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Saved by Her Enemy

An Iraqi woman's journey from the heart of war to the heartland of America

For her entire life, Rafraf, a devout Muslim, had been told that Americans were the enemy. Her understanding of the world, of her place in it, and of the United States had been steeped in the culture of Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Yet, in the midst of insurgents attempting to kidnap and kill her, she found herself on the receiving end of lifesaving help from those she considered her enemies.

Rafraf suddenly finds herself living with a Christian family in the Bible Belt of America. Nothing had prepared her for this new reality—the life of a college student in a vastly foreign culture, in a community as far from her expectations as she could have imagined, and in a family that opens their hearts to enfold her.

Saved by Her Enemy
is a riveting journey of two very different people from opposite sides of the world, of faith, of experience, and of expectations. The dramatic intersection of their lives and their journey together is an inspiration to those who have ever felt there was more to life than the world they knew.

A young Iraqi woman, an American war correspondent, and a true tale of friendship, faith, and family against the backdrop of war and the collision of cultures

This is a story of a very unlikely friendship—between American war correspondent Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak, an Iraqi college girl who won a job as a translator for NBC during the early months of violence in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq.

While covering a story together, the two were nearly killed by a bomb, an experience that created a bond between them that led them down a path neither could have imagined.

What follows is a story of transformation, as Rafraf—from a devout Muslim family—becomes the target of terrorist threats to kidnap and murder her. Don and his fellow correspondents mobilize to help save her life and suddenly Rafraf finds herself on the receiving end of an offer for safety and a new life in the United States.

Dramatically transplanted from the streets of Iraq to the Bible Belt of middle America, Rafraf finds everything that she knew—or thought she knew—about herself, her values, her world, even faith and family, turned upside down. Meanwhile, Don; his wife, Kiki; and their children discover they’ve embarked on an adventure with Rafraf that reshapes their lives.

This captivating story inspires us all to join Don and Rafraf in discovering that there is far more to life than the world we know.

PROLOGUE

EYE CONTACT


Ibrahim looked at me through the rearview mirror. We both expected a burst of gunfire to riddle the beat-up Suburban at any second, but it never came. Instead there was a moment of eerie silence as our SUV careened down the dirt road… trying to put as much distance between us and the school as possible. Our army convoy had left us to fend for ourselves; the protection of their turret-mounted machine guns was nowhere in sight.

How many were dead? We had no idea, but seconds before the explosion, the street had been filled with children. Now there was only chaos and rage. We were completely unable to defend ourselves, two SUVs carrying a half dozen frightened journalists and our British security adviser, Rupert.

Young Iraqi men lined the road, some running toward the still smoking aftermath of the blast, some watching us race away in stunned silence, others shouting and raising their fists in anger.

Rupert rode shotgun. His pistol would be worthless in the expected ambush. It never left his holster.

“They bombed the bloody school,” Rupert shouted into a handheld radio. “Repeat! They bombed the school!”

There was no answer.

“Don’t slow down,” I told Ibrahim, “no matter what.”

“Go!”

The Iraqi driver floored the accelerator.

The Suburban bounced and bucked as our makeshift convoy roared down the dirt road past the squatty concrete homes that dotted the landscape of western Baghdad. The residents knew enough to stay inside; the roads were empty save for a few stray dogs and goats.

Somewhere ahead was a left turn that would lead us to a busy road. The risk of ambush would be smaller if we could just make that road, but our chances of getting there seemed remote. We managed to put half a mile between the school and us, but none of us could relax. Not yet.

In recent weeks, insurgents had modified their tactics. No longer content with simply bombing foreigners, they had begun ambushing survivors with AK-47s as they tried to run. And we were running for our lives. Our unarmored vehicles would be no match for bullets, much less another bomb.

I turned and looked out the back window. The school was receding into the distance, the crowd outside still visible even through the dust cloud left hanging in the air by our racing convoy.

For the first time in the last—what had it been, three minutes?—I caught my breath, the adrenaline replaced by a sudden wave of nausea. I recognized the feeling from the last time I was almost killed; it would pass. That’s when I noticed Ibrahim, looking at me in the rearview mirror. He was telling me something with his eyes.

I suddenly became acutely aware of Rafraf. She was sitting on my right, closest to the door. But she wasn’t sitting as much as lying down half across my body. She seemed tiny and frail, even wrapped in what was supposed to be my body armor. I could feel her body rise and fall with each breath. I could feel her tears on my arm.

And there was Ibrahim again, looking at me in the rearview mirror.

Rafraf was twenty-three years old. She should have been in school, but Baghdad University had been closed for more than a year. So instead of enjoying her last semester as a college student, Rafraf was putting her English skills to work doing the most dangerous job in the most dangerous city on earth. She was working as a translator for NBC News, which currently meant trying to survive the ride back to our hotel.

“What about all the children?” she asked, her voice barely above a whimper. “There were children everywhere. Don’t they care?”

“Maybe the children knew in advance,” I said. “Maybe they had warning. I didn’t see any bodies.” It was the most I could offer, but I wasn’t convinced.

Rafraf sobbed, “There were so many children.” I felt her body shudder.

I squeezed her hand, and for the first time realized I was holding her hand, my right arm draped around her for protection. I loosened my grip to allow her to sit up, but she didn’t move. I became aware of the scarf that covered her head and most of her face, aware, in fact, of all that meant.

Rafraf was a Muslim woman in a culture that demanded separation between men and women. In the weeks I had worked with Rafraf I had never actually touched her… not even a handshake. Now here I was with my arm wrapped around her body.

Ibrahim spoke little English, but in this case he didn’t have to. He had been sending me a message with his eyes… perhaps a warning: RAFRAF IS ONE OF US, NOT ONE OF YOU. DON’T TOUCH OUR WOMEN.

I gently nudged Rafraf back to her upright position and let her go.

“It’ll be okay,” I said weakly. But I knew it wouldn’t. I also knew deep down this wouldn’t be the last time I tried to save Rafraf.

© 2010 Don Teague

Don Teague is currently a correspondent for Early Show and CBS Evening News.  Prior to that, he served NBC News as a correspondent for NBC News as a correspondent and has covered a wide range of stories, from Hurricanes along the Gulf coast, to wildfires in Southern California, riots across France, and the war in Iraq. Teague won an Emmy Award for his reporting from New Orleans in the chaotic aftermath of hurricane Katrina. His contributions to NBC’s Katrina coverage also earned the prestigious Peabody and Edward R. Murrow awards. Teague has received other awards, including several national Emmy nominations, three Edward R. Murrow awards, two National Headliner awards, two regional Emmys, seventeen regional Emmy nominations, and several Associated Press Broadcasters awards.

Rafraf Barrak was born into a Shiite Muslim family in Baghdad, Iraq. As a student at Baghdad University, she had pursued a degree in English Literature until the University was closed due to war. Her knowledge of the city of Baghdad and her skills in English won her a job as a translator for NBC war correspondents. She is now a student in the United States and lives with the Teague family in Texas.