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The Middle East @ Work

Family faces bleak future together

Alisa Roth Mar 3, 2008


SCOTT JAGOW: Today, we begin a week of broadcasts from a region that is vital to the world economy.
We’ll show you the Middle East at work, in all it’s remarkable contradictions — ancient and modern, rich and poor, violent and spiritual.

The past few days, violence has reigned in the Gaza strip.
Israeli air strikes killed more than a hundred Palestinians, some of them civilians.
Israel targeted militants who launched rocket attacks, but today, Israel pulled out of Northern Gaza.

Here in Egypt, there are also tensions — mainly of the economic variety.
More than a hundred thousand Iraqis have come to escape the war.
But jobs are scarce.
Some Egyptians have come to resent the Iraqis.
And in Jordan, there are even more refugees — about three-quarters of a million Iraqis.
We begin in Amman, with a story from Alisa Roth.

Alisa Roth: Last year, Ayssir and Maher took their three kids and one big suitcase and rode a bus from their home in Baghdad to Amman. It was after they were ordered to shut down their computer shop or be killed, after Maher had been kidnapped and beaten. And after a bomb knocked down part of the house they’d been living in.

In Amman, they’re safe. But that’s about the only thing in their lives they’re sure about.

Ayssir: Next year, what will happen? I don’t know. The future is very black for me. Every day is I don’t know.

Ayssir’s in her late-30’s. She loves Agatha Christie novels and Oprah. She has long, dyed blond hair, which she covers with a scarf when she goes out so she won’t offend anybody.

Maher’s a little bit younger than she is, with fair skin and dark hair, and glasses that make him look more serious than he is. He’s kind of a homebody.

Maher (voice of interpreter): I don’t have cigarettes. I don’t have the opportunity to go to an Internet cafe. I stay home. Go out and do what? There is no one. Even if I go out, I don’t have money to spend.

They don’t have money because they’re both working menial jobs — illegally. He as a porter in a travel agency, she as a sales clerk in a discount store.

Even 12-year-old Taghreed, the middle child, realizes how precarious their lives are:

Taghreed (voice of interpreter): There is no future here. I feel it is better to live in a foreign country. I can learn English, know the world. In Iraq, we have nothing.

Taghreed and her siblings have a game they play with the tops of soda cans. They use the tab like a kind of wishbone and take turns flicking it. Whoever breaks it off wins, and gets to make a wish. But whoever wins, the wish is always the same: to get sent to the U.S. or Canada.

It’s what their mother wishes, too. She’s counting on the United Nations to resettle them.

Ayssir: Where else do I have to go? I don’t have, I don’t have choices. I don’t. I’m stuck.

Maybe more stuck than she realizes, Since the likelihood they’ll get resettled is exceedingly slim.

Meanwhile, though, the family’s limbo gets a little more permanent every day they spend in Jordan. the kids go to school. They’re making friends. And without even realizing it, they sometimes speak Arabic with a Jordanian accent.

In Amman, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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