RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Love and war is a story as old as time. In past American wars, it was not uncommon for U.S. servicemen to bring home brides from France or Korea or Vietnam. During five years of fighting in Iraq, there have been very few of these marriages, in part because of the deep cultural divisions between American soldiers and Iraq's conservative Muslim society. NPR's Ivan Watson, along with film maker Paxton Winters, met one Iraqi-American couple who escaped the Iraq war only to face difficulties trying to raise a family in America.
IVAN WATSON: Munira Shahamorad was 20 years old and dressed from head to toe in all-concealing black robes when she walked up to the gate of the U.S. Marine base in Fallujah, looking for a job. She was desperate to escape her abusive brother, who she says beat her and dragged her around by the hair.
MUNIRA SHAHAMORAD: Yeah. Anyway, he was like really treating me bad and even my mom, my sisters. So, I just decided - leave and figured that if I'm going to go work as a translator, I'm going to have a place to stay.
WATSON: The Marines gave the slender young woman from Fallujah a job as an interpreter, a room to live in, and a nickname to protect her identity, Venus. Soon after, she met her future husband, Marine Sergeant Steve Campbell.
STEVE CAMPBELL: First day I saw her, I told the guy that we were relieving, I said, you know, I said I'm in love, I'm going to marry her. And he's like, what, you're crazy. I'm like, no. I'm serious.
WATSON: That was more than three years ago. After an illicit affair and unplanned pregnancy, Steve discharged from the military, and an arduous journey that left Munira stranded in Turkey for nine months, the former Marine finally married his Iraqi Venus in Ozark, Missouri.
CAMPBELL: I couldn't afford rings whenever we got married, but my younger brother, he does tattoos. And he's cheap, so we got him some alcohol, and he got us permanent rings. She has one, too.
WATSON: But the honeymoon in America did not last long. One day, Steve fell at work, broke his wrist and lost his job as a construction worker. For much of the next year, this Veteran of two tours in Iraq was unemployed, struggling to support his family and even selling his own blood.
CAMPBELL: Pawned off a lot of things, I've sold plasma several times. Do whatever you got to do.
WATSON: The financial hardships were a wake-up call for Munira.
SHAHAMORAD: We're like, wow, it's really life hard here. Have to really work hard, bills, and he was kind of talking about different bills every day, and I'm like, what is that? I asked a lot, what is this? What is this? Because I don't know. What does car insurance mean? We don't have such a thing called car insurance. We don't have like, electric bills, stuff like that.
CAMPBELL: We really had to have a long talk about, you know, American's not easy. You have to pay for everything, nothing's free. Nothing is free, not even your freedom.
(SOUNDBITE OF A BABY'S CRYING)
WATSON: Munira cradles her second baby son Xander as she recalls how she went door to door in Ozark looking for a job of her own. But even fast food restaurants refused to hire the newly arrived Iraqi immigrant because she did not have a work permit.
SHAHAMORAD: You know, like Green Card. And I'm like, no. She's like sorry, we cannot let you work here.
WATSON: Eventually, Munira found one bar where the manager didn't ask too many questions.
SHAHAMORAD: And the woman there, she said she don't need a waitress, she need a dancer. I was like, wow, a dancer. I used to do belly-dancing, you mean belly-dancing? Like I'll put my clothes on me, but no, just like, no, it's different kind of dance.
WATSON: It was a strip bar. That night, Munira drummed up the courage to go on stage and came home with $350 in her pocket.
CAMPBELL: Every since day one and still do.
SHAHAMORAD: I don't think it's fair here. They don't let me do anything because I don't have a Social Security number or a Green Card. What am I going to do then? Just wait and be hungry and don't have a place to stay. He's not making much. So, I don't think it's fair.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WATSON: So the young Iraqi woman, who couldn't even step outside her house in Fallujah without wearing a veil, began pole-dancing topless under the strobe lights for customers who throw dollar bills onto the stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WATSON: It's after 2 a.m. and the kids are at home with their grandfather when Steve picks up his wife outside the club that's decorated with a purple neon sign.
CAMPBELL: We're going to Waffle House. Hungry?
SHAHAMORAD: Yeah, I'm starving. I haven't eaten all night.
CAMPBELL: Yeah and so am I. All I had is that chicken sandwich at work.
MONTAGNE: (Unintelligible) shot of tequila, but I'm doing great.
WATSON: The couple goes to a diner and sits down next to a table of customers wearing cowboy hats. Munira admits she avoids telling people in the Ozark's that she's from Iraq.
SHAHAMORAD: I don't feel comfortable telling people where I am from especially in this area here. So, yeah.
WATSON: Gerry Campbell is Steve's father.
GERRY CAMPBELL: People do act kind of weird when they find out she's from Iraq. Still, I said something about that and they just kind of had that look like, oh yeah, like we got a terrorist amongst us. Well, she's going to terrorize. You know, throw your dishes around in your kitchen, cuss you out in different language, but, oh boy, that's worst.
WATSON: One night last winter, Steve came home from his job welding cars to find his wife distressed and agitated. And his elder son, one-year-old Bradley, covered with fresh bruises.
CAMPBELL: That's one thing I won't tolerate. Do what you've got to. Live with the choices you make.
WATSON: Steve called the police and watched them take his wife away in handcuffs. In court, a prosecutor threatened Munira with seven years in prison for child abuse and urged her to go back to Iraq. Bradley was placed in foster care, while Munira was ordered into therapy and couples counseling with Steve, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
BONNIE VAWTER: I think they're a product of war.
WATSON: Bonnie Vawter is a children's services worker who worked on the Campbell's case.
VAWTER: We have two people that met each other during war. They fell in love. They're trying to make a life with each other. They have a lot of obstacles, just because of their circumstances and the cultural differences and citizenship and things like that. And I don't think this is an isolated case.
WATSON: In September, after months of foster care and supervised visits, the state returned full custody of Bradley to Munira and Steve. And this month, the judge gave Munira a less severe sentence of five years probation for child abuse. Reunited, the Campbell family was given a second chance.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WATSON: The happy moment did not last long. Steve says he came home from work on Tuesday to find Bradley once again covered with bruises. He says he kicked Munira out of the house after accusing her of abusing the child, accusations, he says, his wife denied. Bradley was hospitalized. The authorities have taken custody of both children. Steve and the police say they do not know Munira's current whereabouts. Ivan Watson, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And we have an audio slide show of Steve and Munira's life in Ozark. You can see it at our website npr.org.
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