Monday, March 15, 2004


March 15, 2004

Well people, I am officially freaked out. I am used to hearing the bombings and mortar attacks, the IED’s and the RPG’s. I have even become a bit complacent because over the last few months these attacks have become routine; therefore, it’s just something I deal with. Two nights ago, however, I was quickly reminded where I am and the many ways we are in danger. Around 1:45am on Sunday a few soldiers from the 170th Military Police banged on our door, startling the hell out of us, and demanded we open our door. SGT Campsey and I jumped out of our beds, barely awake but scared to death, and opened the door. Two men dressed in full battle rattle, holding loaded M16’s and M9’s, wanted to make sure we were alone. Prior to this sudden awakening, an Iraqi local national attacked a soldier on his way back to his trailer. This person was stabbed several times on his way home to get a good nights rest (at 1:30am). He is currently in stable condition – he was flown to Germany then to Walter Reed – and we are hoping he will make a complete recovery.

Every day, hundreds of local nationals file on to the compound of CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) for work around the palace. I do not know how they are accounted for throughout the day or who watches them, but one of them was not accounted for when they finished their work day on Saturday. Apparently, he hid around and behind the massive piles of sandbags (meant to protect us from mortar attacks) and waited for someone to walk by. This scares me. I never imagined something like this would happen. I feel very safe in our ‘trailer park’ but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out this would be a prime location for attacks. I walk the same route home every day; and every day I pass these workers. I never once thought something like this would happen. It never crossed my mind. But now, I am worried. I will be looking over my shoulder and around the corner as I walk to my trailer each night. There are so many trailers and so many sandbags - it’s like we’re mice in a maze. And it’s dark – very dark. Point is – this attack affected me because it was in my ‘neighborhood’ and it could have been any one of us. Moreover, it’s a frightening reminder that when we finish our work day over here, we never relax….because our mind and our nerves are always working.

Let’s now move on to the flip side of things. Yesterday I went with some MP’s (military police) who have been here for a year as they made their final trip to visit some schools they have ‘adopted.’ This is of particular interest to me because I am a huge advocate for the education system and its growth over the next few decades. Having said that, I was anxious to gage a better understanding of the conditions under which they learn. I don’t know what Saddam Hussein was thinking (clearly he wasn’t) when he allowed these children to go to school in such disgusting conditions. Most of the schools don’t have running water or electricity. The ‘buildings’ are in worse condition than dilapidated garages. The text books and learning tools are completely outdated and a library or cafeteria or playground does not exist. The teachers seem to have good control over the students but you can tell these are very frustrating conditions under which to shape and mold and teach young children. The MP’s are doing their part to change that, however. They took a handful of new blackboards (none existed before) and books, countless supplies of pens and pencils, and lots of candy. These kids have nothing. Literally, they have nothing. They live in the poorest of conditions. They use the bathroom by squatting in a hole in the earth and they wear whatever clothing they have. Their smiles are full of broken and rotted teeth. Their hands are dirty and their hair is course. Their shoes are falling apart and their skin is dry. But they have what is commonly found in children all over the world – a huge heart and a warm smile. In spite of their living and learning conditions, a heartless dictating tyrant who withheld their basic human rights, and a scary and frightening war in their back yard, they still welcomed us with open arms. They are, quite simply, fascinating. And it was my honor to visit with them and their teachers and share our hope and optimism for their futures.

After our visit to the school, we went to a ‘village’ to deliver some basic necessities – soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. The homes are built on landfills and this is poverty at its worst. Again, we are greeted like superstars. Not because we are bringing them supplies – but because now they can envision not living on landfills and their children, the ones we take pictures with, will no longer dig through the nation’s trash looking for bottles to sell and clothes to wear.

This place is a constant contradiction. One minute I am scared for my life and the other I am thankful for my life. One day I am happy to be here and the next I can’t imagine I have so long to go. What concerns me the most is I am starting to look at everyone as suspect when I want to look at them as friends. I am struggling with the guilt of befriending people I can’t completely trust. It’s an awful feeling. And I’m having a hard time making peace with it. Two nights ago, as MP’s tore through our room in the middle of the night, I hated it all. And yesterday, as hundreds of kids hugged and thanked me, I loved it. Like I said, my life is a constant contradiction.

With Love,


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