“Most of those who had tried to escape, including women and kids, were released. But I and five other police officers were taken away, blindfolded, to a house in Hawija city. Others had been taken there before us. We were about fifty imprisoned in one room. Some of the inner walls had been broken down. For a month we were tortured. They did all kinds of things. Strangulation, suffocation, starvation, beatings with guns. And electric shocks. They specifically applied shocks on my kidneys.
It was extremely scary. They threatened to kill us many times. When they entered the room, you knew it could be your last hour. And we were so hungry. But sometimes we couldn’t eat even the little rice or meat they gave us because of the fear inside.
Somehow, I managed to not go crazy. The idea that everything was in the hands of God gave me some peace.”
From farmer to shop owner
“After a month, our captors took half of the detainees away. They released the other half, including myself. Later, we found out they had executed all of the men in the other group.
I went back home. My wife and kids were in disbelief. They thought I had been killed. I was happy to be back, but I couldn’t cope with my life any longer. Before, I was a farmer, and now I couldn’t farm anymore. I was too ill, both my kidneys had been destroyed. My brother ended up donating one of his kidneys. Still, farming is out of the question. That hurts. We have been farmers for generations, growing wheat, onions, tomatoes… We still have the family land, but others now do the farming.
I am confident things will work out well in the future.
So I changed my course. With all the medical costs I had to cover and household expenses, we desperately needed money. Two years ago I opened a small grocery shop. I sell all kinds of things, rice, flour, sugar, sweets for kids, chickpeas, and even clocks. At one point I was even too ill to run the shop, I almost had to close it down. Because of the medicine I take to stop my body from rejecting the newly donated kidney, my immunity levels are very low. Since Covid-19, I constantly wear a face mask and gloves.”
Slowly growing business
“The support we got from the Blossom Up project helped us a lot. It taught us how to attract more customers, to find the right price/quality ratio in our assortment, so that people can afford what we offer and still come back. Here, people have little to spend, so high prices won’t work. Still, we need to make some profit.”
“With the grant we received, I bought storage racks, fridges, and a freezer. And I was able to expand my assortment. Before, that kind of investment was impossible because of all the medical costs.”
“Business is slowly increasing. I did better as a farmer though. Today, I earn about half of the money I made by working the land. For three years now, I have tried to get some of the financial compensation I am entitled to as a victim of ISIL atrocities. We went to Kirkuk to apply for that, and we even have a lawyer on the case. No results.”
“But I am confident things will work out well in the future. Now, with the support we received, I feel that my new business can grow. The least I can do is work hard and make sure that my kids can go to school and successfully finish their education. So far, I manage to do that, and it fills me with pride. Myself, I dropped out at the age of ten, because I had to work on my father’s land. I still regret that. During the ISIL occupation, my oldest daughter couldn’t attend classes any longer. Luckily, afterward, she continued studying.”
Text and images: Frank van Lierde / Cordaid