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U.S.: New York Play Brings Iraqi Women's Voices To Stage

A New York play is bringing the hidden lives and dreams of Iraqi women to America. In "Nine Parts of Desire," the Iraqi-American actress Heather Raffo plays nine different Iraqi women and tells their stories. She created the characters through a series of interviews and experiences she collected on her travels through Iraq.

4 February 2005 -- Some of the stories in the play "Nine Parts of Desire" are radical, others are sexy, and some are just sad.

The stories are based on interviews and stories Heather Raffo collected during 11 years of traveling in Iraq. She interviewed women from all walks of life -- doctors, artists, exiles, teachers, and wives.

"I tried to show how many different levels of education and sides of the Iraqi woman there are," she says. "And I do feel that I am filling that void in the best way that I can -- not because Iraqi women can't speak for themselves, it's just it's not reaching us here in the West during these tough times when politics and the war are [the] bigger issue."

The Michigan-born actress says she is "perfectly placed" to comment on both Iraqi and U.S. cultures -- Raffo's father is originally from Iraq, and she still has family there.

Each character Raffo plays is very different. But she says she hopes the overall sentiment comes through to Americans watching the play.
"After peeling off all those political layers and human layers, it's really about how similar we are the world over." -- Heather Raffo

"After peeling off all those political layers and human layers, it's really about how similar we are the world over," Raffo says. "And I really want an American audience -- and I think they do [this] -- to come and [find] that they can identify with these women, like they were their aunt or sister or neighbor."

The women talk about everyday hardships, about the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, and about how the West once backed Iraq's toppled dictator, Saddam Hussein.

As one of her characters says in the play: "The mistake is not this war, my God. The mistake is supporting Saddam all his life, giving him all these weapons, 'Please go fight this war with Iran, eh?' Turning their face when he goes to slaughter every time there was an uprising. And he gassed Halabjah, 5,000 died in seconds, and he drained the marshes. And after all these years they find him, an old man in a hole, and they want to give this man a fair trial?"

Raffo says she discovered through talking to the women of Iraq that their lives are very difficult.

"What they have during [U.S.-led] occupation is worse than what they had prior to this invasion," she says. "What they're fighting for desperately now is at least what they had prior to this war. That's the shame of it."

Raffo dedicates "Nine Parts of Desire" to the women she interviewed -- and to the members of her own family still living in Baghdad.