Letters To My Dead Father The father of Guffran, then a 9-year-old Iraqi girl, was gunned down in a Baghdad street in 2006 at the height of the war. She continues writing letters to him, just as she did when he was alive. Now, she lives in one room with her mother and brother. She wants to study but faces difficult odds.
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Letters To My Dead Father

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Letters To My Dead Father

Letters To My Dead Father

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Tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION, Rachel Martin talks with the Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi, who believes that American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has made peace harder to achieve. It's been 10 years since the United States invaded Iraq, and today we're looking back. In 2006, we brought you the story of a nine-year-old girl named Guffran, who wrote her father letters to carry with him to work.

GUFFRAN: (Through translator) I loved him, and I told him to keep the letters with him always. He kept them in the car with him. And they disappeared when the car was taken. I'm so sorry because they reminded me of my father.

SIMON: He was killed in that carjacking that appeared to have a sectarian motive. Guffran kept writing him letters long after he died. NPR's Kelly McEvers and Isra' al Rubei'i reconnected with Guffran and sent this update.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: We expected to find the angry, grief-stricken girl who pounded her fists and threw herself into the mud when she heard her father was killed back in 2006. Instead, we found a poised, tall gazelle of a young lady. Now 16, she says she spends most of her time studying. Guffran's father had hoped she would become a doctor. But the teenage Guffran is not so into that. You don't like science?

GUFFRAN: I like science, I like physics, but I don't like chemistry. And medical, it's all about chemistry, and I don't like it.

MCEVERS: Guffran says she wants to be another kind of doctor - a Ph.D. in English, which she insists on speaking with us. Her dream is to teach English language and literature at a university and maybe to be a writer.

GUFFRAN: I like to write, I love to write. And when I feel bad or feel sadness, I catch my paper and my pen and write what I feel.

MCEVERS: About a year after her father's death, Guffran and her mother and brother moved here, to the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala. They now live with an uncle and his family. They have exactly one room for studying, eating, receiving guests and sleeping. That's what it's like for a family in Iraq without a grown man at the head of the household. The uncle controls everything they do.

GUFFRAN: And when we want to rent a house, my uncle doesn't allow us. They don't allow us.

MCEVERS: Now, multiply this story times the estimated one million families in Iraq who've lost fathers and husbands to decades of violence that include the U.S.-led war. The Iraqi government did compensate Guffran and her brothers after their father was killed. Each got about a thousand dollars. But the support ended there. Guffran's mother used to make money as a seamstress. The relatives won't let her work anymore. What's more, there's very little chance they'll ever know who killed Guffran's father, says her mother, Um Haidar.

UM HAIDAR: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Um Haidar says she knows the killers were Sunnis who wanted to punish her husband for being Shiite. She says there were people who witnessed the killing. But they were too afraid to come forward.

HAIDAR: (Foreign language spoken)

No one could do anything at that time. It was very dangerous for them 'cause they know the killers would come after them and take their revenge upon the whole family. So, no one could do anything.

MCEVERS: This is another lingering problem of the Iraq war - so many unresolved cases. Um Haidar says despite it all, she has to move on and put her hope in her kids. But Guffran can't move on, despite her studies and her dreams to become a professor. She says she still feels like her father died yesterday. She misses him so much, she still writes him letters.

What's the most recent one you wrote?

GUFFRAN: (Through translator) Can I bring it?

MCEVERS: Of course, you can bring it, yeah.


MCEVERS: It's written on a stationery with a beautiful sort of border around it and has hearts and everything...

GUFFRAN: (Through translator) Oh my father, who lives deep in my heart. You are the most precious present that God has given me. I was a little flower, and you were the water for me.

MCEVERS: In English, it might sound sappy. In Arabic, it's poetic.

GUFFRAN: (Through translator) What did I do, what fault did I do so you would be taken away from me?

MCEVERS: Guffran says at least once a week she thinks of her father and starts crying. Only picking up her copy book and writing can help her feel better.

Does she share the letters with her friends? With her teacher?

GUFFRAN: I have a friend, she love me so much, and she tell me always to moving on and forget my father. He was in heaven and he's happy now. Yes, but I can't. When I remember it, I go crying.

MCEVERS: Flipping through the book we see drawings any teenage girl might have. That's a chick with, like, a frizzy hairdo and skinny jeans. But there are somber pictures, too. One is a man and a girl, sitting on a park bench, in front of a giant sunset. He has his arm around her. She looks like she's grown up and ready for something. Kelly McEvers, NPR News.

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