In 2016, journalist Stephanie Saldana set out to interview people fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria. What, she wondered, did people bring with them when forced out of their homes, perhaps never to return? In conversation with producer Kimberly Winston, Saldana shares what she learned during five years following six men, women, and their families as they tried to hang on to their old lives, neighborhoods, and faiths through things both tangible and intangible. She also shares how carrying their stories changed her and why she, an American-born Catholic, now calls the Middle East home.
When Hana, a Syriac Catholic, and her family fled ISIS in Iraq, they had moments to depart. From the relative safety of Jordan, Hana began embroidering a traditional dress called a “shal” with what she wanted to remember of her village, Qaraqosh. Saldana describes the churches, the festivals, the people and the food all captured in thread, and her eventual use of the dress as a kind of road map back to the actual Qaraqosh where all those things were gone.
Still on the trail of six different refugees, Saldana recounts multiple visits to the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, where, among the wretched and filthy conditions, she found Munir, an Iraqi Muslim hanging on to his humanity through small acts of kindness.
Following stories of families fleeing violence takes Saldana on a journey thousands of miles across the globe. In this final segment, she shares the story of Qassem, a young Yazidi man who, with 35 members of his extended family, was herded onto their sacred Mount Sinjar by ISIS in an attempted genocide. As she gathers his account, she reflects on the toll hearing his story, and others like them took on her personally, and the sacred responsibility she feels to pass those stories on.