Empathy can be learned through putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. Stories like this, in today’s social climate, is a must read.
A Lullaby in the Desert by Mojgan Azar released in February in the Women’s fiction genre.
A Lullaby in the Desert tells the story of one woman’s unrelenting journey to find freedom. Born in Iran, Susan is forced to flee in order to escape an arranged marriage, leaving her mother and everything she has known behind. Years later, Susan has settled in Erbil where she must continue to navigate the daily threat of racial prejudice and a violent patriarchal society. Yet even as she struggles to survive, life is further disturbed by the approach of ISIS in 2014. Like many others, Susan is forced to make a life changing decision. Stay in Erbil and let ISIS decide her fate? Or risk everything in search of a freedom she had never known? The subjection and danger that Susan must overcome during her gruelling journey shows an instinct for survival and human resilience that is truly eye opening. A Lullaby in the Desert may share one woman’s fight for survival, but it shows the reality that many have, and still, face.
“What way? You’re not from this place, from this life. You have no idea where you are. Where do you plan to go in this desert once you jump out with no food and no water? The only living things out there are things that want you dead.” Susan knew she was right and she tried to think carefully about her choices. Malika looked Susan in the eye. “Worse than death, this area has people who are thirsty for a woman like you.”
Susan looked over at Heja, who was staring out the slit in the fabric and watching the hills roll by. “Hey, Heja. Come look here.” She motioned with her hand. “Can you see outside? Can you tell where we are?” Susan noticed Rima straining herself trying to hear what Susan was saying but it was clear she couldn’t make out the words.
“Uh, yeah. It’s the desert,”
“I know.” Susan rolled her eyes. “I mean, do you think we’re in Iraq still, or Syria?”
“Well we’ve been on the way for hours.” He looked at his watch. “Yea, we’ve got to be in Syria by now.” He shifted uncomfortably; his leg having fallen asleep. “We’re heading straight for the heart of evil, straight to Da’esh. I don’t know if you can see from where you are but we aren’t on the road anymore. Haven’t been for a while. We’re driving across the open desert. Looks like we’re heading straight west.”
Susan stared intently at Heja. She wasn’t sure if she should share her idea with him. “Do you want to escape together?” She blurted it out without thinking.
“Escape?” Heja breathed deeply as though the utterance itself was a crime. “That word has the same definition as capture right now.”
“Well, I’m certain that if they take us into Raqqa, Idlib, Homs, Manbij, you name it, I’ll be dead for sure anyway.”
“Girl, you don’t know where you’re at. This place is dangerous even for smugglers who act like Da’esh.
Imagine what it would be like out there for regular people, an Iranian woman and a Kurdish boy.” He looked out the slit in the fabric. “I wish we could afford the classy smugglers. We’d be out of here on an airplane instead of this old Bongo.”
They both smiled a little but Susan wished Heja would be more hopeful. This wasn’t the end of the world, and Susan knew there must be multiple ways out. She just needed to find the right one at the right moment. She could see the hopelessness in everyone’s eyes. It seemed these refugees had begun accepting their fate.
The car seemed to be reducing speed, gradually slowing until the engine sputtered. They were out of fuel. Everyone looked at each other, waiting for something to happen. Heja closed his eyes. “It can’t get any worse, right?”
Suddenly the fabric covering the back was ripped away. Abu Baydastood there, sneering. Somehow, he looked angrier each time he saw the refugees. Malika’s children clung to her, trying to hide their faces from his seething glare.
“Everyone out!” he shouted. “Yalla! Hurry up!”
About the Author
MOJGAN AZAR was born in Iran and lived most of her adult life in Iraq. She was living in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham swept through the area, displacing millions and trapping Mojgan in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Her harrowing experiences have inspired her writings, and for the first time she is making that story known to the world.
Have you ever felt too accustomed to something because you’ve thought about it too much? Like being alone at home with no one around, deep in thought, suddenly aware that the causes of your stress, hurt, and sadness clouding your mind as a headache have all vanished. Maybe you haven’t yet solved this problem, you just accepted it, dealt with it, because you got used to it. The problem may only affect a few people like at work, something personal with your partner, or maybe they’re bigger than society itself. You know you can’t do it alone.
What about getting too accustomed to being careless about the world we live in? At this point, the problem isn’t a lover’s quarrel or a spat between friends. No, those small problems can be safely ignored. The problems we can’t ignore are those affecting millions, affecting our human family around the world.
What should we do then? Should we go home and sit in front of the television, drinking our coffee and tea, pretending nothing happened? If we step out of the way, toward our chairs and away from the challenge of doing the right thing, we only succeed in empowering those cruel people who wouldn’t have it any other way. The moment we stop caring, those cruel people will fill the void of our inaction with their injustice, their inequality, and their inhumanity. Those people may be your boss, your parents, your partner, or they may be unknown strangers never met. They are also world leaders, criminals, and ideologues, drawing their power from our silence.
My new book, A Lullaby in the Desert, stands up for those who cannot defend themselves. It speaks for those women, children, and men who still fight for their freedom, whose struggles are answered with the cold steel of bullets, with the masked face of the executioner. If we become accustomed to accepting their fates in silence, we produce those fates for them.
Susan, our protagonist in A Lullaby in the Desert, believes in justice, equality, and humanity. She seeks the freedom that we are born with but lost as soon as our eyes open. Borders and innocence are both a mirage for Susan as she makes her way through the maze of Iraq, Syria, and Iran while everyone, from her uncouth boss hiding behind his position to depraved smugglers hiding behind their guns, attempts to wield an unjust power over her in her state of weakness and helplessness.
Writing helps me to stay vigilant and aware of those injustices occurring all around me in this world. I am repeating the words I hear, yes, repeating them, but in a way that ensures they are not forgotten like so many news stories flashing across the screen. I write to ensure we not only bear witness to what’s going on, but also to take steps to be responsible for the good we can do in the world.
We are all affected by our environments, whether good or bad. This reminds me of a saying in Persian uttered when we encounter someone by accident after years of not seeing one another: “It’s a small world!” Our world is so small and sooner or later our actions will affect everyone, including ourselves and those on the other side of the planet. Violence is just like the COVID-19 pandemic affecting all of us. We are struggling, millions have died, untold others suffer. Many have lost their loved ones; many have become homeless. This has really shown the connectedness we share as humans.
We shouldn’t let borders divide us, and they certainly don’t keep us all safe. Sometimes they trap us. Borders sift us into groups and make us sit far away from one another, creating animosity and otherness. It’s time to stand up and come together.
Let’s come together as one, using our connectedness for positive change to make a better world for us and for the generations to come. Let’s give voices to the voiceless, let’s show our care and put our hope into action. Let’s be someone our children will be proud to emulate.