I like supporting my local NPR station (WUNC) since Ursula and I listen to them a lot. This fall, they offered the chance to have dinner with an artist and to receive a copy of his latest work. And this was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
Ahmed Fadaam isn’t just any artist. if you’ve listened to The Story on NPR, you may have heard of Ahmed. He is an Iraqi citizen, who helped and became friends with host Dick Gordon while he was in Iraq. His diaries paint a picture of Iraq you don’t see in any other news media. He left Iraq after a death threat and after seeing his wife and children safely to Damascus, Syria. Currently, he is teaching at UNC Chapel Hill, and for the first time since early in the war, he is sculpting again.
Ahmed is an amazing man. He is soft spoken, funny, and serious, all at once. He and I shared a cigarette break during the reception – “The sinners” he called our little fellowship of addiction – and I got to see a little of what an amazing person he is. It was selfish to have him all to myself for that brief period, but it was worth it.
“The end bit is the sweetest” he said. My response was “I often think it is the first one in the morning that is the sweetest.”
“Ah, that is the first breath…The dizziness from that first cigarette.”
Sadly, we were interrupted, as it was time for the keynote from Dick Gordon and Fadaam.
Of the piece itself – “The Grieving Woman” – he said :
“This is a scene I have seen again and again. At the side of the road, in the morgue…she has lost her husband, her brother, her sons….”
What struck me about Ahmed, though, was how – and I hesitate to use the word – heroic he is. Here he is presenting his first work in nearly five years. For most artists, this would be nothing too special. But seeing the back story, knowing he is separated from his family, having survived death threats and worse, and still being able to create. Seeing the hope (again, an overused word) in him, the hope that he can return to Bagdad and help rebuild his town and his country in peace. Seeing how he cares for his family, and the sadness as he speaks of the recent violence in Syria.
A quiet kind of hero, who is still excited that a comic company – DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman comics that he read growing up in Iraq – would be interested in publishing his stories, and philosophize over a cigarette – about the cigarette.
The best kind of hero.
After all was said and done (including a discussion with Ursula about his upcoming graphic novel with DC Comics), those of us who attended were given our copies of the sculpture, which he graciously signed on the base, and wandered back to our lives. Changed a little for the better, I hope.
I know I was.
 Yes, I know. But as with all of us “I have quit a hundred times” was Ahmed’s response. It is typical of us and our sins, is it not?