the other day i accompanied an iraqi friend to apply for a job at Willoughby's, a popular cafe in town. 36 years old and struggling to learn english, with a strong limp from a gunshot wound to the leg, he painstakingly wrote his name and address in child-like script. when it came to 'previous work experience' i took a deep breathe. 'what was the name of that boutique you ran?' i asked. then i told him how to spell the name in roman letters. finally he looked at me for help and i took the pen and filled the lines in for him.
he was once a son of one of the big men of a big clan in Diyala, Iraq. he ran a chicken farm, several stores, who knows what else. no doubt his dad was close to Saddam Hussein's regime. he walked on top of the world until 2003. now he is a refugee in the country that did his father in.
with a smile at the absurdity, i wrote down the phone numbers for those businesses. under reasons for leaving, i wrote 'civil war.'
oh the pathos of trying to shoehorn any real person into a job application, not to mention someone whose life was broken cleanly off in the recent past and has no record here. at least he had a social security number. he pulled a card from his pocket and translated the modern Arabic numbers into the old-time Arabic numerals we use here.
at the bottom i wrote an asterisk, and then 'i'm great with people!' hoping with this comment to cut across the foreignness of his experience and back to the human heart of the matter: a once-exalted man, still able to smile, in need of a job.