Living under a regime where you are not allowed to talk about politics and where education is controlled can be harsh. So, you can see why a move to a country where freedom of speech is accepted and education for women is promoted is a way to find happiness and purpose. This is what Abeer found when she married and moved to Dundee, finding happiness in furthering her education.
Living under a regime
“Originally I am from Iraq. I have two sisters and a brother and I grew up in Bagdad.
I do not remember Iraq the way it is portrayed in the media. People would talk about the conflict in the country, the war between Iraq and Iran, but I grew up in a big house with a big garden, my father had a good job and we all had access to education.
While growing up I read books about my country and learned more about what was happening, which initially I was ignorant to. For example, I learned about the chemical attack which killed more than 5000 people including women and children in the North of Iraq. When all this happened I was at school having fun with my friends, totally unaware.
We weren’t allowed to talk about anything against the government in school. We had to support the President, Saddam Hussein. There was a poem we would read in school and we would go every week to raise the flag to honour him. On a Thursday we would wear army style clothes to pay respect to Saddam Hussein.
It was confusing as a child, for me, I was fourteen and of course, there were so many bad things happening but it was expected of us to support this man and his regime – so conflicted or not, I did. Of course, then, we had little access to news other than mainstream media. There was no access to the internet, social media or even foreign news channels like there is today.
Realising the truth
People would come and tell us horrors about the war but we never really believe them. It was so peaceful where we were and there was no way to prove otherwise.
My parents were scared to talk about the war and the government. They would act like everything was normal despite me hearing different things from my friends and neighbours. I heard that those who did not fight were hung to death. But my parents would lie about it as they feared for all our lives. If I noticed someone was missing or had died, my parents would tell me that it was a heart attack – but I would notice the family being scared.
When I was about 25 all my friends were getting married and having children. They pushed me to get married, would joke about me settling down, but I wanted to finish my Masters first. But this was to change as soon after I met my husband through close family friends.
Getting married and leaving home
My father arranged to meet an old friend of his in Jordan. As a family, we went along and my father’s friend brought his son along from the UK also – and this man became my husband!
My husband had lived in the UK since 1993. He was 13 years old when he came to Dundee and started high school here, so he has lived most of his life in Scotland. We got married in Leeds. I wasn’t happy in Iraq at this time so I didn’t mind coming to Dundee. The education seemed much better here than it was in Iraq.
We lived with my in-laws in Broughty Ferry -a beautiful place, but my in-laws told me to not go out alone or use the buses alone. My English wasn’t very good so I felt quite vulnerable too, but then I gained a little confidence and started going for English Classes at Mitchell Street.
I had my first child in 2004 at 27 years old. I was struggling after the baby to go to college to complete ESOL and couldn’t afford childcare, so we stayed with my in-laws. They looked after the baby so I could attend my classes. They were really generous and hospitable to us but for a growing family, a small single bedroom was getting a bit cramped. My husband and I saved some money and we bought our own house.
I believe happiness comes in many different forms. Some people get to find happiness in their families and some in their jobs. I have missed out on things but I cherish the things I have.
Finding a place to make new friends
I was feeling low and depressed after I gave birth to my third child. My midwife told me about Dundee International Women’s Centre, so with two kids in a double buggy and the other on my hip I set off to look for it.
The first day I came I could not find the centre and no one could give me directions. This was in 2008 and not many people knew about the centre back then. I had to go back the next day and I met Dana at the door – she could speak a little bit of Arabic – and I almost cried!
I was so happy to hear someone speaking my language. I had no friends here, my in-laws had since moved to Arbroath, and I was lonely and depressed so finding the centre was a big change for me. Everyone was so nice to me and my children and I was able to put them in the crèche so I could start English classes here.
I was then invited to try the childcare course and I decided to give it a go. At first, I found it really boring and I wondered if I was in the right place. I worried I would struggle to complete it, but, as it turned out I was really good at it. I got good grades and great feedback and in 2014 was offered a job in the crèche.
Sometimes I wish I had stayed in college or went back to University. I see my friends a lot on Facebook and I miss it. The lifestyle they have that I could have had. Maybe if I was not married I would be like them – my friends – winning awards and having great careers. But, I believe happiness comes in many different forms. Some people get to find happiness in their families and some in their jobs. I have missed out on things but I cherish the things I have.
Now that I am qualified childcare practitioner I am looking for other opportunities. I am thinking about maybe being a teacher assistant.
I go back to Iraq every two years, but my family don’t come over here. They never have. There is a lot of paperwork to arrange their visas and that is expensive to do. The children love visiting Iraq. It is Summer all year round and our family is over there, but my husband’s job is in Scotland. He can’t go over without a job and house and things and it is still not really safe. I look forward to the next stage of my life and I will take things as it comes. Scotland have given me a lot and I am grateful to be here.”
Abeer Al Hussein #womenofdundee