By Cari Gervin
Community News Writer
It was just a random coincidence that the day I visited Nahla Hassan Kurdistani was the day that news broke of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
We were originally supposed to meet the day before, but I had called to reschedule.
My timing could not have been better.
Mrs. Kurdistani was ecstatic at the news.
“God help it because everybody want a peace,” she said, apologizing for her at times broken English.
Mrs. Kurdistani wants peace more than most. She is Iraqi —; Kurdish —; and she still misses her country.
Ten years ago, she fled with her four children under the cover of night, leaving everything behind, to escape almost certain death from the followers of Saddam Hussein, who had already killed a number of her family members.
Mrs. Kurdistani is still emotional when recounting these events. Yet she becomes even more emotional when telling the story of what followed when she came to America.
Mrs. Kurdistani does not have enough good things to say about the United States. She flies several flags outside her Hixson home; inside, red, white and blue bunting decorates the walls.
“The U.S., they helps everybody,” Mrs. Kurdistani explained. “They helps the Iraqi and Kurdish women.”
In these days of falling approval ratings for President George W. Bush, Mrs. Kurdistani proudly points to a framed picture on a side table. It is a note from the president, thanking her for sending him one of her artworks.
Make no mistake, Mrs. Kurdistani is an artist. Her sentences may sometimes need to be translated by her teenage son Mohammed Ali (while he does box, he was named after an uncle, not the famous boxer), but her work speaks by itself.
Mrs. Kurdistani went to college at the fine art academy in Baghdad. She then moved back to her home in northern Iraq and taught elementary school art for over 20 years.
Since fleeing to the U.S., Mrs. Kurdistani has only taught preschool. Her art, however, has continued.
“I love it. I love it, my art,” Mrs. Kurdistani said.
Mrs. Kurdistani has set up a small desk in her dining room that she uses as a studio. She paints small watercolors, sometimes accented with pastel, marker or glitter.
She also mixes her paintings and drawings with photos cut out from magazines, creating naive yet sophisticated collages celebrating her Kurdish heritage and her new American culture.
While some of her works are realistic renderings of flowers, bicycles and laundry on the line, others are more abstract —; and more complex.
The Kurds were persecuted by Saddam Hussein, one reason that Mrs. Kurdistani is grateful for the U.S. invasion of that country. In the 1990s, his regime used chemical bombs in Halbja, killing thousands and wounding even more.
Mrs. Kurdistani has several paintings that portray the bombing and its after-effects. Disturbingly simple, they resonate in the same way as Picasso’s “Guernica.”
It was because of these atrocities that Mrs. Kurdistani’s husband Kordo joined the U.S. military as a translator three years ago. He has been home a few times and will be back this summer, but he plans to stay until the conflict is over as his way of giving back to his new home.
Mrs. Kurdistani believes in giving back too. She said she is looking for places to sell her work so that she can donate all the proceeds to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
She said she wants to help people the way others in this country helped her, when she arrived with nothing.
“God bless America,” Mrs. Kurdistani said.
E-mail Cari Gervin at email@example.com