Friday, January 23, 2004

News From Baghdad II

January 29, 2003

I can’t believe how quickly the weeks are going by. It’s unreal how much happens in such a short amount of time. I don’t get a chance to write as often as I would like so I have to cram a lot in one letter. There is so much to catch you up on so let’s get started.

Last Tuesday (20th), we went to the Ministry of Electricity. I met a lot of people and made a great friend named Alia. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this job. Hands down, I have the best job in the military. I go to a new place every day – and I get to talk to everyone. I mean, that’s my job. I get paid to make friends and see the best and worst this world has to offer. I’ll get to the good stuff but let’s talk about the bad for just a minute. Saddam Hussein basically used electricity as a weapon against his people. The folks in Baghdad had electricity for as long as 20 hours a day because they were ‘friends’ of the regime. Translation - Saddam lived in Baghdad and wanted electricity; therefore, the people who lived here did too. The people who live in the south had electricity as little as a few hours a week. If he didn’t like you or he wanted to punish you, he would cut off your power supply. That is how he worked. Every resource essential to life – electricity, water, gas, technology – gone, if you didn’t comply with his rules. I wish you could see the torment and sadness in the eyes of the Iraqis. When they see us, however, they light up. They really do. Every once in a while I notice some hesitation, but I get the feeling it’s because they don’t know how I will embrace them. Let’s get real – they don’t see blonde hair and blue eyes every day…and I am carrying a loaded M16 on my shoulder. I’m sure it’s not the most inviting thing in the world. In any case, a lot of them don’t know how to react to me. I don’t know why, but I put them at ease. I have more friends than I know what to do with right now. I am attaching a letter from my friend Alia. She is my new great friend, and as you will see she is so very thankful for us. She wanted this liberation 10 years ago.

On Thursday, I went to the College of Agriculture. Again, Saddam Hussein didn’t allow any advanced technology across the border so everything the colleges have is outdated. College in Iraq is free - if you are educated enough to go. The problem is all the schools and colleges are dilapidated and in ruins. He didn’t put money in to anything except his own comfort and personal security teams. After the war there was a lot of looting and now the buildings are a complete mess. With the combined help of the US and the coalition, the schools and buildings are being rebuilt and students will now have access to the internet and new technology. Saddam Hussein was afraid of educating his people – for obvious reasons. But there are really smart and hungry people here who have been waiting patiently for a way to expand on what they already know and to catch up with the rest of the world. I’ve learned how wonderfully equipped they are and it’s a joy to see how eager they are for things to change so they can get on with their lives.

Every time I go out I meet so many people. I am especially drawn to the children but I love to talk to everyone. A 16 year old at the college offered my battle buddies 10,000 dinar for me. That’s 10 U.S. dollars. That’s a step up from 15 cents but I’m still hoping for a nice round offer of at least 100 dollars before I leave here next year! We took pictures with him and he wouldn’t look away from me to smile. Check out the picture. We had a lot of fun that day. But let’s get back to the kids. They are truly the best thing about this job. They say so much without saying a word. The language barrier is tough, no doubt. But the universal language of hugs and smiles and touching is an amazing thing. They don’t know how to react to our technology – cameras, video cameras- it’s just awesome to take a picture and to show them the image a few seconds later. They don’t know what to make of it. I just love these kids. So innocent, yet they have seen more in a few short years than we can ever imagine. Their homes are so primitive. There are no power tools, and they do everything by hand. I mean everything.

Today (Tuesday) we went to the Police Academy with the Ministry of Interior. They are training Iraqi police to adopt a more democratic system of running the security in the country. They are giving classes on how men learn to live with women working alongside them. This culture doesn’t allow the women to do much outside of taking care of the family and the occasional office job, so having female security is a whole new concept. They are getting it, slowly but surely, and women are seeing a future they couldn’t have imagined just a year ago. Today as I was taping some Iraqis at the military academy, I was talking to them and they couldn’t understand me, as usual. Then out of nowhere, one of them goes “Fashizal my nizzel”…like Snoop Dog!!!! He didn’t know “how are you” but he knew “fashizal my nizzel.” I almost fell over. I was taping at the time, so I will try to send it to you. We also saw the dogs they are training. They stay in the cells Saddam used to torture people. It’s odd to walk around an area where so many have died - both in this war and before it. The realness of it is not lost on me, in spite of my enthusiasm for what I am doing. I am not losing sight of the horror of this war and the danger I am in daily. I’m just given the incredible opportunity to also see the goodness of it.

On our way to these places, we travel to all parts of Baghdad. Downtown reminds me a lot of China Town in NYC and Philly. Everything is cluttered, the apartments are so run down, and there are people and cars everywhere. The traffic is a mess. There aren’t any street signs and certainly no lights. So it’s a fight to get anywhere. I see cars, donkeys, trucks, and scooters sharing the same roads, and more times than not, the sidewalks. People (mostly kids) come up and ask for money or food. We are told not to give them anything because it’s been heard (but not confirmed) that some kids are being killed for taking gifts from Americans. It breaks my heart. In any case, the people in town are very diverse. I see people in very modern clothes and others are wearing robes. One man looks like he just had dinner with the 12 disciples and the other looks like he jumped out of GQ. I’m in awe every time I go downtown. In the pictures, you will see the insane difference in lifestyles for Saddam Hussein and his people.

Every time I see something I wish I could tell you all about it, but I just don’t have the time. Even the smell out here is unique. The city is really rundown and the signs of war are everywhere. You would be surprised to see how busy the city is – a lot like a public market. You can probably get anything you need down there. Hopefully before we leave here next year, it will be safe enough for us to walk around and go inside some of the stores. It would be nice to pump some of our money in to their economy. For now, however, we trail around in SUV’s with force protection and pray nothing bad comes our way.

For now, however, I am going to bed. We should be out of the ‘snoratorium’ soon and in to the trailers. I can’t wait. Thanks for being patient with my long letter. I will try to write every few days so I don’t have to cram in so much. I do realize you also have jobs to do and don’t have time to read my novels.

Until next time,


Post a Comment

<< Home