Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/5/2018 (610 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
At 18, when she was eight months pregnant, Faeza Mejo was captured in August 2014 by members of the Islamic State terror group when she, her husband and his family tried to flee from the invaders in northern Iraq.
Mejo was separated from her husband and taken to a place where about 50 other young Yazidi women and girls were held. She soon learned they were in a warehouse and they were the goods to be sold, and she would literally be marked for life.
In a three-year span, she was bought and sold 10 times by members of the genocidal Islamic State in the region, said Mejo, who arrived in Winnipeg six months ago with her son, who was born in captivity.
Mejo, now 21, said through an interpreter that today she feels safe, is receiving counselling, and is adamant the world hears what happened to her and other young women and girls enslaved by Islamic State "animals."
"I need people to know my story and the struggle the Yazidis went through."
After being terrorized and torn from her husband, who was taken away to fight, she gave birth to their son, whom she named Harman, Mejo said. He was delivered with the help of other imprisoned women.
"When the baby was born, I was so afraid for him," she said. Her captors changed his Yazidi name to Abdulrahman, Arabic for "servant of the most gracious." Whenever Mejo was sold, Harman went with her, she said.
I need people to know my story and the struggle the Yazidis went through.
If she didn't have her child with her, there's no way she would have survived years of physical, mental and emotional torment, she said. His life was the only thing that stopped her from killing one of her "owners" while they slept or killing herself, Mejo said.
At first, the slim and petite Mejo said she was defiant and tried to escape, but was beaten for her efforts. She recalled being drugged. When she'd come to, she'd have no clothes on and be so sore she couldn't walk.
"Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and wonder, 'How am I still alive?'" she said.
Mejo said they barely had enough to eat and Harman was so malnourished he once went into cardiac arrest. At the time, they were at a place where the Islamic State had access to medical facilities, and her baby was revived. "I felt so angry and afraid for my child."
When her third "owner" promised not to sell her again if she showed her devotion to him, she tried tattooing his name, Fathi, on her arm, Mejo said. She got as far as inking the first four letters into her skin when he announced he was selling her. She said he jeered at her, saying she was now ruined and doomed.
"If you ever make it to safety, your family will either kill you or not accept you," Mejo recalled him saying.
Twice, she came close to suicide, she said, and began cutting herself. She tattooed the letters of her own name on her knuckles with a needle and ink.
After three years of living hell, she said her and her child's big break came with Mejo's final "owner" — No. 10.
"He didn't touch me," said Mejo. While he never abused her, he certainly used her. He wanted out of the Islamic State, and saw Mejo and her child as his ticket.
Under the guise of being the "rescuer" of a Yazidi woman and her young son, the Islamic State fighter was able to enter anti-IS Kurdistan with his wife and three children without being arrested or put to death. Once they were safely out of Islamic State territory, however, he didn't just let Mejo and Harman go. Mejo's father, who had early escaped to Kurdistan, had to borrow US$12,000 to buy his daughter back.
"There's no one in Daesh who is nice," said Mejo, using the derogatory term for the Islamic State. It combines the Arabic words daes — one who crushes something underfoot — and dahes, translated as "one who sows discord."
Mejo said the group's members deserve to be called much worse.
Today, she and Harman live with her parents and seven siblings in Winnipeg. She doesn't think she will ever see her husband again, if he is alive. "He's with Daesh," said Mejo.
She is grateful to be in Canada, physically healthy and receiving counselling.
"I'm very blessed to be here," said Mejo. She's received a month of English-language classes, speaks her native Kurmanji, learned Arabic from her Daesh captors, and dreams of one day being a translator.
For now, her focus is on three-year-old Harman.
"He's always very happy," she said, beaming at a photo of him on his tricycle.
She said she is looking forward to a happy future and working to heal her psychological wounds. She rolled up one of her long sleeves to expose scars and the tattoo on the inside of her forearm. "I wish that would be removed."
Two Winnipeg restaurateurs, also former refugees, are trying to help Mejo do that.
Sinan Aboud, an Iraqi, came to Canada in 2002. His business partner, Omar Faysal from Syria, arrived in 2015. Both said the only words of English they knew when they landed were "hi" and "bye."
They're donating proceeds from the early days of their new Ali Baba restaurant (2635 Portage Ave., opening Monday) to pay for her tattoo removal and give the single parent a hand.
"Even if you're just one person, you can make a difference," said Aboud, who said he learned that from Sen. Marilou McPhedran at the University of Winnipeg, where he's taking classes at the Global College.
Last year, he held a fundraising dinner for Syrian refugees at the U of W, after spending his reading week at a refugee camp in Jordan. This year, with the opening their Portage Avenue eatery during Ramadan, Aboud said they wanted to give Mejo a hand getting a fresh start.
"We thought it would be nice to get her some help."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.