Baghdad’s Biggest Loser
After surviving a car bombing and a freakish workplace injury, a twenty-something Iraqi resolves to lose over 300 pounds while dreaming of a life without war.
Photos by Marieke van der Velden
Khduer Hawakeem lives in a glass shelter set up in a driveway. His mother and younger brother live on the first floor in the house behind it, but Khduer can’t get up the stairs any more. It’s the summer of 2011, and a policeman and a bunch of neighborhood boys follow me up the driveway. Khduer sits in the middle of the bed, the only place that still holds his weight. He has become a landmark. He looks like a mountain, with a soft, round face, drooping shoulders, sprawling arms and thick thighs. He has a boyish smile. When he feels shy, he’ll put his hand on the elbow of his left arm, which ends in a stump. Posters of beautiful Arab singers cover the walls, along with images of tough, romantic men who, like Khduer, crave another life.
Five weeks ago Khduer went on a diet. He weighed 538 pounds and wants to lose 100 kilograms (317 pounds). A doctor has promised to reduce his stomach by seventy percent. But before he can undergo the drastic surgery, Khduer …
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