Ammar: A story about hope and chocolate

Czech administrator Dagmar shares the story of Ammar, an Iraqi teammate she met while working in Baghdad on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Ammar: A story about hope and chocolate

Tomatoes in the garden

“You have to plant the tomatoes deep to build a strong root system,” Ammar advises me after I shared with him my failure to grow tomatoes last year. Although the tomato plants were as high as two meters, they didn’t produce any fruits.

Ammar is also a tomato planter, but, unlike me, he is an experienced one. He grows fruit and vegetables at his parents’ house, at least until he finishes building a house in his hometown of Dhuluiya.

At the moment he lives there with his wife and children, although he returns there only at weekends. During the week, he stays in Baghdad where he has worked as a logistician for MSF since 2016. He is very good at his work with many years of experience in logistics.

Stay or leave? Ammar and his family decided to stay. If they chose the other option, they would probably have ended up in a refugee camp.

However, if he was working in a field he had studied, he could work as a farmer, an engineer, an IT specialist or a lawyer. He has studied in all these fields, for longer or shorter periods.

He couldn’t finish one school because of the political situation. At other time, his family decided to support the studies of his siblings – so Ammar had to leave his studies and start to earn some money. Nevertheless, after years he managed to complete one degree and he is now a bachelor of law.

He would like to continue and get a master‘s degree in law in the future. Nevertheless, now the priority is to finish the house for his family and buy a car. After that, he can focus on other plans and dreams. Inshallah.

Between now and then, his wife will have had their third child. So, not only tomatoes but also children grow happily in the garden.

One day, he would like to have lots of children. In his opinion, it is the meaning of life.

“We try to be better people because of our children. Because of them we work so hard, to ensure they have a better future,” he says, and adds with a smile: “But, I have to convince my wife”.

He shows me her picture and I say that she is very pretty and looks wise.

“She has a degree in journalism. However, she can’t be that wise bearing in mind that she married me,” Ammar smiles. He has a great sense of humour. He could actually give it out.

“I‘d rather throw the fish back into the river”

Ammar also enjoys giving out cards during regularly Friday meetings with friends. In his spare time, he likes reading, going on a hunt or fishing.

“Fishing is popular also in the Czech Republic. Some of the fishermen then throw the fish back into the water,” I tell him.

“I do exactly the same,” he nods. “I catch a fish and throw it back. I would like to cook it and serve it as a dinner for my family, but in the river, there are floating dead bodies…”

Unfortunately, Iraq has suffered through several conflicts. In 2005, Ammar’s family had to flee to Syria for almost three years as a result of the violence. Only Ammar and his father stayed in Iraq and worked to support the rest of the family.

Nevertheless, despite all the horror, life in the town went on. Children still need to play, need to eat, have a bath in the evening and to fall asleep listening to a fairytale.

Fortunately, each war ends one day, and an effort to live a normal life then begins.

Ammar’s family managed to get back to normal. If, only for a while. Four years ago, Ammar’s hometown then became a target of new attacks.

Stay or leave? Ammar and his family decided to stay. If they chose the other option, they would probably have ended up in a refugee camp.

“It would be a life without dignity,” says Ammar, convinced that they opted for the best of the worst options. “Never give up hope” is his life motto.

At that time, teachers, farmers, office workers and others built a protective rampart on the only road leading to the town. The women sang motivational songs to the men while they worked, and took care of the wounded.

Seven months of siege

The town’s inhabitants were facing insecurity for seven months.

For seven months they would be woken up by screams, shootings or phone calls from the frightened family members and friends announcing ever intensifying attacks by the Islamic State group.

During the day, they had to listen to the threats of the attackers shouting through the loudspeakers:

“As soon as we take control of your town, we will take your wife, rape her, kill you and your children and set your house on fire!”

It’s difficult to fall asleep after hearing this...

Nevertheless, despite all the horror, life in the town went on. Children still need to play, need to eat, have a bath in the evening and to fall asleep listening to a fairytale.

The town Dhuluiya is surrounded by the rivers Tigris and Othaim on three sides. During the siege, the men would occasionally set off on boats to the nearby towns to find some food and other supplies needed for their families stuck in the town.

Ammar would sometimes make this journey.

He would always try to get a small treat for his two children, for example, chocolate for his daughter. And he was eager to see the eyes of his daughter shining with joy over the chocolate. If only his children knew the secret of this chocolate.

Fortunately, they are too young to realise the danger they had been exposed to back then, or even the danger their father faced each time he set off on his journey for supplies.

New Year’s Eve

The last day of 2014, many people around the world were ready to celebrate the arrival of a new year.

For Ammar, this night was something more. The fighting stopped. The attackers had been pushed away. He knew he would wake up the next morning and not feel the clutching fear for his life and the lives of his family. That night, he slept as hard as ever before and ever after.

Ammar is the same age as me. Nevertheless, our life experiences are incomparable. For a great part of his life, he has been surrounded by war. He has lost many close friends. War has caused a lot of grief and brought unwanted changes to his life.

However, he has never given up hope. He has never lost his sense of humour nor an effort and thirst to live a normal life. To start a family, raise children, build a house and have a fulfilling job. To just live…  and that’s why I admire him so much.