What a 16-year-old Iraqi Taught Me about Life

As Veterans Day approaches, I think about how my experience with a 16 year-old Iraqi taught me one of my most valuable lessons in life. In 2006, I deployed to Iraq not knowing if I would return on my own two feet or even at all. War is a scary thing, but somehow God turned a war zone into the classroom, and I learned one of the greatest lessons.  As an interrogator, I talked to many people and spent hours asking questions, analyzing and writing reports. Much like the American justice system, not everyone is guilty and those who are guilty are often victims of circumstances…lack of opportunity, feelings of hopelessness, harsh environments, etc. 

One day, I was given a case of a 16-year-old boy who looked to be about 12. After discussing his circumstances of detainment and getting his side of the story, I directed the conversation back to his personal life.  I wanted to know what he saw for himself in the future so I asked “what is your dream?” His first response –  “what do you mean?” – caught me off guard…like what do you mean, what do I mean? I responded, “You know, what is your dream? What do you want to be when you grow up?”(speaking through an interpreter). His facial expressions showed that he sincerely didn’t understand what I was talking about and my interpreter told me the same.

Being an American and coming from the greatest country in the world…where we are taught and encouraged to dream and told from an early age that we can be anything we want to be…I could not understand how he did not know what a dream was.  On my last and final attempt to explain a dream, he responded with a confused look “I don’t understand, I will be a farmer because my father is a farmer.” At that point, I realized that a dream is a gift that not all receive because of cultural beliefs or circumstances of life.

What was the lesson?

  • A dream is a gift.
  • The freedom to dream is foreign to many around the world.
  • Refusing to pursue your dreams is selfish because your dream could change the world and could change the outlook and hope that a person has on their own life. It is selfish because somewhere in the world there is another boy or girl who doesn’t know what a dream is.

After leaving the booth (interrogation room) I made a promise to myself to follow my dreams and to give my best effort in reaching all of my goals in life. If you know what it is to dream …go for it! There are places in the world where a dream is as foreign as the English language. Pursuing your dream can be difficult and some may say it’s impossible, but know that a dream is a gift that should be shared with the world. The only way to do that is to show and prove that achieving a dream is possible!

Ilen Bell is a certified fitness professional and co-founder of Black Fitness Today. His passion for community advocacy, producing relevant stories and providing tools and resources that cater to the underserved African American community remain at the forefront. His credentials include advanced education in exercise science and internet marketing, the fitness industry highly-respected certified strength and conditioning specialist certification, and multiple web fitness series on top websites LIVESTRONG.com and eHOW.com. He is focused on further building explosive, dynamic and approachable brands to help the African American man and woman feel empowered, valued and identified in the global health and fitness industry.

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