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A young woman's quest for true love in Baghdad

The eldest daughter of the Methboub family, which the Monitor has profiled since 2002, maintains her conviction that true love is possible in a society of violence and fixed marriages – despite her own bumpy road.

By Staff writer / March 10, 2011

Fatima, the oldest daughter of matriarch Karima Selman Methboub whose family saga has been followed by The Christian Science Monitor since 2002, plays with her nephew Fahad in Baghdad, Iraq, on Feb. 9.

Scott Peterson / Getty Images

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Baghdad

For a long time, Fatima wouldn't talk about the state of her heart; about the marriage that had gone sour – about the challenges of finding true love in Baghdad.

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For years, the young Iraqi woman had aspired to romance. And she found it, with a boy-next-door love story that seemed to defy the odds for a poor family in bomb-rattled Baghdad. But that inspiring start has only made the two-year separation from former sweetheart and husband Bashar especially difficult, and the thought of divorce even worse.

"Only God knows if the end of this story is good or bad," says Fatima, wistfully playing with waist-length hair in her mother's apartment, beside a kerosene floor heater one recent winter's eve.

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Then out of nowhere, laughter: "They are waiting in line, 100 other men!" Fatima claims, resolutely pulling her hair back with a flash of pre-marriage flirtatiousness.

Fatima's tribulations have rocked the family of matriarch Karima Selman Methboub, a widow with eight children whose saga before and after the fall of Saddam Hussein the Monitor has followed since 2002. From the daily grind of making ends meet to navigating the lethal hazards of life in the new Iraq, this family is emblematic of the resilience of all Iraqis.

Fatima's journey

Among the most coquettish of the daughters, Fatima was the oldest girl. And so, after her father was killed in a car crash, she was taken out of school at the age of 12 to help her mother raise the children.

As Fatima shares her emotional journey, the darkening room seems to encroach again. Only a single sister is in attendance.

"It's better to forget ... love will pass with time," says Fatima, her voice quavering with the experience. "I don't think I want him anymore. But he still loves me! I didn't hurt him, I didn't do bad things...."

But Bashar did, according to family members who lived next door the married couple and witnessed the result. There was neglect – lack of food and money for rent, and long periods away – as well as physical abuse.

"If she goes back to her husband she will be hungry and not have enough food, and he will beat her on her head," says Mrs. Methboub, speaking later. "He will not change. He left her and spent nights away."

“She never told us of her suffering,” adds the mother. But daughter Zainab lives across the hall with her husband and 4-year-old, and saw the drama unfold. “I haven’t heard any good news about Bashar,” says Methboub.

Fatima is less explicit about the concrete reasons for the split, and dwells instead on what, for her, is trust betrayed.

"I was shocked and surprised," she says. "In the courtship, everyone shows good things. But when you are in the same house, you will see the dark part you didn't see before. [Bashar] gave many promises, but he didn't change."

Household banter

Joking about love and boyfriends has been a constant in this family, where the eligible ladies range in age from 19 to 24. They each have mobile phones – a fact hidden from older brother Mohammed who deems it inappropriate.

But their mother accepts the mobile phones as a fact of life, and so advises her daughters to keep them silent when their brother is around. They frequently disappear into their rooms for muffled conversations.

But youngest boy Mahmoud – now aged 15 and crazy about soccer – has reluctantly just admitted to his sisters the name of his special 13-year-old friend, Manar.

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