The Yazidi friends sit on brown leather couches in the west Lincoln living room, where Khairi Hesso lives with his wife and three children.
They are preparing for a trip.
Khairi has filled the gas tank of his Pathfinder. He’s checked the SUV’s tires and brakes.
Zeyad Eesa arrived early Wednesday with the poster board signs: YEZIDIS SEEK JUSTICE. SAVE YEZIDIS AND CHRISTIANS.
And Shireen Jardo Alhanto is here with her photographs. A father, a mother, uncles, brothers, cousins.
Her missing family.
Later, the signs and those pictures and their suitcases will be piled in the Nissan and the friends — along with Khairi’s sister-in-law — will leave town, following three buses filled with their neighbors.
One hundred-fifty people, Zeyad says. Maybe 200.
The Yazidis — men, women and children — will travel through the night and most of Thursday to Washington, D.C., where they will be joined by hundreds more from across the country and Canada.
On Friday, they will gather in front of the White House.
They will show their faces and the faces of their missing and murdered loved ones.
“We want international protection for the Yazidis in Iraq,” Zeyad says. “If not protection, we want people to be able to leave.”
In America, we know the story of these displaced people from the comfort of our own couches.
A centuries-old persecution and a modern-day genocide.
It was Aug. 3, 2014, when ISIS fighters stormed the villages in Northern Iraq. Convert to Islam or be killed, they commanded.
Yazidi girls were kidnapped and taken as brides for fighters. Men were murdered in front of their children. Houses were set on fire. Boys were captured to be trained as fighters.
The lucky ones fled to the Sinjar Mountains, and some were eventually welcomed to safety in other countries, like the United States. Many of them — 3,000 in all — found a home in Lincoln.
Zeyad is a father of three, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army. He arrived four years ago, but his parents are still in Iraq.
He calls them every day, worried for their safety.
He wants to bring them here.
Khairi has been in Lincoln for 20 years, a member of the city’s first Yazidi family.
“We came as refugees from Syria,” he says. “Saddam Hussein was forcing families to join the Saddam army, so they run away.”
Shireen was kidnapped by ISIS and passed from captor to captor. She was tortured. Her nose broken. When she grew so weak that she couldn’t walk, her captors threw her from a moving car.
During her imprisonment, she asked a cousin to tattoo her name on her arm with ashes so her family would know it was her, in case she was killed.
She made it to safety and works part-time at McDonald’s now. She is learning English. She shares her story in Kurdish, translated by her friends.
They are bound together, the Yazidis say on the morning of their departure.
This trip grew out of another atrocity. News they'd read in the foreign press — the discovery in late February of 50 heads of young Yazidi girls by British troops in Syria.
“We are asking for justice,” Zeyad says. “To get those still alive girls out of their hands.”
Thousands of Yazidis remain missing, still held by ISIS or dead.
Others are awaiting permission to enter the United States, the system stalled under the Trump administration.
ISIS is desperate for money, they say. Demanding ransom for the return of family members years after their capture.
“It is ridiculous to buy your own relative,” Khairi says. “But this is what we have to do.”
He points to the photographs. A little brown-eyed boy with a bowl cut, before ISIS kidnapped him. Five years later, the same boy gaunt in a relative’s bed, injured by shrapnel during his escape.
He is wearing pink socks dotted with cherries; pins hold the bones of his lower leg together.
His name is Zaenar. His parents are dead, most of his family is missing.
Khairi points to the pictures.
“We are trying to get people to understand, how would you feel if that happened to your loved one? If your father was killed in front of your eyes. If your sister was raped in front of your eyes.”
And from the couch, Shireen shows more photographs, the ones she keeps on her phone.
The man who kidnapped and sold her.
A young woman dressed in red and wearing pretty makeup.
The same woman — Shireen — after her torture, emaciated in a wheelchair.
She speaks in Kurdish and her friends explain for those of us who can’t understand.
“We cannot believe it can happen to us.”