Babbler # 1292
posted 14 February 2003 04:52 PM
LETTER FROM THE ROAD, IRAQ,11
ELIZABETH ROBERTS (RABIA)
11 FEBRUARY 2003
Dark Night of the Soul
But we, like sentries, are obliged to stand
In starless nights, and wait the 'pointed hours.
Elias has been busy for the past days making banners, getting tents and
setting up sites for a series of actions the Iraq Peace Team will initiate
during the coming week. In contrast to his energy, I am paralyzed by a
deep dread. I feel the war's shadow over my shoulder. And at the moment its
darkness has me in its grip. I don't want to meet new people or have new
experiences. What's the point, I think? This place is over! When I do
talk with some old friends from my previous visit to Baghdad in
November-December, we cry together. The future approaches and millions must
stand silently through the coming night.
Those Iraqis who can afford it have already left Baghdad. United Nations
officials are taking their vacations and humanitarian groups are being sent
home. Businessmen have relocated their families. Foreigners are returning
to their homelands. Journalists are surveying hotels for their structural
soundness. People are selling their cars, their possessions, anything they
have to help them get out of the city.
But the vast majority have nowhere to go. Five million men, women and
children must stay here and endure the rain of bombs, the lack of
electricity, clean water, food supplies and medicines. Schools and
hospitals will close; so will shops and businesses. No one knows when and where the
shells made with depleted uranium or other chemical, biological or nuclear
weapons will be used. Rumors are that marshal law will be enforced.
Hassan is an out of work electrician. He tells me that he and his wife have
put extra food by, but they worry that if the war lasts too long, looters
will come for their supplies. He is a mild man. He tries not to discuss
the war in front of his four children "but they hear it in school and from
their friends. Yesterday Alla (his 9 year old son) asked if we are going to die.
This is their great fear, not their own death, but the loss of their mother
Why? Why? Why? This is the one question every person I talk with asks.
"Will you destroy so much just for the oil? Do Americans know what a catastrophe
this will be? Nothing will be good between the Arabs and the Americans
Every day in the hotel, in small groups, the Peace Team people discuss the
countdown to war. How many more days before the invasion? When should we
leave? Will those who choose to stay through the war be safe? What can we
do to prevent the coming disaster? Will anything stop it? The U.N. Security
Council? France and Germany? The American public? Saudi Arabia? Most of
us have given up hope for a last minute reprieve. Bush will have his war.
And we will stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people as long as each of us
Khaled, our Yemeni graduate student friend looks at me and says I have "the
fear sickness." He says he is seeing it a lot. He says I should leave Iraq.
It's true I have a little fever, no appetite and sleep a lot. I do feel
despair. Today a memo was slipped under my door. It had 14 questions. The
first one: "In the event of your death, do you agree to your body not being
returned to your own country but being disposed of in the most convenient
way?" With decisions like this how does one not have the "fear sickness?"
Elias and I do have an exit date that we believe is safe, but of course it
is not fool-proof. And the very fact that we can exit only heightens my
despair for those we leave behind. Perhaps staying through the war with
the Iraqi people would be easier on the soul. But not on the body some people
here say the survival odds given to the American peaceworkers staying
through the invasion is about 30%. I am simply not ready (yet) to face the
end of my life or to answer the second question: "Have you written a letter
that can be sent to your loved ones in the event of your death?"
While I puzzle about how to avoid death, life goes on all around me. The
shoeshine boys still play in front of our hotel, hoping for spare change.
Amal, my friend with the art studio, opens her shop every morning, offers
tea, weeps quietly and then shows me the new fabrics from Kurdistan.
Kamel, the Imam's assistant from a nearby mosque still comes to work every day,
tall and dignified, serving coffee to us and teaching us a few words of
Arabic. Last night seven wedding parades, complete with ribbons and music,
drove down our street seven! Across the street the Palestine Hotel has
begun to tape its large glass windows to try and prevent them from
shattering or imploding when the bombing starts. And on the grounds right
below these windows there are two Iraqi men still tending to the few green
plants and small garden that are in front of the hotel. Preparing for
death, tending life. The truth of this lesson breaks my heart. A small green shoot
pushes through the ruins. Surely the very least I owe these beautiful
people is the energy of my smile and good cheer. What right do I have to despair
when everywhere life continues. I pray that with the help of grace this
"fear sickness" will pass.
From: Out There | Registered: Aug 2001
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