned how I helped them and fed them. No one helped us. God made us orphans, so I had to work hard to raise them up."
That commitment has not been lost on the five daughters, who enjoy an uncommonly trusting relationship with their mother. Fatima had been the most troublesome, rejecting a series of suitors in recent years, including one at the courthouse, after the families had already exchanged gold.
"Fatima feels it was unfair of mother to take her out of school," says Amal, the family diarist during the war who is now 18 and aspires to go to college and be a surgeon. "Mother says she learned a lot from Fatima's experience. 'I took Fatima out of school and she suffered a lot.'"
The result has been, by design, independent thinking and strong wills. In case Methboub was not there, she wanted her daughters "to have good grades and be able to depend upon themselves and work, so they didn't need to rely on anyone else," says Amal.
Long-dormant dreams revive
The excuse for a two-day party also served as an opportunity to refresh long-dormant dreams. Since November, Amal has been able to take extra private classes in chemistry and math, with just six students per teacher. Donations from Monitor readers helped cover the cost – and enabled the family to move.
The twin girls, Duha and Hibba, now 16, also have their sights set beyond the heartthrob pictures in the communal bedroom. Iraqi singers and world-class soccer stars like David Beckham ("I love him!" coos Duha, kissing the photo) adorn the wall.
Duha wants to do "anything with computers." Hibba is determined to be an elementary school teacher, though she was not accepted at the teachers' institute, with a grade of 69 out of 100. The cutoff was 70. "Next year I will try again, because I want to teach the little ones," she says. "I felt very sad, but I did not cry. I'm a smiler."