Saja Butrus


I was surprised when I looked down at my feet. My family was safe. Everything was okay, but my shoes didn’t match. What happened? 

It was like a bad dream. We were living a safe and happy life in Qaraqosh, a town in the Al-Mousel district of northern Iraq. We owned three shops and four apartments. I was living like a queen. But in one day—just one day—I lost everything. 

In June 2014, ISIS attacked the city of Mosul. The Iraqi soldiers handed over the city without a fight. Two days later, ISIS announced that Christians in the area had three choices: to leave, convert to Islam, or pay a ransom. The alternative was to be killed. We escaped to Erbil, a city under Kurdish control. The people there hosted us in schools, churches and even their homes. We lived there for two weeks before we were told it was safe to return to Qaraqosh. But when we got home, we found that ISIS had cut off the water and electricity. People were waiting in line for hours to get one or two gallons of water provided by the church. My husband had to put our water in an old gas container. It was not healthy to drink, so I used it for bathing the kids and cleaning the house. When I was finished, everything and everyone smelled of gas!

ISIS was bombing our city every day. My husband saw two kids killed by a mortar shell right in in front of him. When he came back home that day, he ran up to the roof where he could see that ISIS was coming to Qarqoush. He ran back downstairs and shouted, “Yela, Saja—hurry! ISIS is coming! Get to the car!” I took nothing, not even milk and Pampers. Our neighbour came over and asked us to take his family along. The six of them sat in the backseat, we sat in the front. 

We drove until we got to a Kurdish checkpoint and were stuck there for hours while the Kurdish fighters tried to keep ISIS from entering their city. They had opened a side road only for trucks transporting goods. My husband found some space between two trucks and tried to sneak between them. I screamed, “What are you doing? They will kill us!”  A soldier was going to shoot us, but when he saw the kids crying, he let us go. We finally arrived safely in Erbil. That’s  when I looked at my shoes and saw that they didn’t match. I wasn’t concerned. I thought we’d be going home in a few days.

But after a year passed, we were still in Erbil, sharing a two-room apartment with four other families. When we realized we’d never be going home, some friends helped us to go to Lebanon, where we stayed for three years. I wanted to go to the United States. My parents and brother lived there, but the Americans would no longer accept Iraqi immigrants. Then my husband’s uncle said he would sponsor us to come to Edmonton.

When I arrived here in 2018, I couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t even register my daughter in other people for everything, but eventually, we started to rely on ourselves. Now my husband and I are both working. I am studying English, and our two girls are happy.

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