Kasim is nine years old.
The rebel soldiers cut his mother’s throat
in front of him.
They also kill his little sister
and his big brother
while he watches.
He flees his village.
When he is hungry
he asks people for food.
If they give him something, he eats. Otherwise
he stays hungry. He sleeps on the street.
At the peace conference
wine glasses shimmer
on the starched white cloth;
smoked salmon canapes
nestle in neat circles.
Nosiba is sixteen.
She has four sisters and three brothers.
The soldiers kill the brothers
in front of her.
They rape her sisters
and they rape her.
They shoot her father for trying to stop them.
Those who escape have to pay a broker
to cross the border.
She doesn’t have enough money
so sells her body
to the broker.
White limousines gleam
and cruise through the capital’s streets,
the generals’ uniforms creased
to a precise command.
Zahia is fifteen.
The soldiers arrive in her village
line up and shoot all the young men.
The houses are set alight.
She does not know where her parents are
or if they are dead or alive.
She escapes from the village with two other girls.
They walk barefoot through thorn scrub
for three or four days without food.
She wants to go home.
Beaches of gold and cities of culture
beckon from brochures and magazines.
The food is exotic. The flights are cheap.
Select your paradise.
Inspired by the photographs and stories of Iqbal Hossein in New Internationalist 502, May 2017.