Omar, who had worked in Iraq in and , was one of the first aid workers to arrive in Iraq after the war started in , when she went to work for Women for Women International. Omar dedicated herself to working for women's rights in Iraq. There was a profound sense of opportunity at the start of the war. At the same time, Omar says there was a "stronger desperation to hold on to more tribal or traditional customs.
The title of Omar's memoir refers to the Iraqi Turkmen proverb, "If you walk barefoot, the thorns will hurt you.
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Omar believed that her mixed identity could be an asset to her aid work. Born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents, her family moved to Lubbock, Texas, when she was six months old. Her status as an American from the South allowed her to move freely in the Green Zone and converse with soldiers. As a veiled woman, she believed that she would be able to move freely between cultures. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. Some viewed her American and Arab identities as mutually exclusive.
Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos
Some people saw her as an extremist because of her veil. She says, "People felt that I needed to choose sides or needed to choose one identity and stick to it. Eventually, Omar fell in love and got married to an Iraqi man whom she worked with. But what should have been a joyous day became possibly the saddest day of her life. She explained:.
On the day of our wedding, his brother in law was killed in Iraq. And it brought the reality that now I was going to part of this society that was war-torn society that suffered such tragedies that impacted every part of their lives. In spite of the tragedies, Omar can still find hope and optimism in her experiences. She says, "The office, and a lot of the staff that I worked with in , are still working very hard to make changes for Iraqi women.
The organization has helped women find a voice in Iraq, and some have even run for public office and won. She summed up the lessons for Here and Now:. My experience taught me that despite despair despite tragedy, there is a way to be cautiously optimistic. She asks a telling question at the outset of the memoir: "Who was better equipped to adapt within a country experiencing a period of tumultuous change than someone who had been raised with an ever-shifting identity? The uplifting and youthful approach which Omar takes to her subject matter is as captivating in the fluency and ease of her writing as it is in the way in which she is able to navigate her position among the many diverse segments of Iraqi society.
No matter whether you view the US occupation of Iraq as unwarranted or as totally justifiable in terms of their acting as a liberation force, Barefoot in Baghdad should be of interest to you. Giving both an insider's and an outsider's view of the unfolding drama of Iraq, the memoir should prove worthwhile reading for anyone who has a keen interest in developments in the Middle East. Omar speaks Arabic and wears the veil and is able to bridge the cultural gap between the powers-that-be and various aid agencies.
This story thoughtfully written with a good balance between the authors personal life and her struggle to provide a foundation for Iraqi women to learn a new skill to better their lives and the future of their children. The is a heartfelt, well written and sometimes shocking story of the forgotten women.
Share this book with your friends, your book club and urge your local library to have a discussion about this powerful book. When she was given the opportunity to work in Baghdad for an agency dedicated to providing women with training to allow them to be more financially independent and put their war-torn lives together, she felt uniquely qualified to do the job. Omar's story focuses primarily on her thoughts, feelings, interactions, and a few "outside" cases working for Women for Women International, a non-governmental agency NGO starting a branch in Iraq in As she spends time in Iraq, she finds herself attempting to negotiate between distinct worlds, and making compromises she never expected.
The memoir could have used more stringent editing, as there was some repetition of thought even within the same paragraph , some awkward sentences, and sometimes minimal connection between the chapter headings and content. Despite this, Omar presents a broad spectrum of women in Iraq, from the elite and well-off to the poorer women she was drawn to help.
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She is up front with her political leanings, and stubborn to a fault about certain things. I sometimes wished that she would include facts or statistics to back up some of her broader, opinionated claims. Since I was expecting a story about her work for the international aid organization, I was surprised at the tight focus on Omar herself. I did not learn much about her regular work; instead, she focuses on interactions she has with staff, friends, and U.
Towards the end of the memoir, however, I realized that this is more a reflection of her time in Iraq and the memories that haunt her rather than an enumeration of success stories. I am not sure what else I can really say. It was the first book, in a long while that has made me think a little harder about the world we live in and the events that do not affect you first hand, but still leave a footprint on your mind and heart. I had my own ideals about how the war in Iraq was going, but I see with clearer eyes now. The damage that was caused and the turmoil in the people as a country is more than most could bear.
I have never been one to judge on appearance, and after this book, I want to stand up for those that are hurt for that very reason. TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago Barefoot in Baghdad is going to be a hard book for me to review because I have very mixed feelings about it.
First, let me make it clear that I applaud the author for the work she was, and is, doing. I have nothing but respect and admiration for that. The author, who describes herself as an Arab, an American, a Palestinian, a Southerner, a Muslim, and a woman, traveled to Iraq as an American aid worker.
In addition, she chooses traditional dress, which is a help is some instances but establishes a barrier in others. She is caught between worlds, seen as too traditional by some and too modern and too American by others. The story is touted as beautifully written but I didn't find it so. In the finished, published edition there were mistakes that grated. Fortunately, either there were fewer mistakes in the later pages or I just didn't notice them as much.
As a humanitarian aid worker, she understandably wants to keep her distance from the military, and yet she relies on it for favors, including a ride out of the country when she had delayed too long for other options. It felt to me there was too much finger-pointing and not enough cooperation.
The author came across to me as too arrogant and self-important. Immediately on meeting her staff of men she writes:I jumped in to try to break the ice again.
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But at the end of the day it's still a bit odd. Women for Women, and all I see in front of me are four men.
We are going to have to change that. I have to say that the men with whom she worked closely were courageous, loyal, and helpful beyond any expectations. I really admired them. When Ms. Omar is trying to find a safe place for one year-old prostitute who ran away from her abusive husband whom she was forced to marry at 13, she speaks to a woman who runs an orphanage for girls but cannot take this one, or others like her, because of the cultural implications and dangers. So the same could be said about the author: If you know the need is there, why don't you fight to create something for these children?
I know that she cannot do everything, but neither could the woman running the girls' orphanage. These are just some of the things that caused me to like the book less than I expected.
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I wanted more stories of the women she helped, and she undoubtedly did help women, and less of her life in Iraq. The story was engaging but not as well written as I had hoped. Even after writing this review, I still have mixed feelings about the book. A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.
Omar tells a difficult and complex tale of being an Arab American aid worker in Iraq while the country is at war. As the leader of the local Women for Women International she struggles to provide justice and safety for women while managing her own safety, cultural struggles, and work relationships. A team, which grows in friendship as time passes, is built.
Omar's story is told in a manner that is easily accessible, yet fulfilling to the reader.
This is a well distilled tale, with substance and flavor and no bony bits to slow the reader down. The author has a conversational style to her writing that pulls you in and keeps you going. I actually read this in two days! I couldn't put it down. I found myself very emotionally involved in the story, and my initial concerns that it would be either overly analytical or overly author-centric proved unfounded.
Omar maintains the delicate balance between her story and the story of the women of Iraq with poise and grace. I don't know how much longer my excessive notice of all things Muslim or Middle Eastern will continue, but I welcome it for as long as it stays. If you are or have ever loved a strong woman, or had even a vague passing interest in areas political, this one is well worth getting your hands on. But she was used to ambiguity about her identity. Manal was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents and grew up in various locales around the United States.
Throughout her youth, Manal struggled with identity, especially when she began wearing a hijab.
Hoping to be accepted by the Iraqi women she was trying to organize, Manal decided to live in an Iraqi neighborhood, rather than accept the protection of living in the Green Zone. Trying to preserve the non-partisan stance of her organization, she at first eschews collaborating with the American military. As she gains experience, however, Manal learns that all players must work together in order to be effective. Sharing stories about marginalized girls and women whom she tries to help, Manal describes how the situation in Iraq fell apart for these women.
At first hopeful and optimistic about "liberation", Iraqi confidence in the Americans plummets as basic utilities fail to come on, security deteriorates, and promises fail to be fulfilled. Her story is not an unbiased, historical account, rather it is a memoir of the experience of a young woman trying to do good in a country falling apart.