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Days of Death and Marriage
Report from my experiences in Iraq
On Tuesday afternoon in Iskanderia there was a Boom. A car bomb kills 50.
They were lining up to become Iraqi police. Everyone calls them Keelap,
the dogs for those collaborating with the Occupation. But with 70
percent unemployment there will be an unending supply of them. A few
hours later in Baghdad 4 are machine gunned in their car. I hear the news
on BBC radio. Then my friend Majid comes over. “Lets go visit Walid” he
says and we are off. The driver pushes through the constant traffic jams
of Baghdad. He stops and we walk past the tire spikes and through 7-foot
high cement barriers. On one side is the French Embassy with murals of
smiling Iraqis and the other side stand 7 police and guards with AK-47s.
The guards at BBC find Walid and he invites us in. We sit in the garden
and talk while the British roast chicken. Shots ring out close but its
not news. Walid’s car broke down earlier in a neighborhood with many
Islamic extremists. His friend who worked for CNN was killed by them 10
days ago. Back at home I sleep through the three explosions at 5:00 am.
At 7:45 there is another car bomb. This time it is at the main Iraqi
Army recruiting center in north Baghdad. We go out for tea and falafels.
Everyone gathers around the TV showing US soldiers blocking off the road.
I can only understand “jaish” (army) and khamsa wa arbaeen (45) killed I
I am working or actually just hanging out with Circus 2 Iraq. Several
members were Peace Shields before and during the war enduring days of
bombing with the Iraqi people now they are back to bring them smiles
There was a four year old boy called Mohammed who was hurt in the bombing
of the farmhouse at Diyala, near Baghdad. A lad called Shane from the US
sat down next to his bed the day after it happened and drew pictures and
blew bubbles. When Mohammed put out his hand and popped the bubble, he
smiled for the first time since the bomb destroyed his home and killed his
sister and his aunt. It was inspiring to see that healing and peace making
were still possible between two boys from countries that were ostensibly
This day they divided into two groups. One group went with the
interpreter. They wanted to help a badly burned little boy in the
squatter community of Al-Sha’ala to see a doctor. They got stuck in
traffic for 3 hours. After the car bomb went off the US soldiers blocked
the streets and gridlock ensued. When they finally got the boy to the
hospital all the doctors were too busy with the wounded to see him.
I went with a cool French guy, Luis, to work on the play. On the way I
passed through a neighborhood that had been heavily bombed during the war.
Two 12 year-old boys walked up. Raid said “show him your leg.” The boy
had been injured by US bombs and was traumatized and didn’t want to think
about it. With prompting he finally lifted up his pant leg to show two
huge scars that almost covered his shin. We went with Raid to his
organization, Happy Family. The taxi driver was so happy to meet me he
tried to refuse payment. Happy Family teaches kids acting and art and put
on free plays for and with kids. I sit and watch but am soon distracted
by large amounts of automatic weapons fire. I decide to investigate even
though it’s a ways off. It seems like a friendly neighborhood and there
are a bunch of people about but soon I worry that I shouldn’t have gone
alone. People were staring at me and a car backed up blocking my path
between the garbage and pools of mud that made up the street. The driver
began to talk to me but I couldn’t understand. Then he leaned out the
window and handed me a piece of candy, the people smiled and the car drove
off. I never did get to the source of the shots. Maybe it was a wedding.
Traditionally everyone fires their guns in the air in celebration at
weddings. The US tries to stop it but tradition dies hard.
We leave the Happy Family house with Saffar and Main. We go to
Al-Qadeemiyya to buy costumes for the play. Vendors hawk their wares and
women in black abbayas glide through the night. We stop to eat a sweet
and oily desert called khalawa when “ahhhhh.” The power goes out again,
as it does several times a day. We stumble along and a few generators
start up. The market is now filled with splotches of light. We come out
into a large plaza in front of one of Baghdad’s main mosques, Al-Qadeema.
Out of the darkness it shines like a beacon with gold cupolas and strings
of lights. Hundreds of Iranian pilgrims chant and cry as they file into
its brilliant mirrored interior. We pass on and then board a small boat
to cross the Tigris River. On the other side we stumble up a path of
concrete chunks to visit Main’s village. I think about the US soldiers,
Bush, Chaney and Rumsfeld. They would be terrified to be in my place for
they have created a world of fear that also fills them up inside. You see
the world you create and while mine is of trust and friendship theirs is
domination and fear. I am so relaxed knowing that I an in good hands in
this peaceful night. We eat at a run-down restaurant with posters of
Shiite leaders on the walls. They are making fresh bread and lay out a
huge array of hors d’ oeuvres that completely fill me up. They are so
excited to have an American visitor that they insist that I take lots of
photos. Boom “Just a small bomb, other side of river, Americans.” Day to
day life goes on for Iraqis. They search for work, take care of their
families and live the best they can. Tonight is a night of weddings.
Soon it will be the month of Muharram. There will be no joy or singing as
Muslims will be remembering the death of Hussein and Ali, early Muslim
Califs. But tonight is a night to celebrate. Bang, bang, bang, bang
bullets fly skyward from the wedding across the street. Soon the beeping
wedding convoy speeds off. We finish dinner and say good bye. As we walk
through the dark village we pass another wedding and are led in. We join
in and soon are taken to kiss the joyous groom on the cheeks. We dance
and fool around with the young men. The women have already had their
party and now stand behind us, a row of headscarves and smiling faces.
The giggle at the funny moves of the dancers. Too soon its time to go.
Several little boys follow me, the American. They shout “Saddam no, Bush
yes.” “La, la, la” I say “ Saddam no, Bush no.” Finally they agree
“Saddam no, Bush no.”