I am always humbled and moved to speak to men and women whose lives have been altered by the course of history. Refugee become statesman Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie was no exception. His story is fascinating, his observations enlightening. And in the last few minutes of the interview, I focused on the artist at the table. In his professional role as Ambassador, I don’t doubt that it is rare for a journalist to take an interest in his personal life and his other talents as an artist and businessman. Sumaida’ie seemed pleased that I picked up on the fact that he is a poet and calligraphy expert. I asked his staff if he would bring a sample of his calligraphy for the interview. He brought a beautiful rendition of a poem he wrote. “It’s about Iraq,” is all he said about it, when I asked but he added that the calligrapher of the work was one of the best living artisans of the craft.
With help from UVM professor Darius Johnathan and his student, Lani Ravin, here is a translation:
(no matter) "How many beautiful/fertile countries I've been to,
My heart beats for and longs for Iraq,
For the people whose food was pain and sorrow for years/centuries.
The world endowed us with philosophy, knowledge, law, God and art;
And we returned to (pre-Islamic) ignorance anew,
As if history never heard of us."
In the small print at he bottom:
"This poem is by Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie and he composed in New York City in 2006. It is dedicated from the writer to the land that is being destroyed and to the people who follow/in the footsteps of Abbas El-Bagdadi (i.e. people of Bagdad), may God forgive his sins."