Are you happy?

I had a very happy life until age 19. We had four cars and a detached five-bedroom house in the suburbs of Baghdad. I was born in that house. In summer we slept on the flat roof under the sky. We all had our beds up there and there was always a Thermos with iced water to drink. People spent nights sitting in their gardens, so I could hear the children and crowds talking before it all got quiet. My parents built the house from scratch, every brick.

In 2003, my mother and sister went back to Baghdad, having lived in Iran since they were expelled in 1982. The house had been confiscated and turned into a detention centre, among other things. The garden was gone and there were squatters there. As soon as she saw it, my mother started to cry. She had gone back to find some trace of my brother, who was executed in 1982. Nobody knows where his body is. When I visited her in Iran before she died, she said, "I wish I had never gone back to Baghdad. The good thing, our home, is not there." Happiness is a good home. You could have a bedsit as big as this room. It's still home. Home is somewhere you are relieved to be.

Happiness is different to an Iraqi from what it is to an Egyptian, Greek or Briton. It takes courage to understand someone else's unhappiness, especially after what has happened in Iraq. It's easy to show sympathy with donations and nice words. Empathy takes courage.

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