This story is based on real events that took place in 1993 in southern Kurdistan
The names and places are real
By Simko Ahmed 1994
The cold wind moved all around Said Sadiq town, from the refugee camps to the destroyed town. It looked like the war had just finished yesterday. They had bombed the town and leveled it to ground zero. It has already been more than ten years since the evil wave of the Iraq-Iran war devastated this area. A few people had came back with the hope of rebuilding their town once again, but it was too much heavy work to clean away the destruction. Big reinforced slabs on knees, which looked like an old man bending down asking for forgiveness. Children, women, men and the elderly building their houses again brick by brick, hard, heavy work from early morning till late evening as far as the eyes could see. Around the town there were several refugee camps for those internally displaced people, those people who had fled from the brutal behavior of the Iraqi military, the army famous for its brutality and crimes against humanity. This had been a ghost town for more than a decade but recently it has started to breath once again and wake up from its long nightmare.
In the center of this destroyed world of Said Sadiq, a simple prefabricated school has been created by the international aid organizations. A few young volunteer teachers are running the school. They receive no salary for their hard work and their only income is a few sacks of food donated by some humanitarian aid organizations.
“ Teacher Jamal, the floor is very cold today, are we going to get some desks soon?” one student asked, as she was sitting on a small piece of blue sheet with UNHCR written on it.
“I hope so, we are going to push the international NGO's and the UN to get some” the teacher answered.
In a small pre-fabricated family shelter there were over 40 primary school children sitting on the gravel floor. Each of them had a piece of plastic sheet or cardboard under them, the roof was leaking and a few small empty cans were collecting the cold drops of water from the melting snow, which lay on the roof of the shelter.
“Does any body know what day it is today?” Jamal asked, a young man in his late twenties holding his black framed glasses in his hand
“Yes teacher, it is Christmas” all the children shouted with one voice
“Wow, you are clever - when I was your age I didn’t know even my right and left” the teacher said with a big smile on his face, that made all the children laugh.
“Ok who can tell me what Christmas is?”
One tall, pale boy with messy blonde hair stood up, “It's the day when an old man with a long white beard comes and bring presents to the children”.
A short, dark girl with half her head covered with a scarf stood up, “That old man flies on a golden coach that deer pull. It's a very lovely carriage, I have seen it on TV when we had a home in Kerkuk”.
“Anybody else know more? Hey you, Chinar” the teacher said, pointing the white chalk in his hand to a quiet girl who was sitting at the back of the room”.
All the children started to laugh when they heard her name. One of the most out spoken girls in the class stood up, “Teacher, Chinar and her brother Hemin have never seen snow before. Today they fell down because they wanted to walk on the snow”. Her voice was drowned out by a big wave of laughter from the children.
“That's not funny, you shouldn’t laugh at them. They come from the Garmian area, which is the hottest spot in Kurdistan. Snow never falls there, but they have great orange trees. I bet you all love oranges, right?"
“Yes teacher” all the students shouted together.
“Ok, let's come back to our lesson. Who knows the name of that old man with the long white beard”, the teacher asked.
“Baba Ali or Ali Baba” one child answered very quickly, and all the children started to laugh.
“Wrong answer, sit down, , let me tell you the story. This man’s name is Papa Noel and in some countries they also call him Santa Claus. He loves children all over the world and tonight 25th December he starts his journey. He will travel across the sky, between clouds and snow drops and he has a golden carriage, as you said before with a few deer pulling him. But he never beats them, he loves animals too, he likes everything good and never hurts anybody. He will come down to the houses through the chimneys and leave nice presents for the children. He also knows many nice songs like “Jingle Bells”. Children also can ask Papa Noel to make their wishes come true because he is very patient and has a big heart too. He wants all of you to be friends and never hurt each other and never hurt the animals, like the dogs outside”.
The children listened calmly with all their emotions and apart from the teacher’s words, the only sound that could be heard was the sound of the water dripping into the half full cans.
“ Teacher, does Papa Noel know about us? Is he coming to our sky too?” one student asked with eyes full of excitement and questions.
Jamal couldn’t find a reasonable answer to that unexpected question “Oh yes, he goes everywhere and tonight when you are in a deep sleep he might fly over Said Sadiq. One day he will visit you, I’m sure, just keep love in your heart and he will be there. He likes children who love everybody, he likes clever children who study hard at home”.
“Teacher I know him, I saw him this morning on my way to school. His white beard covers the top of the mountain over there in the town and he was smoking because all the air on the top of the mountain was white smoke” one child said with a serious and passionate face.
Some children started to laugh at him and one among them shouted, “Teacher he has seen the snow and white smoke over the mountain there and he thinks that it is a white beard!”
“Stop the noise, stay calm”, the teacher said as he tapped the chalk against the blackboard “Feel Papa Noel in your heart. You don’t have to see him in person, he is in your heart while there is love in your heart”.
The bell of the school rings to signal the end of the last class for Christmas 1993.
The children with their muddy shoes run home before the dark wings of night covers the sad white land.
The white snow flutters in every direction like butterflies, smoke from nice, simple refugee meals comes from some houses and tents, chickens and ducks line up to get back home. They know which refugee camp they belong to, each heading to its warm nest to spend Christmas night there.
Chinar and Hemin are two orphan children whose father has been killed by the Iraqi regime a few years ago and their village has been destroyed. Since that time they have become refugees in their own lost home. They moved to Said Sadiq one year ago and live with their young mother in one of the camps, about two kilometres away from the destroyed town of Said Sadiq.
“Hold on to my back and you won’t fall” Chinar said to her younger brother
“I’m afraid, it is so cold, it will go inside my shoes” little Hemin said. He has just turned six years old and recently started school.
“Put the books on your back, otherwise they will get wet and be destroyed” the sister advised her brother.
The whole area seemed to be covered with a white carpet and the eyes of the children had never seen such a view reflected in them before. It was such a strange white world with all the small side roads erased, so it looked like a new place to them, one that they had never passed by before.
The wings of dark evening covered large parts of the frozen world, the tops of the mountains were the only bright objects around. The children were walking, yet you could hardly see them in the foggy evening. The rhythm of their saturated shoes penetrating the snow was the only sound that could be heard, mixed with the sound of their heavy and terrified breathing.
“It was not ever this far”, the boy cried as the cold wind made his ears and nose red.
“Walk faster, if we don’t arrive home soon, wolves might appear” his sister said in a nervous voice.
The children has been walking for more than two hours without seeing one single inhabitant, the surroundings were pure white with some dark stems of naked trees, which had been sleeping since summer.
“There was no river when we came” the sister said to herself as they both found themselves in the middle of a small river, its cold water felt like sharp nails penetrating the skin of their legs. The boy was crying in pain and fear.
Their fine eyelashes hadn’t frozen, yet the cloudy and angry sky of Said Sadiq threatened them with death and the last words of their poor teacher had not left their frozen brains. Santa Claus and Christmas, children of the world celebrate and Santa Claus will bring sweets and toys. They gazed at that tragic sky, waiting and hoping now or a little bit later Santa Claus with his golden coach would tear across that dark sky and come to take them to his comfortable and warm world. Nevertheless, alas neither Santa with his golden coach appeared nor could I light my fingers to warm you up before your souls left white Kurdistan, as I did for the match seller girl.