Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Green Zone

October 16, 2004

Everything changed for me this week. I am thankful my time is short because I don’t know how long I can deal with things as they now are.

I am tired of living in an environment where I wake up every day hoping to fall asleep again that night; and I go sleep hoping to wake up again the next morning. I am tired of questioning everything I do during the day. I am tired of questioning people’s actions. I am tired of the sudden explosions and random mortar attacks. It’s enough already.

The Green Zone is a four square mile area that is home to the American and British Embassy’s as well as the new Iraqi Government. Some have described the Green Zone as the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Baghdad. Others have described it as ‘Little America’.

On any given day in the Green Zone, you will see soldiers and civilians jogging in the early morning along the Tigris River. You will see thousands of Iraqis working alongside the road and inside the Embassy compound. You will see civilians from all over the world working amidst the language barrier for the same purpose. You will see soldiers eating take-out Chinese food on top of their humvee’s as they wait for their convoy to leave. You will see people eating lunch at Mo’s and the Green Zone Café. You will see Iraqi children selling DVD’s, gum, and candy to American soldiers.

While the Green Zone has its share of danger, it is undoubtedly the safest and most heavily guarded place in Baghdad. That is why people run outside without body armor or a weapon. That is why children walk the streets giving hi-fives to American soldiers. That is why people eat lunch at the Chinese Restaurant and the Green Zone Café.

All of that has now changed because two suicide bombers somehow penetrated the ‘heavily fortified’ Green Zone. It was just a matter of time before something happened because there have been many warnings. Within the last two weeks, an improvised explosive device (IED) was found in the parking lot of the Green Zone Cafe, a suitcase full of explosives was thrown from a car on to the road, and another possible IED was uncovered outside the Embassy compound.

I was walking from lunch when I heard the explosion that changed everything for me. I thought it was a car bomb because it was such a thunderous blast. I also knew it was close because I felt the Convention Center shake. I’ve experienced this so many times so I didn’t stop in my tracks or attempt to take cover. I simply looked at Abbey, shook my head in disgust, and continued walking to the radio studio. We both walked silently the rest of the way, though, as we imagined the chaos that was surely ensuing outside.

It was less than an hour later when we found out the Green Zone Café no longer exists. I was paralyzed as I thought of all the times I have been there. That wasn’t the only news, though. A second suicide bomber hit the Bazaar. I could barely process what happened, and how significant it is.

We’ve heard for months about air strikes in Fallujah, Najaf, and Sadr City. We’ve watched as the death toll rises from five-hundred to eight-hundred and now to eleven-hundred. We’ve felt nervous as mortars fly overhead. But we didn’t let it get us down. We continued to believe. We continued to work.

Now, we can no longer go to the PX, the Chinese restaurant, or the Bazaar. We no longer ride the bus for fear that a passenger riding with us has a bomb in his bag or strapped to his waist. We are less likely to look Iraqis in the eye. We are hesitant to give Iraqi children hi-fives.

It’s all changed. We looked forward to these things. Eating at the Green Zone Café or the Chinese Restaurant was an escape for us. It’s not that we need these luxuries because honestly, it’s not a luxury; it’s just something different that we looked forward to. Shopping at the bazaar gave us a chance to put some money in to the Iraqi economy and to make friends with Iraqis selling Persian rugs and mid-eastern jewelry. We enjoyed the few moments we had at these places.

To a certain degree, the insurgents are winning. The situation is getting worse, not better. This is a far more volatile environment that the one I entered last year. The insurgents are finding weaknesses and they are disrupting the humanitarian effort. I have had four “Kicks for Kids” distribution trips cancelled due to security concerns. We are no longer able to move freely in the Green Zone. We can no longer sleep soundly without wondering who out there is our enemy.

I know you all are reading this and wondering where the optimistic person is who once wrote positive and often inspiring letters from the war zone. I am just as confused as you are. I understand I am bound to get frustrated and less patient as time goes on. I always look for the positive in this story and I long to share it with you. Truth is, though, I will not lie to you, and I will not sugarcoat the situation. I tell it as I see it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

There are wonderful things happening every day in this country. A child is getting medical attention he didn’t have a year ago; a woman is walking around for the first time without a veil covering her face; a man now has a say in who will lead his country.

Lately, however, things seem to be unraveling. I know we will eventually prevail because good defeats evil. But that doesn't make me feel any better right now.

With Love,


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