The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman's Fight to Save Two Orphans

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9781594488672: The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman's Fight to Save Two Orphans

The inspiring true story of a prizewinning foreign correspondent longing for a child, two small Iraqi children in need of a mother, and what love and grief can teach us about family and hope.

Zahra, age three, and Hawra, only a few months old, were the only survivors of a missile strike in Baghdad in 2003 that killed their parents and five siblings. Across the world, in London, foreign correspondent Hala Jaber was preparing to head to Iraq to cover the emerging war. After ten years spent trying to conceive and struggling with fertility problems, Jaber and her husband had finally resigned themselves to a childless future. Now she intended to bury her grief in her work, with some unusually dangerous reporting. Once in Iraq, though, Jaber found herself drawn again and again to stories of mothers and children, a path that led her to an Iraqi children's hospital—and to Zahra and Hawra and their heart-wrenching story. Almost instantly Jaber became entwined in the lives of these two Iraqi children, and in a struggle to advocate on their behalf that reveals far more about the human cost of war than any news bulletin ever could.

Beautifully written and deeply moving, The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles presents a genuinely fresh insight and perspective from a woman who, as an Arab living and working in the West, is able to uniquely straddle both worlds. In its attention to the emotional experiences of women and children whose lives are irrevocably changed by war, Jaber's story offers hope for redemption for those caught in its cross fires.

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About the Author:

Hala Jaber was born in West Africa and grew up in Lebanon, where her family still lives. She began her journalistic career in the Press Association bureau in Beirut. Twice named Foreign Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards, in 2005 and 2006, she has been honored by Amnesty International and in 2007 won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

From The Washington Post:

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Carolyn See The author of this fascinating memoir is -- by her own admission -- hot-tempered, prone to depressions and tantrums, extremely prone to tears. Born in Africa, she was raised in Lebanon, educated in England, married to a press photographer and then told that she was unable to have children. This last turn of events crushed her. During her early adult years, she admits, she craved children "to the point of insanity." Simply seeing a child on the street could make her weep. For years, Hala Jaber spent time in doctors' offices and worked intermittently as a journalist. Then, after Sept. 11, 2001, Jaber, in her 40s, made a strong effort to reorganize her life. She decided to give up her dreams of motherhood and journey instead with her husband to Iraq, which would be invaded -- and soon. "As a Lebanese and a Muslim," she writes, "I knew the Arab perspective. As the wife of an Englishman and an employee of a London paper, I understood the western way of thinking. I was in the privileged position of being able to straddle two worlds and explain one to the other." She and her husband lived in Baghdad in the days leading up to the famous "Shock and Awe" campaign. She saw the glut of prewar weddings (80 in one day on the grounds of her hotel) and the steady stream of naive English men and women who had come to Iraq to act as human shields. She visited hospital maternity wards, where Iraqi women asked for induced labor or Caesarean sections so that their babies might be born before the bombing. Jaber doesn't buy into the glories of war. When a group of American soldiers kicked her hotel room door off its hinges, she pitched such a fit that one of them could only respond weakly, "We're looking for the terrorists, ma'am." Her response was contemptuous and scathing, perhaps because she'd been seeing too many grievously wounded children. Her husband, Steve Bent, had taken the iconic photograph of an armless boy of 12, gazing at the world with a beautiful, suffering face, that made front pages everywhere. After the boy was flown out of the country for medical treatment, Jaber's editor exhorted her to find an orphan from the pediatric ward to launch a fundraising drive to help child victims of the war -- another iconic face to prick the Western conscience. The author found Zahra, a terribly burned child, being fanned by her grandmother with a piece of cardboard. The rest of the girl's family -- mother, father, all of her siblings except for one 3-month-old sister, all of them innocent civilians, of course -- had been destroyed by American fire. "The sight of Zahra and the sound of her voice provoked an overpowering urge to take care of her. The maternal instinct I had worked so hard to suppress was surging back and I had no defenses against it." Zahra became the fund's poster child, and, inevitably, plans were made to move her so she could receive better medical attention. Distraught, the grandmother demanded a promise that Zahra would make a full recovery, and, equally distraught, Jaber promised just that. The child died. The author was once again plunged into depression. She couldn't face the grandmother, and the circumstances of the war made it easy for her to stay away from her, for weeks, months, years. Meanwhile, Jaber did her work. When the insurgency heated up and the Americans were preparing to storm Fallujah, she asked to be embedded with the insurgents and spent a harrowing night cooking for them as they broke their Ramadan fast. Later, as the insurgency still raged, she spent a strange day amid a street battle where both sides were enthusiastically shooting at each other, but she could find occasional respite simply by ducking into courtyards. She reported her fears; several times she was so affected by them that her knees wouldn't carry her, and she was forced to crawl. Yet she's oddly unimpressed by the war itself. She saved her emotions for the children, berating herself repeatedly over Zahra, the lost child who wouldn't have lived anyway, and obsessing over Zahra's infant sister, believing she wants to adopt her, except she doesn't, except she does. And so on. She won awards and managed to get on some faction's hit list. She left the country; she came back. She can barely contain her exasperation at the occupiers, who, for instance, have cut down the imposing palm trees that lined the road from the airport to the city and built walls all through Baghdad, separating communities from their own mosques and schools. And yet it's the Iraqis who were doing most of the killing, and the people she interviewed tended to direct their wrath toward the Iraqi prime minister rather than toward George Bush or Tony Blair. There comes a reunification with that grandmother, who forgives her for Zahra's death, but reproaches her for abandoning the infant, who is almost 6 years old by now. Adoption is now a possibility. Hala Jaber may not be the most stable person in the world, and she's the first one to admit it. She says that in earlier days she resisted adoption in England because she thought social workers would reject her as being "too old, too busy, too addicted to cigarettes." Too cracked might be another reason. None of that interferes with her award-winning journalistic work, however, as she reports on an out-of-control war that must have seemed to someone like a good idea, at the time.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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