Two young adolescents’ consciences float in the ether. There is no limit, no dimension; everything is in shades of gray. There is no noise, no movement, only a pall of uncertainty reaching out indefinitely. Many consciences float through, in the stretched out infiniteness of time: adults, newborns, withered elders, adolescents and children. But these two children’s consciences, remnants of what used to be Abdul and Heath, in the living world, stay. They cannot understand why they stay, without ever interacting. But they linger together, never quite meeting, until the conscience that is Heath whispers:
HEATH: How did you end up dead?
ABDUL: You first. How did you end up dead?
HEATH: Hunger and pneumonia.
ABDUL: For me, hunger and stomach bug.
HEATH: My name is Heath. I am American.
ABDUL: I am Abdul and I am Iraqi. I still don’t understand. How did you end up dead? I didn’t know Americans could die from hunger! I thought every American had everything they wanted, everything they needed to survive.
HEATH: You’re wrong. You’d be surprised by how many Americans lack basic things.
ABDUL: I never learned that about your people. Why couldn’t you eat and see a doctor?
HEATH: We were homeless. My family struggled for so long with different jobs. I didn’t see them most of the day. Sometimes they still didn’t earn enough to pay the bills, buy some food for all of us. My mom was pregnant again, and didn’t want to have an abortion. That started a lot of the fights between her and my dad. He said we couldn’t take care of each other already. We were going to lose the house.
ABDUL: Didn’t you have other family members who could help?
HEATH: We had no relatives. Most of them were already dead. The few left didn’t want anything to do with us.
The conscience that is Heath starts flittering around in the shadows, while Abdul’s conscience bobs calmly, trying to provide some peace to his interlocutor.
HEATH: My dad kept losing his jobs. He wasn’t hirable. He’d always been a violent man. My parents applied for food stamps. Soon, our application for food stamps was denied, and my parents’ welfare too. My mother had been on welfare, but her five-year limit was up. So we lost the house, my mom started taking many prescription drugs to forget her sadness and the pregnancy and the hunger. Once we lost our home, my dad became more violent. He left my mom with bruises almost every day.
We all were only eating a few times a week thanks to the food kitchens we went to: we lived on canned vegetables, and bread, and some soup. If we were lucky, we could afford some chicken.
ABDUL: My dad beat my mom too. He beat me and my little brothers too. The reasons were different. But it hurt so much.
HEATH: We tried going to shelters, but we never were able to stay too long. There were so many, so many homeless families who had bigger problems than us. Some families had so many kids I never got to know all of them. Some shelters just didn’t have enough space for us. We were all so crowded, the beds so uncomfortable. You could hear the kids crying at night, and their parents arguing and crying themselves. If somebody got sick, everyone got sick. If somebody had lice, we got lice too.
ABDUL: I had no idea. I thought every American had a big home with a pool and a barbecue, greasy big meals like McDonald’s all the time, and doctors with pills that can cure anything, and iPads, iPhones, computers in every room! And yet, there are homeless people in your country?
HEATH: You wouldn’t believe how many. In a way, death has made me wiser. I can see things I was never able to see before.
Heath concentrates on the world of the living, and Abdul can sense his consciousness scanning the breadth of the United States. Abdul concentrates too. He looks for the homeless children across all the states. His conscience staggers, as he realizes the depth of poverty of those children, the amount of despair, rage and also, surprisingly, hope he can sense in all of them.
ABDUL: There are so many of them! There are millions of children who are scared, dirty, starving and dying bit by bit. I had no idea there were so many. Grouped together, they could form a city almost as big as Baghdad.
HEATH: Yes there are so many of us. That’s why the shelters had no room for us. There are so many people who need help.
ABDUL: How did your parents deal with it?
HEATH: Badly. My dad was dirty, angry at everybody. The shelters refused to let us in because of him. Nobody trusted him. There were a few men’s shelters he tried going to, but he was quickly thrown out because of his anger. Eventually our mom decided to separate from our dad. He was too violent.
ABDUL: How about your mom and her pregnancy?
HEATH: She tried to cope by using drugs. She would beg on the streets, until somebody gave her enough money. She’d buy drugs instead of food. Sometimes other homeless would just give her drugs. Some weeks she got coke. Some weeks she got heroin. She liked the heroin; she couldn’t feel the hunger as much then. I hated seeing my mom stab herself with those needles. I hated seeing the kids stab themselves with those needles. Some of them took too much. One morning I’d be walking down the sidewalk and see kids like me stretched out on the curb, with track marks in their sensitive skin, their eyes huge, like they had a bad asthma attack.
ABDUL: In Iraq, the drugs of choice are heroin and meth. I understand what it’s like to see people you love use too many drugs. I’m sorry, Heath. I too have seen kids lying like sacks of garbage on the ground, needles stuck in their arms or legs. I can’t forget their eyes. Their eyes look more alive than when they were actually living. Because of the panic, because of the wave of pain that beats any fear thy already have from being on the streets. In death, those kids reached an emotional point they weren’t able to feel everyday. I held a dying eight year old from heroin overdose, Heath. He didn’t go peacefully in his sleep. He died shaking in my arms, his skin so cold, his lips blue like bruises.
HEATH: I won’t lie. I was tempted to try drugs a lot. I felt so empty all the time and the little food I got gave me very bad poops. Drugs would have made me feel better. But I didn’t. Some of us homeless don’t have that willpower though. And it’s because of drug use that people don’t give us any money. They think we will use it to buy drugs. In the United States a lot of people think that. I remember a woman and her daughter coming close to me, and the little girl wanted to give some change. She must have been in 4th grade. Her mom dragged her away, saying that she couldn’t trust homeless people. That we sometimes pretend to be homeless so we could get more money to buy a fancy home, and fancy things like BMW cars or flat screen TVs. She said the homeless all became that way because they used drugs. I had to listen to that, while hoping I’d get enough food to feed me and my brothers that day. And I have seen homeless people become drug addicts on the streets even though they’d never used before. I’ve seen addicts keep using once they arrived on the streets. It’s hard to judge. But people who don’t know anything about us make bad conclusions.
ABDUL: People didn’t really think that way when I begged on the streets in Iraq. People know how easy it is to go from having very little to having nothing. There’s no judging. People honestly did try to give and help, but they already had so little I felt guilty for taking their money.
HEATH: There are so many levels of guilt when you’re homeless. Like, my mom still tried to take care of us, but we had to take care of ourselves too. We tried separating from her many times because she was dangerous with her drug use. Then when we did separate from her, it was hard to find good places to beg. Even if you find a place in the streets, it’s hard to find anything to eat. When we were lucky we got some food from the trash near good neighborhoods or fast food restaurants. The food near the restaurants especially was still kind of tasty. It was easy to break into the garbage bags before the trash dump trucks came, and store away tasty bites. Sometimes me and my brothers got food from people who’d take pity on us and give us food instead of money.
ABDUL: Did you ever find anything you could sell to get money for food?
HEATH: Yeah, but not a lot. Sometimes you find jewelry or watches or other things in the trash you can fix and resell to other homeless people if they’ve got more money than you. Or with some luck, we sold some of our finds to the people we begged from—it was like a trade. Some of the things we found could be valuable.
ABDUL: I probably know the answer to this, but did you have to deal with gangs?
HEATH: From afar yes. Some of us homeless, especially the kids older than me, found comfort in having a group of older people ‘looking after’ them. I tried to keep my younger brothers safe from the gangs. But some days you had to watch out because when the gangs came, they came just to beat us up. I had a few black friends; one was an older man who had mental problems. One time some teenagers from a Latino gang passing by, singled out the black homeless, and my elderly friend, and started beating them with bats. Some of them died, some of them made it. I tried to stop it, but I was too scared. I knew they would kill me too, even if I was white.
ABDUL: I feel we’ve experienced so much similar stuff. I too have seen the awful influences of gangs. I had friends who were used by them and died for it.
HEATH: I have seen so many of my fellow street friends, young and old, boys and girls, whatever color, get beaten up by random people. Not always from gangs! I had one lady who used to be a computer person, now alone on the streets, her children taken away from her by foster care, tell me she saw neo-Nazi gangs beat up some homeless! They’d go at it with fists and bats. She has seen people murder homeless like her, for fun.
ABDUL: I wouldn’t expect much help from people in Iraq—things like that happen a lot in my country. But in the United States? Where were the police?
HEATH: We feared the police. They didn’t help much. If anything, they were a large part of those who hated us. The nicer policemen forced us to move to a different place because we were “a nuisance and disturbance.” Some threatened to arrest us because homelessness was becoming illegal. Not just in my city but in other places too. We were always moving from place to place, never quite sure where we would end up. Twice I saw policemen kick at homeless children because they were screaming to be left alone. Unfortunately, we don’t trust the police who could help, and want to help—when gangs or random people killed and beat some of us, we were so afraid of the police coming after us, we couldn’t say anything useful. So they got frustrated with us, and whoever attacked us walked away free.
ABDUL: That is horrible.
HEATH: Of course, some of us who did do bad things, who stole nice things, were scared the police would catch them. But there was no pity. The police looked at us with disgust and annoyance. Like we were fleas whenever they had to deal with us.
ABDUL: But you didn’t die from a police or a gang attack.
HEATH: Nope. I actually died from hunger and pneumonia. I still don’t know which one killed me. I was always hungry and I’ve always had asthma, so when I started coughing more than usual, or I felt weaker and more dizzy, I didn’t pay attention. But it got more and more painful to live. I could barely breathe the last few days—I would cough so hard my stomach and throat hurt for days. My ankles were swollen, and I could barely move my arms. I couldn’t go to the bathroom, there was nothing to crap out. I couldn’t talk anymore, it was too much. My last days I couldn’t move, I would fall down with my head spinning. I started seeing things that weren’t there. All I could do was lie down on the ground and stare at the sky, thinking I’d see the faces of my parents in the clouds. I was surrounded by kids around me coughing as well. I think they had pneumonia too. I could feel my death coming and it blinded me to their suffering.
ABDUL: Death wipes away all worries. I’m sorry. The similarity of the things we’ve lived is terrifying. I would never have imagined a fellow human being, living across the globe, would face such awfulness, an awfulness as dark as the one I endured in one of the poorest countries in the world!
HEATH: How’d you end up living on the streets?
ABDUL: We lived in Samarra, my sisters and I. Everything was fine, as fine as could be with Iraq being the way it is.
HEATH: What do you mean?
ABDUL: Our country’s been struggling for years, especially since the 90s. My dad said the sanctions the UN put on Iraq hit us hard. He, our neighbors, and most of the people we knew had a hard time finding jobs. My dad hated the Western countries, he would rant about how their meddling led to our downfall. He was a doctor. A lot of hospitals were destroyed and crumbled away since the Iraq War. Our health care system used to be great, you know. My dad said the 70s were the golden years; we had many great doctors. But slowly, doctors left the country, and those that remain are scared to go in some parts of the country. It frustrated my dad. He had few patients. He had to go out of the city to find better hospitals, with people who could afford the care. Some days, I didn’t see him at all. There was only Mom, and my sisters.
HEATH: Tell me more. I don’t know anything about your country.
ABDUL: Life is hard in Iraq. People outside the country don’t seem to know it, or realize it.
Abdul’s conscience concentrates on the living world, and Heath focuses with him, trying to understand what Abdul is searching for. Both boys see images of tired men, women and children searching for water near rivers and pulling out buckets from wells. Abdul realizes less than half the population in his country has access to clean water.
ABDUL: I never knew how many of my people couldn’t get water. I knew there was a lot. But never this many. I remember there were days when we had no water. Filth would pile up behind our houses because of broken sewage systems. One summer, one of our sewer systems flooded into the river. The Tigris became unsafe. We couldn’t use its water anymore. Those who tried out of desperation died. So many died. There were so many sicknesses in the dirty waters. The streets smelled like the plague most of the time. To be able to get water I had to go to outside the city, and even then, there was no guarantee. The people in the countryside had such difficulties getting water themselves. They didn’t have water treatment systems like us; they had wells.
HEATH: I sense much sadness in you. Like you lost many dear people to the dirty waters.
ABDUL: I did lose a few friends to that, but I was thinking of my sister actually. My dad was in Mosul tending to refugees. This was after the American strikes on us after 9/11. We had a water shortage in the city, and it was going on for days. I would go to the Tigris and get some water, but most of the water I found was dirty and unsafe. I walked miles to find sections of the Tigris that weren’t too contaminated. I’d come home and we’d boil the water, but there was never enough. Soon, we spent days with little water. It was torture, especially for my younger sisters. One of them, Yasmine, left the house and we didn’t see her for hours. When she came back, she looked a little sick, but that was it. The next day when I woke her up, there was diarrhea all over the bed. My sister was shaking and her heart beat so rapidly. She kept asking for water, Heath. We had none to give her. She’d drunk from the Tigris, even though we’d warned her not to. She was so thirsty. We had no doctor to help her, no way to reach out to Dad and let him know what was going on. Yasmine kept throwing up and having diarrhea so bad you could smell it through the entire house. She didn’t last three days.
HEATH: That’s awful. That must have been such a loss. And all because you couldn’t get to water, and there were no hospitals available for your needs.
ABDUL: The US promised to help us rebuild our country, and give us back what was taken from us: our sanitation, health care, and education. But it’s all fallen apart. Nothing’s ever gotten back up since the war.
HEATH: I’m so sorry Abdul. I had no idea, and I’m sure most Americans have no idea what the war caused for you.
ABDUL: When dad came back after Yasmine’s death, he was really angry. Not because he couldn’t help, but because she had the dumb idea to drink from the river without taking water back and boiling it. He said only a girl was capable of doing such a stupid thing, and that a boy would have had the strength not to die.
HEATH: That’s a very angry viewpoint! How could he be so heartless?
ABDUL: Women don’t mean much in our culture. Especially with Sharia law, they are badly considered. I could go on and on about the treatment of women and girls in my country but it wouldn’t do you good: too much of an exercise in politics and religion. After Yasmine’s death, life continued with the same hardships, but Dad became more unhappy. My mom couldn’t give him a second son. I was the only boy in a family with five girls. My mom tried and tried but she couldn’t give him another boy. Dad decided to marry another woman. She tried having his baby, but it died inside her. After a few months, Dad started beating both his wives, and us. He would get very angry with my sisters especially, calling all women “good for nothing sows.” I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go. Running away was the only option. My sisters didn’t want to come with me. They were worried that being out on the streets would be more dangerous for them. And they would have been right.
HEATH: I can’t get over how the women are treated over there. It’s terrible.
ABDUL: It is our culture. I tried going to my grandparents’ home, outside of Samarra. But they didn’t want to take me in. They said I should obey my father, that there was nothing they could do, or wanted to do for me. I could have gotten in big trouble by disobeying my dad like that. I could never have dreamed of running away if I’d been a girl. Once my grandparents turned me away, I wasn’t sure where to go, what to do. I wanted to come back to my sisters and let them know what had happened, but I didn’t want to get caught. After a few days of wandering about Samarra, I found what remained of an orphanage. The person who I thought was in charge told me that a bombing had happened close by. The orphanage crumbled apart, and some of the little ones ran away in terror. The older kids had decided to leave anyway, there was nowhere else to go but on the streets. I asked if there were more orphanages in and out of Samarra, but the person told me most orphanages had collapsed after the Iraqi regime fell, and those that remained had no room left, or had dumped their orphans on the street already.
HEATH: That’s terrible. Orphanages putting kids on the street? I can’t begin to imagine what those kids have to go through, with nobody to count on.
ABDUL: We did what we had to. The orphans learned to beg on the streets. I also learned to beg, for food mostly and then money. But nobody has much food or money to spare.
HEATH: In America I noticed people gave less because of the way you looked. The dirtier we looked, the less people would pay attention to us. But you knew they had a few dollars to spare in their wallets. Sometimes all we’d get was pitiful glances. I didn’t want their pity. How did people react to you?
ABDUL: In Iraq, there would be no pity. People are used to it. They may feel sorry in their hearts, but they won’t show it. Life is hard already as it is; the Iraqi people don’t stop for just a crowd of street kids. We were everywhere. We became part of the everyday scenery, nothing new.
HEATH: Did you have to go through trash to survive?
ABDUL: Yeah. It was gross, but rotten food is better than no food. I tried to avoid food that had animal crap on it, but I would eat moldy food if I had to. You know what it’s like to have hunger pains all the time. I preferred cramps from bad food, to cramps from no food.
HEATH: You asked me if we found and fixed things to sell. Did you do that?
ABDUL: Yes. Sometimes I’d tell people I could fix things for them. Some of them accepted favors. For one man, I made batteries for his radio. For a businessman, I polished his shoes. A lot of the commoner people would ask me to repair pipes and sewage if I could. But I couldn’t find the tools to do it. Some of my street friends found some material, but I didn’t know how to do it.
HEATH: Similar to what I and the other homeless kids did, but it wasn’t quite that bad. We weren’t asked to do such projects.
ABDUL: It was terrible seeing the ways some of my friends decided to survive. I had it better than some of them. I saw children, babies really, as young as 9, selling themselves sexually to be able to survive. It hit me in the gut to watch the way they’d come back from whatever alley they were dragged to. Bruised, bleeding in places they shouldn’t.
HEATH: It’s horrible. You know what it’s like, to deal with weird, sick people trying to force themselves on you, or beating you.
ABDUL: I saw with my own eyes one day a group of young Iraqi teenagers being approached by older men with video cameras. The men asked if they would strip and do filthy things. Dirty acts our Quran would punish them for. The teenagers said no. Then the cameramen turned to the children. It was up to us older ones to protect them as best we could. But a few were pulled away, for a “talk.” When they came back a few hours later, some of the children were bleeding from their private parts. There was nothing we could do for the brutally raped.
HEATH: To me, a quick death is a better option than that.
ABDUL: Time blurs for me, the memories get fuzzy, but the pain of hunger and disease, of seeing my friends suffer so much, was constant. There weren’t just those who became sex workers against their will, both girls and boys, but there were those who disappeared from one day to the next! Rasheed and Yusuf, two teenagers I hung around with, and with whom I scouted for food with sometimes, slept only a block away from me. One morning, I woke up and they were gone. I asked around, trying to see if anybody had seen them. But nobody had. I never saw them again. They weren’t the only ones to disappear. They were easy to kidnap. It’s not like they had identification or anything. Nobody would notice their disappearance except for their street friends. Now that I’m dead, I can see what happened to some of them. So many of them died; their organs went on the black market, or they are now working as slave labor or sex workers, coming closer to death every day. It is almost a curse being dead. I can see things I never would have known being alive.
HEATH: I choose not to focus on that. I try not to get even more sad knowledge than I already have about the situation in the US. But I think that such things happen there too—the trafficking and prostitution of kids, especially to the girls.
ABDUL: It is no wonder the children in the streets turn to drugs or prostitution. A lot of my friends started sniffing glue and paint, getting high to endure. Drugs are easier to afford than food. To forget the daily violence around us, they get the drugs, no matter how bad it is for them. I told you about the eight-year old who died in my arms from a heroin overdose. He was one of many who were addicted. It was almost a relief seeing those of my friends who only smoked marijuana. Ali, he was about my age, smoked marijuana because it was the only thing that made him forget the big scary sounds from his memory, the night when his family and home were destroyed in an American air raid. I couldn’t smoke it. I tried, but all it did was increase my thirst and my hunger.
HEATH: I never tried weed. What else happened to your friends?
ABDUL: As if that weren’t enough, some of my homeless friends were recruited to terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, the Afghan Taliban, or worse, Al-Qaida. For some, it was easier to be adopted by those groups. They were either forced to, or they were convinced by promises of a better place. I never could. I never trusted those groups. They would never be like family to me.
HEATH: So they were kind of much larger, scarier gangs.
ABDUL: Pretty much. Finally, one day I died. I knew, deep inside, that that day would come. But I didn’t expect to die the way I did. I died from giardia in the water. It’s a stomach bug. I didn’t suspect anything at first, I always drank from the Tigris. I didn’t have tools to boil the water anymore. I found spots in the water that looked clean, that were far from the city. But I must’ve made a mistake. I should’ve been smarter than that, but your thinking leaves once you’ve been on the streets long enough. The nausea started, then the sharp cramps which would come and go. Then intense puking, and foul shitting. It’s like the river itself was coming out from my backside. I was so stinky. I endured this for weeks, trying to find food, trying to find better water. I was always so terribly thirsty; the more my stomach suffered, the thirstier I got. And one day I died. There was the end to the infection, stink of everything, the bad food, the dirty water, the mites, the lice, the hunger, and the cold and heat.
HEATH: I’m so sorry. At least now you’re free from all that. I still don’t understand how things got so bad in your country. I thought organizations helped, I thought the US tried to help after trying to improve the political situation in Iraq. It seems like it was all lies.
ABDUL: Iraq has been going bad for years. It’s only gotten worse since the war between us and the United States. Like I told you, our sanitation, our health, our economy have crumbled. Our education suffered too, because of the war. We had one of the best educational systems with the highest literacy rates in the world. But now, schools struggle to stay open; they don’t have enough teachers—they’ve fled, and the buildings have been mostly destroyed. Plus, there are struggles between schools themselves, religious issues, with fundamentalist religious schools wanting one thing and secular schools, open to all, that refuse that type of stupidity. But that’s a discussion for another time. The point is life in Iraq was hard. I had it a little better than most, or so I thought, before my dad changed. As you know, some of my friends lost their parents during the war with the US. Many families we knew were homeless and had to flee to other parts of Iraq because their homes had been destroyed.
HEATH: We really messed things up for you, didn’t we?
ABDUL: No worries. Death has taught me that not everyone is alike. The actions of a few Americans don’t mean everybody does the same things.
HEATH: How about your government? Can’t it help your situation?
ABDUL: It could, but it doesn’t. Our government is not like yours. Most of Iraq’s wealth—about 15 billion dollars, is held by privileged regime members, most of them military and fundamentalist. They deal with black market all the time, to get even more rich. If that wealth were given to us, we wouldn’t be poor.
HEATH: Actually, in the US we’ve got a similar problem. Millions of people are very poor, many of them teens and kids. The richest people hold over twice the wealth of most of America’s poorest families combined. That is a lot. The rich people have a lot of power in my country. You learn that quick when you’re poor.
Both teens concentrate on the living world, gleaning knowledge from the swaths of poor people in the United States. They learn of the 47 million Americans living in poverty,
and of their conditions.
HEATH: So many poor people.
ABDUL: You’re right, it is similar to my country. But things always seemed so great for you in the land of the free. Why are there so many poor people than rich people?
HEATH: I don’t know. Death doesn’t give me complete knowledge and wisdom. All I know is that the United States is not perfect. As an American kid, you get in the habit of thinking your country is the best. You think everybody looks up to the US because we’re special, because we have everything. And the countries that didn’t like us, well, we thought they were jealous of us. The US is one of the richest countries in the world, with lots of rich people, and yet it also has tons of poor people. People work so hard, but don’t earn enough to survive. Lots of families become poor. That is why my parents couldn’t keep the house.
ABDUL: How do other Americans afford the basics then? Like healthcare and education and sanitation?
HEATH: It’s hard. Our sanitation is good, even though there are bad things that can affect it, droughts and pollution. As for our healthcare, it’s pretty good, but it’s too expensive for anybody who isn’t super rich. The middle class and lower class including the poor, cannot buy healthcare. It takes too much from savings. My family once was able to buy healthcare, when my parents got married. They used to be from the middle class. Then it got harder and harder. Even before we lost our home for good, we weren’t going to the doctor anymore. We needed more important things than healthcare.
ABDUL: That is scary. I hope the US will not go the way Iraq did. The poor are obvious in our country. But in the US it sounds like there’s a happy mask on the population, but on the other side there’s a sad mask—the mask of the poor.
HEATH: Yeah. Also, our education is good, but like everything else, the poorer you are, the harder it is to go to school. We went to poor schools for a while, but we missed class a lot, and we didn’t learn that much. Kids who couldn’t speak English well or had something wrong with them did even worse than us. Since I died, I’ve learned that the poorer you are, the harder it is to get to higher education. Most poor people don’t make it past high school. Getting a college degree, a master’s or a doctorate is very expensive. The poor can’t get that. The thing is, to get a job, a well-paying job where you can survive, you need to go past high school.
ABDUL: Again, we have a similar problem. Very few people can get past primary school. Secondary and higher education are hard to achieve. And yet that’s how you can go into the literary, scientific, commercial, agricultural or teaching fields.
HEATH: The crops of poverty and war have put down deep roots in both our countries, and seem to be growing terribly. The fate of the poor is the same. Yet, there’s got to be ways to fix this.
The consciences that are Heath and Abdul concentrate on the living world, and slowly, some knowledge leaks into their spirit.
ABDUL: There are actually people who help. People working for the International Rescue Committee, World Vision, Doctors without Borders, or Save the Children. Some organizations are struggling to make ends meet, like the SALT Foundation in Iraq, or the Samaritan’s Purse. They try to help the refugees, and the kids, and the Christians, but they don’t get enough money.
HEATH: UNICEF also tries to help. But yes, they have so many countries that need their help, they can’t help them all. For us, we have Feeding America and the Meals on Wheels Association of America. There’s also World Vision in the US. A lot of them focus on giving meals, and some of them focus on education. I never knew of these when I was alive.
ABDUL: I just learned something about your nation. Isn’t there also the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families? And other government programs?
HEATH: They exist, but they always run low on money. Plus, notice it says “temporary.” Families can be dropped from benefits at any time for good reasons, or reasons that don’t make sense. It can be failure to work for some requirement or something, or they’ve the reached the 5 year limit, or something else. A few people abuse the system, sadly. But most government people and many civilians feel feeding the homeless and providing for the needy encourages us to keep “living off” the system. People don’t think helping us this way will do any good. So Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other programs’ funds are badly cut, and many families in need don’t get the help they want. All because they’re suspected of lying about their situation. Welfare reform, which was supposed to “improve” the system, did nothing much to help people like us.
ABDUL: It seems the ignorance of people is what kills, more than anything else. All the bad things that happen come from ignorance. The wars, the poverty…
HEATH: Is there something we can do to stop ignorance?
ABDUL: There isn’t much we can do about it since we’re dead. But we can hope. Hope that people unite and rise together to defeat discrimination, cruelty, lies by the media, by the government. So that a few scattered organizations here and there become an army of good people, overflowing from all the borders of the globe.
HEATH: We can hope countries unite to do the best they can do. As one of my favorite singers, John Lennon, says:
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…”
ABDUL: Or in the wise words of a proverb of my culture: اتَّكَلْنا منه على خُصٍّ الاتحاد قوة. Unity is power.
HEATH: We’ve got all the time to wait and hope. Forever. Wait and hope that people will no longer be scared or wish they were in a better place. Hope that those who are struggling now will rise up stronger, and their scars will fade over time.
ABDUL: Yes, we can wait and hope. It will take time. Time changes all things. Time and eternity.
Written by Sophie Jupillat