Renowned poet Dunya Mikhail has published her fourth book, The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq. The story is about a Yazidi beekeeper, Abd-Allah, who helped rescue women captured by the Islamic State. This is Mikhail’s first nonfiction book, the idea for the story having come to her while she was teaching an Arabic class at Oakland University where she is a lecturer.
“The day the Arabic letter ‘noon’ came up, I remembered seeing it written on peoples’ doors where they had lived over 1400 years ago and where they had to leave their houses within twenty-four hours,” she said. “I wondered whether I should tell the students about this letter or not.”
For Mikhail, this letter brought forth images of the Islamic State destroying the land of her Chaldean ancestors, important historical monuments, even the graves.
“I felt I wanted to do more about this subject,” she said.
She considered doing a long poem but when she saw the Yazidi women and their families flee from the Islamic State as if it was “The day of resurrection,” she suddenly wanted to speak to someone Yazidi. She contacted a friend and eventually attained a list of phone numbers. The first number she called, she received no answer. The second number she called, someone answered in Kurdish and then the line got disconnected. The third number she called, a man answered in Arabic. Mikhail asked to talk to Nadia. He said, “She’s not here, but you can call her later.”
When Mikhail got a hold of her, the man, Abd-Allah, translated Nadia’s story. Through the conversation, Nadia told Mikhail, “Abd-Allah rescued me.”
“Who’s Abd-Allah?” Mikhail asked.
“The man you’re speaking to,” she said, triggering Mikhail’s journalism background. She became curious to learn more about this man and discovered that Abd-Allah had lost 56 people to the Islamic State and that, in an attempt to rescue his niece, he ended up rescuing a number of women who were Yazidi, Christian, and even Muslim. When she first spoke to him two years ago, he had saved 70 women. Now the number is in the hundreds.
“Every time I save a woman, I save a sister,” he told Mikhail.
For a year, they talked on the phone, and with each call, the line would cut off ten to twenty times.
“With every phone ring coming through, I knew it was a woman seeking help,” said Mikhail.
His phone rings nonstop, even during sleeping hours. Someone once asked him, “Why don’t you turn off your phone so you can sleep?”
“How can I sleep if I turn off my phone?” he responded.
Mikhail ended up going to Iraq in the summer and met Abd-Allah in person. She learned that not only did he save women, but he also adopted a number of children whose parents were killed by the Islamic State.
“I wondered, how did this man go from looking after beehives to rescuing women?”
He told her that, looking back, the foundational skills as a beekeeper helped him with his new work which he’d never imagined he’d be doing.
Mikhail also met with some of the women who Abd-Allah saved, like Tarween, sold at a low price because she was mute and, therefore, considered handicap. Tarween described the awful conditions she lived under, where everyone including the kidnappers’ wives wore black, and how she was raped, beaten and sold ten times. In her book, Mikhail also includes accounts of how the men – fathers, brothers, husbands – of these women were victimized as a result of the Islamic State’s cruelty.
Watch the half-hour interview to learn more about Dunya’s journey in writing this book. I can’t wait to read my copy of The Beekeeper. If you want to purchase your copy, click on this Amazon link: