Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in northern Iraq. Her family was part of the Yazidi community, a minority religion with a long history in the region. On August 15, 2014, when Nadia was just twenty-one years old, this life ended. ISIS militants massacred the people of her village, executing men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves. Six of Nadia’s brothers were killed, and her mother soon after, their bodies swept into mass graves. Nadia was taken to Mosul and forced, along with thousands of other Yazidi girls, into the ISIS slave trade. More than a week later, after being passed from captor to captor, forced to convert to Islam, raped on a daily basis, and deprived of basic human comforts like food and companionship, Nadia managed to escape. Left unsupervised in a new house, she tried the front door, found it unlocked, and walked out into the streets of occupied Mosul. On the other side of the garden wall, I could see that the road leading straight from the house was in fact a dead end, and since it was time for evening prayer, it would be very risky to pass the large mosque to the left. The only option was to turn right, with no idea where that might lead me. I started walking.
I was still wearing the men’s sandals I had been given that first night, and it was the first time wearing them that I’d walked a distance greater than from the door of a house to a car. They flopped against the soles of my feet—I worried it was too loud—and sand caught between the straps and my toes. They’re too big! I thought. I had forgotten, and for a moment I delighted in that observation because it meant that I was moving.
I didn’t walk a straight line. Instead I wove between parked cars, turned corners at random, and crossed and recrossed the same streets over and over, hoping that a casual observer would think I knew where I was going. My heart beat so hard in my chest that I worried the people I passed would hear it and know what I was. Some of the houses I passed were lit by generators and ringed by wide gardens full of purple-flowered bushes and tall trees. It was a nice neighborhood, built for large, well-off families. Since it was dusk, most people were in their homes, eating dinner and putting their kids to bed, but as it grew darker, they came outside to sit in the breeze and chat with their neighbors. I tried not to look at any of them, hoping that no one would notice me.
Without streetlights and with only some of the houses lit, the Mosul neighborhood would soon be pitch-black. Families would begin going to sleep, and the streets would be empty of everyone, I thought, except for me and the men who were looking for me.
My abaya helped me blend in, but I didn’t feel invisible, as I’d hoped I would. All I could think about as I walked was the moment they would catch me, what their weapons and their voices would sound like, and then what their hands would feel like dragging me back to the house I had fled from.
As I passed each house, I imagined walking up to the door and knocking. Would the family that answered turn me in right away? Islamic State flags hung from the lampposts and over gates, reminding me that I was in a dangerous place. Even the sound of children laughing in their yards frightened me.