Today I spent about an hour-and-a-half talking with a friend of mine from school who is a Fulbright scholar from Iraq, Thura. While I have spent numerous small group sessions with Thura discussing the generalities of global health policy today was the first time I had a chance to speak with him about his life, his nation and his opinions.
The experience was very enlightening, as well as overwhelming and disheartening. He told me a lot about the problems of daily life in Iraq, including tales of waiting for a routine 18 hours to buy gasoline for your car, undergoing interrogation for talking to foreigners, and a timely anecdote of participating in the referendum election under Saddam. He also gave me a lot of background on the historical conflicts, how the regime came to power and the perceptions of the Iraqi people pre-US and post-Saddam.
He spoke for a long time and I tried to comprehend half of the gravity of everything he described. He asked what I thought but I was having trouble saying something without feeling like it was completely naive, spoiled and out-of-touch. Without going into his personal life I can say that he has incredible opportunities that many people will never have. Yet even though he is thousands of miles from conflict and in an enriching environment and prestigious US university he still struggles to separate himself from the misfortune of his homeland. The amount of stress he must be under is frightening. I will continue to search for ways to understand parts of his situation, and think about how I could help him enjoy his experience here (though that is a sorry attempt to help).