• Athena Ives

My Promise to Anne

Fallujah, Iraq 2008

Another unrelenting day of swarming flies, sweat dripping under your flak jacket, and the sound of IEDs and gunfire. I scanned the sea of black coming towards the entry point. What was it going to be today? Please god not another dead baby. The morning school crowd started to trickle through. I felt honored in a way to get a rare glimpse of the women forced to cover themselves head to toe in black. Seeing the look of hopelessness in so many eyes made me grateful for the life I had.

A group of high-school-age girls came forward to be searched. They stepped into the search hut and I motioned for them to lift up their Abaya or Hijab and told them to turn around as I patted them down. One of the girls, let’s call her Sarah, had these dead eyes that didn’t really look at anything. A look that looked through you; a look that made you wonder where they go in their mind. As she uncovered her face, I saw the all too common disfiguring scars of burns covering her face and arms. Her classmate, let’s call her Anne, was chatting away with another girl as I searched Sarah. Anne grabbed a hold of Sarah’s hand after recognizing a look of pain as I must have patted a hidden injury.

Anne looked me in the eyes and told me a story I had unfortunately heard before. “She burned herself. Her parents promised her to this old man but she has a boyfriend she loves. She hoped the old man would find her ugly and not want to marry her but he still does. And look, her father beats her so bad” she said lifting up Sarah’s shirt to show the bruises inflicted by the beatings. Sarah pushed Anne’s hand away and covered herself back up after I finished searching her. “Will you be here tomorrow?” Anne asked as I patted her down. “I’m not sure. They move me around a lot” I replied. “It’s amazing what other women get to do. I wish I lived in America. One day I want to go and never come back here!”

I saw Anne and Sarah again a few more times. The last time I saw Sarah, she was covered in the traditional wedding henna. I felt sick thinking about what that wedding night would do to her. There didn’t seem to be much of a soul left to take. I promised Anne that I would fight for women and children around the world. I would speak out against what women go through around the world. I had no words for Sarah. What could I say? She heard what I told Anne but that didn't seem like enough. Instead, I would show her. I would share their story and help other silenced voices be heard.

The photos are not of Anne or Sarah.