Het huis van Khala
A family in Baghdad
In-depth stories about life in Iraq are rare, since very few Western journalists dare to venture beyond the concrete walls of their heavily guarded hotels. Immediately after the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, Minka Nijhuis decided to experience daily life with an Iraqi family; this is her unique, personal story of ordinary people living through a war, written with remarkably few preconceptions.
When actor Abbas and his wife Ward meet Nijhuis they start talking and are unable to stop. It is their first encounter with a foreign journalist, and stories, feelings and opinions kept hidden for years pour out. Nijhuis, who has been covering the war for several weeks, listens to the couple’s passionate account of life under a dictatorship and their hopes and fears for the future. She feels she is finally discovering the real Iraq.
The war isn’t over, it’s just beginning, the couple warns her. Realising the significance of their words, Nijhuis decides to document the aftermath of the invasion as experienced by Ward, Abbas and their family. She moves in with the couple and Ward’s elderly mother Khala, in a modest house in a middle-class neighbourhood of Baghdad and for several months shares their new life, a strange combination of hope, unfamiliar freedom, uncertainty and hardship.
Khala’s House addresses broader issues too. Ward and Khala are of secular, highly educated Sunni descent, whereas Abbas is from a traditional conservative Shia family. All three are afraid this distinction will become a source of conflict within the family now that sectarian and religious tensions are emerging all around them. In response to social pressures, Ward and Khala already dress more traditionally than they ever imagined they would, and as highly educated women they fear they may lose the freedom to pursue professional careers. After the 2005 elections their doubts about the reconstruction process and the presence of American troops grow to such a degree that they consider leaving the country.
Minka Nijhuis is no ordinary war reporter. She writes about the fate of individuals with empathy and commitment, but also with humour and a profound understanding of the complexities of everyday life in wartime. Her stories about Khala’s family are more personal and vivid than any number of news reports from Iraq.