Baghdad-born Sanaa Al-khannaq knows all about virtual reality. She has published a book and articles on information technology. Can a virtual reality helmet show her a vision of peace in Iraq, her family gathered, a chance to be happy again in her new home?
I am with my Shoe Project friends Barb and Roya at Chinook Mall. We walk by the Microsoft Store and decide to test drive a virtual reality helmet. We each take a turn. The store clerk helps me put on the helmet, and he adjusts the control sticks in my hand. Then I am in a fishing village in East Asia. I am really there, riding in a boat, surrounded by water and warm weather.
At the beginning of this century, while I was still living in Iraq, I learned about virtual reality as part of my study of Information Technology. Through reading and videos, I learned about many virtual worlds, and I imagined myself in them: travelling to different cities, driving a motorcycle or hiking in the jungle.
After the war started in Iraq in 2003, I would have liked to have had a virtual reality. There was atrocious lawlessness, damage, murders, blood, fears and weeping. I wished to wear my dream helmet and create an alternative reality that turns tears into joy, destruction to creation, war and fighting to peace. Yes, peace. For millions of people in Iraq, peace is not a reality.
Because of the bad situation in Iraq, my family and I left for Malaysia where we worked and studied for years. Each family member had a dream for the future of their career in a different country. The result is that we are now living in four different countries.
Iraqi people are characterized by strong family relations where all family members, even after marriage, meet at the family’s grand house on weekends, on holidays and for celebrations.
Since I came to Canada in 2017, during every weekend, holiday and celebration, my dream is to put on a virtual reality helmet and see my home in Baghdad. I enter my beautiful two-storey house with its large garden full of flowers and orange trees. In one corner, there are three date palms casting a shadow over the house, and in the other corner, a white swing. Although the house has many rooms, the dining room is special. I see the oval table with all its sides and chairs carved with handmade traditional decorations. And around this table are my family and me, finally together after all these years.
Having a job in Malaysia gave my life purpose and meaning. I miss my work at the university, meeting with the students in the classroom and participating in the activities and events. I miss my colleagues and everything we accomplished together.
Here in Calgary, I live near a university. Every September, I look out my apartment window and dream I have a virtual reality helmet to experience my office at the university in Malaysia. I am on the eighth floor, with a large window overlooking a wide yard covered by green grass. During my break, I watch the lawn mowers or the students celebrating the new school year or playing football. My office has two boards: one to write notes and one to display the students’ project posters. There are plants next to the window and on the book shelves. In this office, I feel content with my work life. I feel valued.
I know I cannot really bring peace to Iraq, or bring my family together for dinners in my old house, or re-create my former workplace, but a virtual reality helmet would help me realize my virtual dreams. It would help me treasure the best moments of my life, introduce me to new pleasant experiences, and give me the opportunity to feel happy again.
SANAA was born and grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, where she earned a Ph.D. in Business Administration. She has worked in universities in Iraq, Malaysia and Jordan and has published a book and many articles on information technology. Since coming to Calgary, she has volunteered with CIWA, ISC, Making Changes Association and the Public Library. She got a Certificate of Volunteering Appreciation – Canadian House of Commons 2019 and The Volunteer of the Month June 2019 with Immigrant Services Calgary.