‘Do you know the Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid? Everyone in Iraq said she had no talent. But she was determined and became famous. She is my hero.’
Helen doesn’t want her picture taken. ‘You never know where terrorists will search for you.’ She has small hands, long fingers and strong, pink nails that she used to draw with when she studied architecture at the university of Mosul.
‘The first year I didn’t think much of architecture. Then I started imagining buildings in my head. I created their shapes and materials in my mind, their constructions. Complete cities arose, I became the top student in my class. Professors promised me that I would find good work. Then the university was bombed and it all came to nothing.’
‘It’s hard for me not to become bitter. Studying for six years and being the best student is no guarantee for work in Iraq. I sometimes think about leaving. I know how the West sees me: Immigrant. Fortune seeker. But I could use my knowledge to contribute in the West. That’s what I believe.’
‘But then I think, “What about Iraq? How will this country regain her beauty?” I called my old professor and told him: “Terror has destroyed our university. But architecture could rebuild it into something more beautiful than it was. The classrooms were dark, let’s make bigger windows, with a view of a garden.” “Helen,”, he said, “we could design it together. But Mosul is dangerous. Are you sure you want to do this?” I said: “Sir, for me to be able to accomplish my vision, I have to see the university’s ruins with my own eyes. So just tell me when you’re ready. My dream is too big for me to be afraid.”’