Review by Heather Harlen
The United Nations requested $557.1 million in 2017 to support Iraqi refugees, but, so far, only eight percent has been funded. Compare that to the billions of dollars in aid we, as a country, have provided to other humanitarian efforts. Thankfully, there are people in the world who are dedicating their lives to raising awareness about the crisis in the wake of the Invasion of Iraq — and the abandoned people in need of protection.
Three Days In Damacus by Kim Schultz (Palewell Press, 2016) is a powerful memoir meant to educate the world about the living, breathing, collateral damage who have to rebuild elsewhere since the Iraq war.
Schultz was on a month-long assignment in 2009 on an arts grant to interview Iraqi refugees living in the Middle East. Her goal was to gather stories and shape them into a play, but she had no idea how much she would become part of the story. Little did Shultz know she’d meet an Iraqi artist who would capture her heart and complicate her life. After three whirlwind days in Damascus, ripe with the dizzy effervescence of attraction, Kim needs to move on to her next assignment, but knows there is something special about this man.
Back in New York, Schultz begins to write her play and have a long-distance relationship of sorts with Omar. Her writing becomes a way to process her experiences in Syria, especially this affair with Omar that doesn’t make any rational sense, but in the syntax of attraction, makes perfect sense. If you’ve ever had a long distance relationship, you will understand the push and pull of the strange gravity on Schutz’s heart.
Schultz tells a powerful story in a conversational manner, which makes this a fast read. Sometimes the side commentary like “I’m ‘sweatin’ to the oldies’ here” to describe how hot it was in a refugee’s home can distract from the seriousness of the text, but I believe Schultz uses these glib observations to show how she used humor as a coping mechanism. Schultz, does, after all, own a corporate improv training company. When it counts, though, the storytelling is straightforward, and Schultz’s insight is powerful. For example, when Shultz accidentally breaks a family’s tea set while dancing and is terrified she ruined an heirloom, the family pays no mind and continues dancing. Schultz writes, “Amongst the shattered shards and ruined treasure, we all dance and laugh and sing and holler until we can’t any more—a few moments of fleeting, crackling, broken joy.”
The American political doctrine since 9/11 can easily make someone cynical, but the love and passion in Schultz’s memoir shows readers a different side of the war. I breathlessly turned pages to find out what happens to the couple, their story a sweeping romance as much as an indictment of the treatment of refugees. Schultz uses transcripts of their texts throughout the book and these add levity to their story, such as when Omar learns how to use “What’s up, dude?” correctly. And, as is the case in most serious situations, the most powerful line is the simplest:
Omar: kim i want to live my lafe like all the humans
The privilege of being an American was searing as I read this line on a spring afternoon, surrounded by chirping birds, soaking in sunshine, the only gunfire echoing from a nearby shooting range. Omar reminds us our needs are the same everywhere: we all want a future; we all want the opportunity to be who we were meant to be. And if you happen to want a good love story, too, this is a captivating tale that just might take you back to a time in your life when you couldn’t fight the attraction and the circumstances, either.