The daily drive to work involves countless checkpoints and ID checks. One day, something new. The uniformed man stares hard at her, insisting he recognizes her as a doctor from a hospital. She panics. And must hide the panic. In a city where doctors are targeted and killed, this mistaken impression can mean the end of her days.
The guard’s face is serious, angry. He speaks intensely to a superior while she waits, her life now in the hands of strangers. Abruptly she is dismissed. She drives off, afraid to look back. She knows she can never take this route again. She continues on to work. Still shaking.
Such are the incidents and impressions we find on a remarkable blog called Inside Iraq. For most Westerners, war in Iraq brings tales of bombers and mayhem, soldiers and strife, upheaval and fanaticism. The human face is rarely revealed.
Americans know little about Iraqis that hasn’t been conjured from old films, political propaganda and televised news scraps. The Iraqi people exist merely as abstractions, words, numbers, so the idea of ten or forty or one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dying from the conflict there means, for all too many, nothing.
But of course, no person is an abstraction. Each holds her own share of desire, despair, pleasure. Each has his own story. Through Inside Iraq, the reader is given a brief glimpse of Iraqi life, as the blog offers the personal thoughts and tales of Iraqi journalists working for the American newspaper chain McClatchy Newspapers.
Their dispatches convey the daily tedium and sporadic violence of life in a broken nation. The tone is informal, direct. The voice feels familiar – it is impossible to read their struggles and not imagine your own life in their shoes.
Many of their problems are mundane. Monotonous. Fixing a third-rate generator in scorching summer heat. Waiting in endless lines for gas. Securing clean water for one’s family. The tiresome pace of life in a new Iraq amid empty promises and widespread confusion.
Homes are missed. Daughters are missed. Bookstores and restaurants are missed. The old life, now forever gone, is missed.
One writes of seeing a fearful old man in the market and recognizing him as an old schoolteacher. “He looked so afraid.” Another tells of children, once playing together and now apart, the growing recognition that some are Shiite, some Sunni. “A wave of deep sorrow engulfed me.” A third recounts a ride with a taxi driver who talks of the crippling of his daughter, the murder of his brothers, a harrowing escape from a gun pointed at his temple. “I was unable to say anything.”
The unbelievable becomes normalized. Riders on a bus discuss mortars, IEDs and car bombs the way they might speak of the weather. A mother decides on nylon sheets instead of glass for her windows – less danger for her children in an explosion. Survival tips are passed along like recipes. Keep the car in working order. Keep eyes averted in the presence of occupiers. Become pliant or, better yet, invisible.
Make absolutely no errors.
These Iraqis may endure their chronic proximity to violence and occupation, but for some it comes at a price – inner distance, retreat.
“How can one continue to be human, filled with human feelings and not withdraw into that inner place were no hurt can follow?? Driving faster than usual, feeling quite unreal, I feel like testing my humanity against some blast wall – just to see if I’m still human.”
In such a world, wit, irony and humor still persist. One remarks that it’s a shame all the cardiologists have been driven from Baghdad, with everyone on edge, they would make a bundle. Another observes that living amid the harrowing chase scenes and gunfire of everyday life is like being a character is some great epic film. The writer would prefer a role in a romantic comedy instead.
There is sanity in this. Life of constant weeping is not life.
“Less than five minutes after the explosion, everything was normal and we started talking and laughing again and why not, its just an IED in Baghdad, So what? Its not the first and we are all sure its not the last. Its just one more day in Baghdad.”
[The Inside Iraq blog can be found here and particular entries referenced are as follows: “Go”1, “Not Enough”2, “One More Day”3, “Watch Out!”4, “To Be a Part”5, “Look of Fear”6, “One Question”7, “Play”8. “To Be Part of a Movie”9, “Hot Day”10, “Be Calm, Don’t Lose It”11. All the images are from the early paintings of the great Gerhard Richter.]