Anna Khanakah and her family (featured in THE LIST) are celebrating their second anniversary of resettling in America. In our Q&A with her this week, Anna has a lot to say about the journey from Iraq, her new life, and her experience filming the documentary. [Background: After working in high profile jobs for the U.S. Army at State Department for 7 years inside Iraq, Anna knew Islamic militants were aware of her work and considered her a traitor against her country. Fearing for her life, she applied for resettlement in the United States. She was denied. Two years passed before she was resettled in California – near her two sisters who had been evacuated from Iraq in the mid-90s because of their own affiliation with America.]
Did you have any concerns when taking part in filming “The List”?
Anna: There was more than a concern. It is difficult for a woman in my community to appear with her entire family in public and talk very loudly about these issues, risking criticism from her family. But, I told myself, “I will not hide my head like an ostrich, I will do this documentary film to keep others from getting hurt anymore and maybe my voice will open doors to those who were left behind.”
What were some of the hardest obstacles you had to overcome throughout this process?
Anna: The hardest obstacles were those questions that have been asked by my family, friends, authorities that needed immediate answers, the “why” questions: Why were you denied? Why were you mistreated? I could never avoid the embarrassment.
There was also a struggle for me between defending America and admitting that they really did not protect us, their allies. I always wondered “Where are the American values?” – the values that pushed thousands of people like me to work with America inside Iraq, and risk their lives on a daily basis. It is just like when you need a friend and I’m there for you, but when I need you, you’re not my friend anymore; and unfortunately this was not what we were expecting from America.
How did you maintain hope for such a long time?
Anna: I maintained hope and patience for such a long time because I never gave up my belief in American values; it is has been the light at the end of the tunnel. That is how I waited and waited for the truth of my beliefs to show up one day.
What was it like leaving your hometown, friends and family in Iraq?
Anna: It was very hard. And being here, it is getting harder for me to remember my city Sulaymania where I was raised and worked for most of my life. But there is a power in being patient and what helps to overcome the pain of transition is knowing that I have moved to a better land and a better life.
How are you and your family adjusting to your new life in the U.S.?
Most people in the Middle East have dreams of moving to America. When I started working with the U.S. in Iraq, I felt like I was steps away from the American dream. Once we got to the U.S., I decided to take advantage of the great things in this country like going to college, getting a job and having my social life here, too. My son and daughter took the same steps forward. My daughter, Tara, is a very happy young girl and is doing great at her new school and activities. My son took his GED and is going to community college to study music production.
What kind of challenges do you face now living in the U.S.?
In terms of language and communication I faced less challenges than most other people because I was already able to speak English. I also had my sisters to help me start a new life and teach me new things. But, my biggest concern is getting a job. Unfortunately, timing was not in my favor because of the economy. I face this challenge every single day, trying to find a job.
Also, I still fear the activities of terrorist groups in Iraq. They will continue to take revenge from the people who helped America, making it a challenge and a risk to communicate with my friends in Baghdad and other places.
Is there any message that you would like to give our viewers or others who are still in danger in Iraq?
To the viewers: “Please, when you see THE LIST or you read about those people who risk their lives to help America and support their operations, think of how their lives have changed in order to protect the lives of Americans. Take action for them: talk to your representatives, write a letter to the authorities until you are the one to save the lives of your allies in Iraq.”
To those still in danger: “Please don’t lose faith and hope. The best way to reach your goal is to find hope first and you will find it very soon with the help of your American friends who are representing real American values, such as Kirk Johnson and thousands like him. They will be your voice, and they will be heard.”