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Happy Birthday Lubna

Victoria Harrison | 09:53 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2007

For those who listen to us on a regular basis, you'll know Lubna. She oftens calls and texts us from Baghdad. She contacted us this week to ask what hopes she could have for the future in Iraq as she turns 21 today. Three of her friends have been killed in the last few weeks, and the once-optimist Lubna now doesn't really know what she has to celebrate. Last night I chatted to her at length, she dictated a letter to me over the phone expressing her feelings on the eve of her birthday.....you can read it below. Lubna will be on today's programme - send her your messages or leave your number if you'd like to speak to Lubna tonight. Here's her letter...

"My name is Lubna, I am a 3rd year medical student at Baghdad Medical School, I live in Al-Karradah district in Baghdad, and I want to be a paediatric doctor in the future because I love children and I hope I could treat them from any disease they’re suffering from… So I’d like to be a paediatric doctor… I’d love to be a successful paediatric doctor. I just want to live…peacefully…I just want to go on with my life peacefully, to have a normal life with my friends, with my family, at college.......

... I hope that, you know…it’s just like… the summer holiday is going to begin in July and that means I’m going to be locked up at home from July to October, November, because if I don’t go to college, that means I’m going to stay at home. I can’t get out because of the security concerns, especially I live in Al-Karradah district where so many terrorist attacks have happened before…so many roadside bombs and car bombs, whatever, so my family is terribly afraid of death getting inside…. especially.… In spite of being the most beautiful district in Baghdad – it’s not because I live in it, but all agree that Al-Karradah is one of the most beautiful districts in Baghdad… really, it’s really beautiful. But you know I just can’t get out and enjoy my life in the summer holidays because there are so many security concerns, so I’ll have to stay at home for about four months, or three months, until I can go on to college next year. So it’s just like, when I think about my life, it’s boring. It’s full of routine……and I hope that it would be boring and full of routine because sometimes days that change can happen in it…..just like….i was trying…

Look, in the beginning of June, from the 1st of June to 10th of June, I was trying to contact my friend, Sarah, in Diyala. She left with her family to Diyala. She left with her family to Diyala because her father was threatened in Baghdad. So they left for Diyala in order to get started there because, you know, it’s just like the bigger family, how can I express it, the bigger family lives in Diyala. So they left for Diyala to be with their…her uncles, and her cousins, and whatever….so they wanted to feel safe within their bigger family in Diyala….so….a week before the 10th June, the 2nd or 3rd, I was texting Sarah …

You know, we in Iraq are fond of our texts, our cellphones. We like to text, we like to call, it’s like because we have nothing but each other…. so we like to contact each other a lot…this doesn’t happen in the West a lot, where everyone is busy with themselves. We here…because we are so afraid, so when a person is so afraid he tries to stick to his family, to his friends, to the people he loves and cares about. So I was texting her a lot, I was calling her a lot….I was texting her but she didn’t reply, and that is really rare. I waited for about 3 days, 4 days, 5 days….no reply. So I tried to call her… but you know it’s just like, I thought ‘What will she think when she finds ten missed calls on her cellphone? What will she think? Has Lubna gone crazy or what?’ There was no reply.

On the 10th June about 9pm my time … it’s a very sacred time for me because it’s the time of the broadcasting of your programme…. ….there was no programme at that time, it was Sunday …..a text came to me, I opened the text it was from Sarah’s cellphone it said….hi..I wanted to say it in Arabic….it said ‘Lubna you’ve been contacting Sarah for a week, I’m sorry to tell you that she’s dead, I’m her brother.’….I thought that she was joking, because she was doing that all the time. You know, she was …she was the…pretty girl between us. You know, we’re just like… we were girls in the secondary school and I was the….you know, I was the girl who wants to be a doctor, who wants to save the world, and Sarah was the pretty girl. I assure you…if you had seen her, you know, I just like…I tore down all the pictures after she died. I just took…my pictures with her, I just tore them down because I, I just couldn’t look at them anymore….If you’d have just seen them, she was like a movie-star, she’s very beautiful. If you had seen her alive, Victoria, you wouldn’t doubt that she’s British…she was really, really beautiful…and she was very funny, always tries to joke and laugh….and make everyone aware of her presence. She was…there was always a noise around her. So I thought that she was joking, I, I called back, and I called, I called. Her brother picked up the phone…he couldn’t speak…so he takes the phone to his mother, and his mother tells me the whole story. She was sitting with her father in their car, and those bad guys who were threatening him in Baghdad, followed him to Diyala and tried to assassinate him… Sadly, the bullet came in her head instead of his head. And her head was blown up in front of her father. Her father didn’t die, she died instead of him. You understand? That was what happened to her. And, after that ...I….just…you know….so…Sarah’s dead. That is the truth I had to accept…and I had a final exam the day after. And, you know, it’s just like…so…Sarah’s dead…and days passed.

And…and then, the 20th June came. I was still having a problem in believing that Sarah’s dead, because a person like her can not die, simply…. No, everyone accepts Sarah, Sarah can’t die…she was just…attached to life. She was life….by, by herself.

And I knew that Noor came back to Iraq, Noor my other friend. Her father and her mother came back to Iraq to finish family business. They were..they were in Jordan….look, just look at the tragedy of life….They were in Jordan, and they came to Iraq in order to die…can you imagine that?

The mother and the daughter were passing through Al-Halami district. On the 20th June, which was on Tuesday, I believe, Tuesday yeah….a terrorist attack happened, and so many people lost their lives – about 70. It happened that Noor and her mother were (among them)

I was trying to call her an hour before your programme started, about 8 pm or so….And….her father just picked up the phone and shouted ‘She’s dead’…simply.. as simple as that … ‘she’s dead.’ She just…you know… and he just hang up in my face. And that’s how I realised I lost 2 of my friends in about ten days or so……he said ‘She died’ …that’s….that’s ….that’s the truth, that’s the fact I have to accept.

After that…days passed and Sunday came, this Sunday, I went to my college to discover that one of my colleagues – a first year medical student, he was 19 years old – his name was also Noor, because you know in Iraq you can call a boy Noor and you can call a girl Noor…it’s a name for both sexes…girl and a boy… Noor means life by the way in English.

And his name was Noor, he was also assassinated. He was assassinated on June 17th. And there was a black sign at the door of my college indicating his murder…and…and there was.. there was a phrase on the sign, which I really, I really feel sorry about. They would say ‘We’re so sorry because he died so young…(Arabic)….we’re so sorry he died while he was so young’ …and….because you know…..his pictures were just all over….all over the, the college. And he’s like a childish face, come on, he’s young…he’s younger than me two years. And we, at the College of Medicine, we like to joke a lot about the first year medical students because they are just like kids, like children…they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to study….they are just, you know, beginners. We like to joke about them a lot.

Now I just find that this kid has died….and simply…we have final exams, and we went on with our exams, just like nothing happened…we didn’t, we didn’t lose any one of our colleagues.

You know when someone dies in Iraq, these days, these days, not in the beginning of the occupation…everyone says ‘Oh God, someone died...may God bless his soul.’ And then everyone would close the subject. Everyone would close the subject. Believe me, death has come as something pretty normal in Iraq…it’s no big deal. He only died.

Actually, look tomorrow (Wednesday 27th), I am going to be 21 years old. Tomorrow’s my birthday…so… last year was completely better than this year. I can say it with complete confidence…Last year we were better. Last year we were pretty much better than this year. …and I can tell you with complete confidence that my 22nd birthday is going to be worse than this birthday.

Actually, I make so many interviews with the BBC and I was always the optimistic Iraqi girl…I was always optimistic about the future. But you know, it’s just like I tell you, we have no hope completely in this country. We need complete chaos……those guys who were supporters of Saddam need to get back to rule in order to make things stable in Iraq. Democracy, freedom of expression.. err.. free elections…put those phrases aside, Victoria.

Saddam Hussein was able to hold this country with a firm hand. And he was killing everyone who stoned in his face….We all knew what we had to do…we had to stay aside from Hussein. Just leave Saddam alone. Let’s go on with our life. And everything goes well. Those guys need to get back to rule again….with an American support, without American support, I don’t know. If we go on with this, free elected governments, international unity governments …what, whatever expression I listen to. We are not going to get any further. We will just lose so many lives, so many Iraqis will die, so many Iraqis will travel abroad…..and the only thing…..you know….

I am a student, I told you, at Medical School. My career is the most important thing that I really care about in my life…and you know, so many of my teachers are leaving… so many of my friends are leaving….You know what? My closest friends in college, I heard them, some day in the near past, maybe before the final exams. One says he will go to Kufa, she’ll go to Kufa in the south to proceed in Kufa University. The other said she will go to Kurdistan…..so maybe I will wake up some day to find out that all my close friends have travelled. And what’s the worth of a person without friends? Especially if he was having a life just like ours, where we stick at home.

What is the level of education I’m going to get? Believe me, Victoria, we get typed copies of our lectures and we go at home to study them and then we go to our college in order to have exams on them. Nobody explains for us. Noone explains the curriculum for us. We have to teach ourselves. Not our teachers. You can imagine how good doctor I’m going to be when I graduate. And it’s not about me, it’s about so many Iraqi students, who are so worried about their future and what they’re going to be. You know, I might be more luckier than others, because like, you know, a doctor has a guaranteed future in Iraq. But other students in other colleges they will graduate knowing that they will not get work. They will stay at home.

You know, I’m afraid to hope anything for the rest of my life, because whenever you hope…because you know…I, I, I used to say recently Iraq is the country of assassinated hope. You know, whenever you hope anything in Iraq you would wake up to see that your hope has gone. So I’m afraid I just want to live, to live at the moment. To live…and not to live by myself… that every person that I love and care about would live with me. I don’t want anyone that I know, and Allah, and I care about dies... That is my hope for the moment. I don’t need anything else."


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