Suad's Morning

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Like most houses in Baghdad, the dust-crusted building is in a perpetual state of rehab. Metal supports on the rooftop suggest a future addition, but work has been abandoned. The building lacks any personal touch, even a numbered address or, what is most needed for one family, a wheelchair ramp.

In a first-floor apartment, a spigot-like kitchen faucet spits cool water into the hands of Suad Muhammed Kadim, 44. Her sweat-drenched nightgown clings to her legs, and strands of hair catch in the creases of her neck, evidence of a restless night's sleep.

Ignoring her reflection in the mirror, she washes the sleep from her eyes.

Suad is her mother's caretaker, always has been. Unlike her younger sisters, she never married. Um Rafat is paralyzed, sometimes resorting to crawling, dragging her legs, when there is no one to help her from the couch to the wheelchair.

Um Rafat, two sisters and two toddlers share the three-room space with Suad. Few jobs are available for women; the family survives solely on donations from distant relatives.

After they wake up, Suad flips on the TV to Arabic music videos. Her niece and nephew, ages 4 and 2, sneak out the apartment door to get the wheelchair from the courtyard. Barely reaching the handles above their heads, they bump their way back to the living room.

Suddenly, the room falls absolutely silent and still. The day's electricity is finished, killing the fan and its faint breeze, unnoticed until now. The TV is quiet. The rustling of blankets and the slap of bare feet on the tile floors, sounds usually drowned out, make life seem more real.

Um Rafat sits up, waiting to be helped to the floor where the family eats breakfast. Suad darts from room to room preparing the meal, her robes catching her legs, giving them extra weight, cutting her stride, slowing her rush. Each chore coincides with a sighed "Ya la," meaning "Let's go."

Timidly, Um Rafat complains about the heat and the lack of electricity, wondering why the neighbors won't share their generator.

"Are you complaining already?" barks Suad. Her voice is sharp, slightly loud, accusing, but her motions suggest the opposite. Suad lifts, lowers and slowly releases her mother with tenderness, situating her so she can see her grandchildren.

By Liz Heron  |  June 16, 2008; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Baghdad
Previous: A Cold, Hard Shelter, but a Shelter Still | Next: A Shadowy Existence in a Baghdad Women's Home

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