“I will always forgive mistakes,” says Dawoud. When he was ten years old in Iraq, he had an argument with a boy over candy which caused their friendship to end. His mother marched him to the boy’s house. She forced them talk out their sides and eventually make amends. Dawoud says that Yezidis are often taught to forgive because of Eid, a special day of forgiveness in their faith.
But conflicts between adults are more complicated than kids with candies. In 2014, some Sunni neighbors swore allegiance to ISIS, then slaughtered and enslaved Yezidis in Shingal (Sinjar) by the thousands. “There is no forgiveness for people taught by their mothers to do that,” he says. Other Yezidis have expressed similar sentiments for ISIS members and complicit neighbors.
Dawoud left Iraq two years before the genocide, in 2012. He fell for a Yezidi woman who had been living in the United States for thirteen years but had flown back to Iraq to visit Shingal, their shared homeland. They met at a wedding, talked on the phone for a month, and spent a week walking around the holy Yezidi site of Lalish. Dawoud married Gazala in 2010 and prepared to move some 6,500 miles to the United States.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, Dawoud works at a meat processing facility. Gazala is a supervisor at a McDonalds. They recently bought a house together—a cream-colored home with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a garage, and a basement where he plans to entertain friends and make music. It is the first house Dawoud has ever owned.
Sometimes he performs at big, lively Yezidi weddings. He sings songs like “Deste Evine” (Love’s Hand) about love at first sight. It was written in the 1990s by a Syrian Kurd named Ednan Seid. Back home, Dawoud says it would be played slower and with the guitar. In Nebraska, he has a keyboard backup and uses a different maqam, or scale, to change the style.
“We are accepted here and we also accept people in other cultures and religions,” he says. He hopes to one day bring his parents to the United States. He married into one of the biggest, most established Yezidi families in Lincoln, with about 100 family members living in the city. And soon, there will be one more: Gazala and Dawoud, already parents to one daughter, have a son on the way.