November 11, 2012
returned from Baghdad
last night. Over coffee this morning, I filled the father of my host family in
on my trip. I told him it was wonderful to see everyone, but I only heard sad
minutes ago a fierce wind rose, blowing the trees and dust and everything in
its path. We hurried to close the windows, but there was no way to prevent the
fine powdery dirt from entering. It covers everything. The weather seems to fit
my mood somehow. There are forces beyond our control.
in Baghdad I was able to visit with two families
who both have grown children in the U.S. The parents of a third family,
whom we know from Syria ,
met with me briefly on a quickly decided location, one of the roads that exits through
the concrete walls encompassing their neighborhood.
Image: Cathy Breen
to give them a package from the states, and they were hesitant to have me come
to their neighborhood, an area which has seen much violence and conflict over
the last years.
an emotional moment as the mother and I exited our respective car and taxi and
embraced. She wept. I hope I will be able to see their seven children before I
leave Iraq ,
but for now I am grateful for the five minutes I had with them. Thank God for
the driver who is able to negotiate all these encounters. Somehow, between his
little English and my little Arabic, we have been able to manage. In the other
two families we visited, someone spoke English well enough to serve as a
translator. Of course both families have contact with their relatives in the U.S. by
internet and phone, but somehow my presence connects them physically, like a
task this morning is to review and resize some of the photos taken yesterday,
so that I can send them off with an account to the sons and daughters in the U.S. As I look
at the faces before me, I imagine how emotional it will be for those opening
the attachments when they catch the wistful longing in the eyes of their family
members, see how they have aged, or behold the youngest members of the family
whom they have not yet gotten to meet personally.
what war does, no? It separates families; it destroys the fiber and lifeblood
of a society. I remember as a young adult, and not so young adult, being
separated by oceans for years at a time from my own family. There were moments
when I would become so choked up to hear their voices over the phone that I was
unable to speak.
was anticipated, and as is the beautiful custom here each family welcomed me warmly
and served me. We were able to visit unhurriedly, and I had brought a few
photos of their loved ones to show them. After assuring them that their family
members were working hard but doing alright in the U.S. , I asked them what stories
they had to tell me! One family told of having to move to another area because
there were a lot of explosions where they lived, and any young man in the
vicinity of an attack was randomly rounded up. This family feared for their
young sons. One mother, a teacher, spoke of the crowded classrooms, and of how
fatigued teachers felt upon arriving at school after being held up at
checkpoint after checkpoint in unendurable heat. "One can wait over half anhour
just to go through one checkpoint." This was exactly our experience that same
morning as we made our way through Baghdad
to their neighborhood.
children all want to be cops, and to carry guns." The teacher spoke of the many
orphans in her class and of the widowed teachers. "Everyone is exhausted from
the situation. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. Sometimes there are
10-15 explosions, other days there are none. With the situation in Syria we are
all tense and feel insecure." This family fled to Syria
for some years and then returned to Iraq . "I don't think any of my
dreams will come true," said one of the sons, a bright handsome 17 year old
with an easy smile. "There is nothing to do but stay home." The parents felt
that since the era of sanctions things have only gone backwards, not forward.
"Young people don't have any hope for a job here, except driving a taxi. Only
if they go to another country will it be better"Most of our traditions have
been lost, it is all about money now. You can't do anything without bribes."
other family I visited, the grandmother has bad asthma. There is an increase in
asthma due to pollution, to lack of factory and vehicle emission controls, to
the frequent use of generators for electricity. Even the benzene still has
lead. One family member, a doctor, commented, "Nine years and no electrical
system. Where is the big investment money? It is all about political decisions.
brought terrorists to our country, they came from all over the world, to fight
terrorism in our country and destroy our country. I am sorry to tell you this,
but it is the truth." I told him that I didn't disagree. We all sat together.
"We are helpless and hopeless," he said. After a long pause he added "but we
are adapting." Two little children were playing gleefully in our midst on the
there left to say?
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