In America, Mother’s Day falls on May 9 this year. In Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon it fell on March 21, and in Afghanistan it fell on March 8, where it is also celebrated as the first day of spring. Israel forgoes Mother’s Day in favor of Family Day, celebrated on February 14 this year.
I take an interest in these countries because, while my son served in the US Army, I visited them to understand more deeply the effects of war.
Mother’s Day has not been the same for me since my son deployed for three tours of duty, one to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. I barely remember those kinder, gentler celebrations when my young kids proudly presented me, under strict order to stay in bed, slightly charred pancakes on a flower-bedecked tray. Now, I remember when few Americans could locate Afghanistan on a map, yet, the prevailing sentiment held that bombing that country was “righteous” … and Colin Powell used flip charts to preach the gospel of Iraqi WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) … and civil dissent was akin to treason.
My son is out of the Army now, honorably discharged and moving on with his life. I have stayed in touch with many war-affected families; in the US, this I relatively easy to do.
Adele Kubein’s family immigrated to the US from Jordan. Her daughter, M’kesha, joined the National Guard and deployed to Iraq where she was gravely wounded. After years of military medical treatment, this young woman will get what she has repeatedly asked for: to have her constantly painful leg amputated. She will be able, then, to walk beyond the half block from her home where she lives with her profoundly deaf and disabled son.
M’kesha became a mom despite her base commander orders to abort that new life conceived in Iraq. She refused and is, Adele said, “a caring and attentive mother. My grandson is a beautiful child that we will have to care for the rest of our lives. He may be M’kesha’s spiritual path of atoning for the killing she was forced to do as a National Guardswoman in Iraq.”
M’kesha writes her way back to the land of living beyond war wounds. A recent poem began:
“Welcome home soldier,
you’re just in time for the recession.”
They hand me
a fist full of medals,
a quilt sewn by some unknown women,
a teddy bear,
in a paper packet.
This is my guide
to becoming a civilian again …
Rita Dougherty’s son Ryan was an Army lieutenant trained as a nuclear engineer at West Point. He almost died in an attack on a Stryker, the armored vehicle designed to be impregnable to first generation IEDs (improvised explosive devices) … but not to the next generation version that pierced through the vehicle’s floor, his seat, his hips and his legs. He fought infection in his critically wounded leg for months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then for years in a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).
At this point, Ryan is exhausted from dealing with the WTU, recovering from 18 surgeries so far, and regularly using Methadone to ease his pain. He wants to get on with his life, and has been accepted at Harvard in the fall.
Rita supports her son’s decision to have his leg amputated. And, sometimes, the military medical teams agree to do it and sometimes they do not. Ryan’s case worker warns him that a prosthetic limb may not fit him when he is 60.
Rita says, “I am stunned! What a thing to tell a 27 year old. Who knows what to expect in 30 years? I certainly hope we will be light years then from the sort of care WTUs provide today!”
At 21 years old, single mom and Army Spc. Alexis Hutchinson was not physically wounded in war. In fact, she never deployed, although she fully intended to accompany her unit from Georgia’s Hunter Army Airfield to Afghanistan in October 2009. She had followed the directions outlined in the Army’s Family Care Plan and her mother was set to care for Hutchinson’s month-old boy, Kamani. But a family emergency intervened and Hutchinson’s mother was unable to follow through. Specialist Hutchinson asked her commander for an extension of time to find a trusted caregiver for her child. On November 4, her commander refused. On November 6, when she missed her flight to Afghanistan, Army officials took Kamani from his mother, placed him in foster care, arrested Hutchinson and read her court-martial charges: desertion, dereliction of duty, missing movement, failure to obey orders and insubordination.
Hutchinson found an attorney and their request for discharge in lieu of court-martial was granted on February 13, 2010. Today, she and Kamani live together in California; Alexis will enroll in community college this summer.
The Middle East and Afghanistan
It is not easy to stay in touch with Iraqis in Iraq and Syria … nor Afghans in or out of their country or in refugee camps. Their situation remains dire as their countries’ social fabric unravels and war-induced diasporas continue.
On the other hand, while Palestinians lose their homes to Israeli demolition orders and military attack, they are a people determined to remain on their land. This year, on Mother’s Day in Hebron, Mazin Qumsiyeh’s mother went to the eye doctor and, while driving her home, his sister was cited for what Israeli soldiers say was an illegal turn. The fright made his mother burn the dinner and temporarily smoke the family out of their home.
Meanwhile, Qumsiyeh participated in protests and commemorations. He reported that, during the 30 hours leading up to and following Mother’s Day, over 100 Palestinians were injured and four killed: two 19-year-old farmers were shot dead near Nablus for carrying what Israeli soldiers say were “deadly tools” – actually, it was a shovel for digging; two 16-year-old boys, Mohammed and Useid Qadus, died of gun shot wounds in Burin village.
About 300 female Palestinian political prisoners spent Mother’s Day behind bars. Fatma Abu Rahima’s husband, Adeeb, is one of thousands of male political prisoners. The family was not permitted to visit him. Then again, their 17-year-old daughter, Alaah, could not have walked there. The doctors find nothing physically wrong with her; they suggest her troubles are psychosomatic.
I do not long for the lost innocence of earlier years. If I long for anything, it is that more women heed Julia Ward Howe’s call of 1870:
Arise, all women who have hearts!
… Say firmly:
We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
… From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!