Here’s NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston this morning, describing a beloved woman, a fixture of her community who’s been driving children to school for 28 years:
She is so popular her nickname is “Dollar;” she says that is because everyone is chasing her to drive their children.
[She] is a big woman — both tall and round. She has long, wild red hair and is partial to tight-fitting, leopard-skin tops and oversized gold costume jewelry. She is the kind of woman who lights up a cigarette and offers to read the fortunes revealed from the grounds in coffee cups.
“Dollar’s” real name is Azhar Abbas. She drives her van full of schoolchildren in Al-Andalus, “a prosperous neighborhood of two-story houses on the southeast side of Baghdad.” Temple-Raston included a profile of her in a longer piece titled “Iraqi Women Face Risks Behind the Wheel.”
In this country where nearly every woman on the street is either veiled or in a long, black abaya, Abbas stands out. The only time she wears a headscarf, she says, is when she buys gas.
“All the gas stations here are controlled by the Mehdi Army and special guards, so to get gas I have to wear a headscarf,” she says, holding it up and laughing.
“The other day I went to the petrol station without my headscarf on and they told me next time I better start wearing it,” she says.
When her young sons told her it was just too dangerous for her to keep driving, Abbas told them it was impossible for her to stop. Driving was in her blood.
That initial description of Abbas in her leopard-print tops and oversized jewelry reminded me of several larger-than-life women I have known — people of whom I’m enormously fond for their love of life and their cheerfully boisterous insistence that the world deal with them on their own terms. But as courageous in their own way as those women are, none of them lives in a place like Baghdad. None of them drove a van full of schoolchildren every day while living under Saddam’s dictatorship and then kept driving through the chaos of invasion, of a bungled occupation and civil war.
Read or listen to the rest of Temple-Raston’s piece on the perils facing women behind the wheel in Iraq and appreciate that this is what Abbas faces every day.
Azhar Abbas is awesome.
If you’re looking for a hero from this miserable war, here’s a good one. And if you say a prayer tonight, remember to mention her name.