Friday, 8 August 2003

Living in Baghdad Iraq

I'm sure my presence in Baghdad is consistently baffling to people here. Then, my eccentricity on top of that--more baffling. Yet people constantly tell me how much they appreciate my dedication to helping here and that I bring important and useful information they can't get. And, that my careful listening is a relief. One fellow who has nothing to do with the project but is a young businessman from Lebanon I met while I was using the telephone at the Sheraton (nearest phone) came by last night for a little visit and specifically said that he hasn't run across anyone here he can talk to "that isn't silly" and he's in a real crisis with all the violence and frustration in Baghdad.

Also M. said yesterday that he's had big ideas rolling around in his head for years that he couldn't express because he might be killed for it and without my encouragement he doesn't think he could have organized these thoughts and talked about them. Now, he's going to write out a proposal and we're going to vet it together. He's talking about worldwide peace and justice. I think Y.'s delightful but deeply sad blog was a relief for him to write and I look forward to him adding more of his story to the Iraq blogsite. These are just a few examples of encouragements I get daily that what we're doing is salve in a horribly wounded country. It's really important to people here that someone would come from outside as a volunteer and stay with them.

Because I'm aware that I'm making good connections and people feel supported in unaccustomed ways doesn't mean that I feel good about the SLOWNESS of my work. But everyone here has the same problem. Iraq is a culture of slowness and in addition we have all the barriers inherent in living in the rubble of war and occupation. We just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep checking to see whether it's been blown off or we can proceed with the next step.

Another point that's starting to sink in with me is how scared people are. I've had more than one lecture from people here about how fearless I am--and this is when I never go anywhere alone and almost never leave the hotel after dark. T. was just telling me yesterday that he didn't leave his house for a couple of days fearing stray bullets from gunfights and bombs planted in the road.

And, I've got this weak in the knees feeling and a tingle in my spine from standing about 10 feet away from a gunshot behind me yesterday. I was just walking out of a checkpoint going through the gate to the Baghdad City Council chamber when a shot rang out behind me. The US soldiers and Iraqi police ran over to see what happened but I kept walking. I was in a hurry and I didn't fancy getting in the range of a gunfight or seeing any raw carnage. I didn't feel much then. Went to the meeting and then, back to the hotel. It was only when I got back to the safety of my nest that I felt the shock in my body. I was so close to the shot that it sounded like it was in my head. I've had a shaky feeling for over a day from the impact only of the sound I think. I haven't had the slightest feeling that I could have been shot. I think it was just a misfiring of a gun and not intentional. And, I'm sure nobody was shooting at me. They couldn't have missed me at that range. But, the unexpectedness and loudness of it threw my body into overwhelm.