“As the wax melts, so do my problems”: A firsthand account of an American meeting the Prosperity Candle women in Iraq

February 26, 2011

Thank you to Sophia Pappas for sharing her experience with the Prosperity Candle women!

The names Wafa’a, Nazahat, Luma and Abeer might not mean anything to you. But to me they mean strength, love, hope and faith. They are the names of women in Iraq who make candles in their tiny kitchens as bombs explode in the streets of Baghdad and their crying babies moan for milk, for food, for ommy,meaning mother in Arabic.

I had the privilege of meeting these women last year during my time in Iraq. I was new to the Middle East, working for Preemptive Love Coalition, an NGO, and writing my way through the ups and downs of living in a new, exciting and tumultuous culture. I thought I could save the world, helping one Iraqi at a time.

Sophia in Iraq

Many of my days were spent walking in the dry heat, sometimes through sandstorms and sometimes through narrow allies in the bazaar. Many of my nights were spent wondering if I could ever be a part of this culture. Would I ever fit in?

I longed for an adventurous career, a path marked with romance and success and joy and hope. For weeks, I felt none of that. I felt overheated, overburdened by the suffering of those around me and overwhelmed by my own anticipations for my future.

Luma, waiting for her candles to cool

It was a Saturday afternoon when I met the women from Prosperity Candle. They had driven north from Baghdad, and I had been asked to keep them company as they were being photographed for Prosperity Candle.

Sitting with them, I realized I had gotten things so very wrong since I had arrived in Iraq. I had come to help people, that is true. But much more, I had come at my own expense to take a gamble and see what life would give me in a country far away from the place I had always called home.

The women from Baghdad knew nothing of this self-fueled adventure. They knew only of survival, which they practiced daily. I learned that each of them work to support their families. Many of them are widows.

I met Luma, who is a single woman living with her large family of eleven brothers and sisters. Her father left her mother years ago, and Luma was forced to find work. As I spoke to Luma she told me that she gets very sad sometimes thinking about her life.

And then, as if torn from a book of poetry she told me: “Sophia, when I start to feel sad, I go into the room and start making candles. As the wax melts, so do my problems.”

Abeer & Wafa'a sharing their stories with Sophia

Luma’s sister, Abeer, is a candle maker as well. She is married, with three small children. She was abandoned when her husband left her for ten months last year. When he did, she was pregnant with her third boy. Now, she makes over $300 a month making candles, and said that the light in her children’s eyes is what inspires her to work.

Luma laughing with her sister Abeer's son

My fate was not to stay in Iraq forever; danger, corruption and heartache abruptly ended my time there. But there are some things I will never forget. Mainly those things are the faces of people whose stories are now folded into my own. I will always remember the women of Baghdad who work, not for themselves but purely for the sake of others. As they work, I pray that God protects them. I pray he wraps them in love when they sit alone in their kitchens, quietly melting wax as the world shatters around them.

Sophia Pappas is a freelance journalist and advocate now living in the U.S.

For more, visit www.sophiepappas.wordpress.com

To purchase a candle as your next gift & empower a woman in Iraq, click here.

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