9 Parts of Desire
A play by Heather Raffo
director Michael Najjar
Director’s Notes: When we hate someone, and are angry at her, it is because we do
not understand her or the circumstances she comes from. By
practicing deep looking, we realize that if we grew up like her,
in her set of circumstances and in her environment, we would be
just like her. That kind of understanding removes your anger, and
suddenly that person is no longer your enemy. Then you can love
her. As long as she remains an enemy, love is impossible.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Taming the Tiger Within
Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire presents us with the lives of Iraqi women, all of whom have been scarred by war. 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and U.K. forces, and we present this play as a tribute to all the innocents who were lost or maimed in that war. Despite the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011, America still retains a sizeable presence there, and great problems still exist. According to Anna Mulrine of The Christian Science Monitor, “Violence in Iraq from July to October hit its highest level in two years, a discouraging sign one year after the last US military vehicles exited the country and prompts questions about whether the situation on the ground in Iraq jeopardizes America’s national security interests.”(1) From July to October 2012, 854 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 1,640 have been wounded. Up to 122,000 civilians were killed during the Iraq War.(2) The U.S. presence in Iraq remains large, despite the withdrawal. The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, and 45,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Iraq.(3) Regarding U.S. troops, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left 6,656 dead, more than 1,700 wounded, almost 130,000 with post-traumatic stress disorder, and more than 235,000 with traumatic brain injury.(4) There are over 280,000 Iraqi refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries, and there are undetermined others that remain unregistered. In addition, 1.5 million Iraqis remain internally displaced.(5)
The list of statistics would fill this entire program. Instead of looking at hard, cold numbers, we choose to focus on the humans who have suffered in this ongoing conflict—namely the women and children. This play gives voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Inspired by Raffo’s 1993 visit to her ancestral homeland, 9 Parts of Desire reminds us that there is no such thing as “collateral damage” or “smart bombs.” Instead, we know that no matter how “just” the war or how “surgical” the operation, there is always death, destruction, and the shattering of human lives left in the wake of wars. It is shocking how little we Americans know about the lives of the Iraqi people despite the fact that we occupied that country for eight years and continue to have such a presence there to this day.
Raffo is clear that, “with rare exception, these stories are not told verbatim. Most are composites, and although each character is based in fact and research, I consider all the women in my play to be dramatized characters in a poetic story.”(6) Some characters are based on historical figures while others are not. For instance, Layal is based on the Iraqi artist Layla Al-Attar, who was killed along with her husband and housekeeper when a U.S. bomb destroyed her house in 1993. Umm Ghada is based on Umm Greyda, a woman who lost eight children in the bombing of the Amiriyya Bomb Shelter. The other characters represent different aspects of Iraqi society: doctors, children, Bedouins, Iraqi exiles, and Iraqi Americans. The Doctor’s monologue about birth defects caused by use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus used by coalition forces is factual and has been well documented by many news organizations.(7,8)
The women in this play are all seeking peace in both their country and within themselves. The play asks us to look past our preconceptions and prejudices and to encounter these women and girls as human beings with the same aspirations, difficulties, and desires that all of us share. If the theatre teaches us anything, it is that only through empathy and compassion can we truly understand another human being. Raffo’s words help to remind us that there is a common humanity that transcends the politics, borders, and ideologies that separate us. Perhaps, through works like these, we can remember those who never had the opportunity to know a world without war.
Michael Malek Najjar
Director, 9 Parts of Desire