The day that ISIS attacked Khidir’s village, he was doing construction work some three and a half hours away. He had said goodbye to his wife, Khokhy, and their six-month-old daughter as though it were just another commute to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Then he got the news of the massacre from a relative by phone. He immediately called Khokhy who said they were running to Shingal Mountain with her parents. She said she would call him back. But three days passed without a call.
“I thought ISIS killed them,” he said.
On the fourth day, he got a call from an unknown number. It was Khokhy. Her cell phone battery had died, she said, and she had been searching for a phone to borrow to contact him. But the wave of relief he felt from hearing her voice didn’t last long. She said the wells in the mountain had run out of water and nobody had food. And about 40,000 Yezidis were stranded on the mountain, armed insurgents waiting at its base.
“I had no hope to ask if our daughter was alive,” said Khidir. Instead, he thought about Khokhy and how they had danced together on their wedding day a year ago.
Khokhy found ways to call once a day from the mountain, always using different people’s phones. But not once did he ask about their daughter, Lava. (Her name that loosely translates to “Movement.”) And Khokhy never mentioned her.
Eventually, Kurdish security forces opened a path to the mountain, and thousands of Yezidis were able to escape. Khidir finally reunited with his wife in Duhok. She was carrying Lava. “ISIS killed many people who took my family’s path to the mountain,” said Khidir, “and I felt that they came from death and lived again.”
Last year, the three of them moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where Khidir’s brother had already made a life for himself. He is still getting used to his new life. He works in housekeeping at a hotel and takes ESL classes at a community college.
Khidir saved up enough money and then contacted a famous musician from Shingal known as Waleed Shingali. A cousin in Iraq picked a tambor from the man, and a Yezidi family brought it with them when they emigrated to Lincoln. Khidir has been playing music for 16 years, having once dreamed of being a musician.
He says feels grateful to be in the United States with his family. “Here I feel safer. I don’t worry about my family when I leave.”