A Kurdish family living in tents among ruins, in Kurdistan, Iraq
I recently 'met' a fascinating individual named Margareta. I say 'met' because it was over the telephone. Margareta called me out of the blue one evening, and after a puzzling introduction of herself, I began to understand her connection to me when she mentioned Meran. I asked about how she knew Meran, and a long story poured out...

She first met Meran as a ten year-old boy in a Turkish refugee camp several years ago in the late 1980's, after his family fled Iraqi Kurdistan (due to Saddam's persecution of the Kurds...) She was there in her capacity as an aide worker, and to observe the conditions of the refugees in the camps. I haven't had the opportunity to ask Margareta why she became attached to Meran as opposed to the many children she must have seen. But for whatever reason, she did. She told me that he struck her as very intelligent, warm, loving...and open. I also learned it was thanks to her special interest in Meran and his family, that they found out about the resettlement program that eventually led them to my area. In a very real sense, without Margareta, my daughter Eva would never have met Meran, and I would not have him as a son-in-law, nor would there be a Salih, Bilal, or Mu'min (my grandsons). I am in her debt, also...

Although I don't know Margareta like Meran does (he has kept in touch with her through all of these years, even asking her advice on whether or not to go to Iraq for the job he's doing there right now - she said, by the way, that she thought he should, that he could have a very positive and important impact...), her caring came across very obviously in her voice as she talked about him. She is an older lady, a native of Sweden, that divides her time between Vermont (where one of her children lives) and Sweden. She said she has had an avid interest in human rights, particularly the Kurds, for many years. The Kurds, she said, are a kind and generous people...a people that the other ethnic groups in the region, could take a lesson from in how to cooperate and live together. She has never been affiliated with a particular NGO or aide group, but freelances where and when she sees fit.

A person like Margareta is someone I greatly admire. I often contemplated doing work like she has actually done. All of us can do what we can whereever we are, so there is no real excuse, is there?

The poem below was written by Margareta about Meran. It is all true, based on recollections and memories shared with her by Meran. It was published in a boook called "Kurdistan Times", a biannual publication of the Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Copyright 1997...

By Margareta Hanson (Human Rights Activist)

My home, so
my father told me
was in a valley
in the mountains,
with a river
clear and cold,
its water running
from the snowfields.

In the garden
fruit trees grew.
We had cucumbers,
grapes and melons.
In the barn
there were, of course,
cows and sheep and
my father's horse.

In our home,
heated by
the baking oven
were handmade carpets
of all colors.
It was my home
until 1980 when
I was two years old.

Then came Saddam's soldiers.
Iraqi troops
bulldozed our house
and the barn,
destroyed the garden
and drove us out
from our valley
in the mountains.

Hunted, homeless,
we had to flee.
My father's horse
carrying some
blankets, pots and pans
and my older brother
carrying me.

For years we walked
at night
lighted by the stars.
We were hungry,
cold and ill,
sleeping in a tent
as from place
to place we went.

Like that
we lived
until 1988
when I was
ten years old.
Then planes flew by
and chemical bombs
exploded in the sky.

I had run, was
hiding in the mountains.
When I returned I found
that my mother,
my father, and my brother
were laying dead.
Peshmergas helped me
bury them, and then I fled.

Four years went by.
I stayed with
thousands of other Kurds
in a Turkish camp.
We lived in tents.
For heat the sun,
for light at night
the shining stars.

Now I am in another world
of neon lights and cars.
Here in the United States
I go to school and work at night.
I call myself a man and say
"Forgotten in the pain,
I am on my way."

But when I sleep
I am a child at home
in the valley
in the mountains
with the river
cold and clear,
its water running
from the snowfields.

In the garden fruit trees grow.
We have cucmbers,
grapes and melons.
In the barn
there are, of course,
cows and sheep
and my father's horse.

In my dream
I clearly see them,
my father, my mothers
and my older brother,
in our home
in the valley
in the mountains
in my country, Kurdistan.

I am asking you, my friend,
is there a Kurdistan,
a land that is mine,
that will welcome me?
Is there a land of peace and democracy
where all people are free
and living in harmony?

Where hate and murder
does not exist
and every man and
woman is a friend?
If so, Kurdistan, I am
your long-lost son
who wants to go home
and never leave again!