The differences thrust in my face while returning home to America from Iraq are glaring. It starts with the little things. That I could even leave Iraq to come to a Western country felt?well, simply unjust and unfair. My Iraqi friends don?t have that option.
I ran into my friend Ali in Amman, Jordan. He had left his home in Baghdad after being threatened, then shot at, for working as an interpreter for Western media. He now spends his time making trips to the Canadian Embassy in downtown Amman. He had been accepted to a university in Victoria, but they told him he needed a new Iraqi passport before they would admit him. There is no way now, in Iraq, to obtain a new passport.
Ali is currently a refugee, faced with either staying in Amman where his money will only last so long or returning to Baghdad and facing the ongoing threats to his life. So he continues to pester the Canadian Embassy, explaining to them, with great logic, the bind he is in.
I woke up lazily this morning to the sound of birds. In Baghdad, a morning where I wasn?t awakened by a huge car bomb was rare?the adrenaline rush flung me out of bed to check if it was close to my hotel. If it wasn?t a car bomb, it was the thudding mortars exploding inside the nearby “Green Zone.”
It was a little warm, so I turned on an air conditioner and enjoyed the coolness of the room before getting out of bed. The electricity here runs uninterrupted, unlike Baghdad, where I often woke up sweating when my hotel was unable to run their generator due to the ongoing fuel shortage there.
I sit in the window of an apartment in the upper west side of New York City for some morning sun while a cool breeze kisses my skin. A garbage truck slowly works its way down the street below and the men calmly collect the piles set outside the buildings beneath me. In Baghdad, for the most part, there is no garbage collection. Every other street finds thin goats feeding on garbage that has been there?well, nobody can say for how long.
The streets are clean here in New York City; raw sewage is not lining many of the roads. I remember watching Iraqi children play in the thick water of the green pools, despite the stench.
Commercial jets and helicopters fly above in Iraq. On many mornings I was awakened by military helicopters rumbling just above the buildings at top speed so as to avoid being shot down by rocket-propelled grenades. The reverberations in the air caused by their huge rotors were enough to trigger car alarms in the streets every time they flew overhead.
Traffic here is orderly; people even heed the stoplights. In Baghdad, there is no rule, no order. Stoplights are ignored almost as much as the directions given by the Iraqi traffic police. Car accidents are an hourly event in Baghdad, and of course there is no insurance?for cars or otherwise.
I went to see the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 last night. Just that I can go see a movie in safety is an oddity to me now. In addition, the options for fun and relaxation here are only limited by my own imagination. The one amusement park in Baghdad, Fun City, has been closed since the war. Hanging out in a park there is a good way to get kidnapped or looted. There are no movie theaters, or they would most certainly be the target of a car bomb.
In the movie, I saw parts of Baghdad where I?d been?being briefly taken back to where I was just a week ago felt surreal. I could almost feel the stifling heat and the danger that is ever-present in Baghdad.
In the air-conditioned theater, I watched the painful scenes of innocent, dead Iraqis killed by the “smart” bombs dropped by US forces.
After the movie, I simply left the scene inside the theater to emerge on bustling streets. A band played in a park across the street while people danced to the music in safety. It was an abrupt reentry into a casual life where the biggest concerns today are where to go for dinner or what to do for entertainment next.
How does one reconcile this?
I can drink the tap water here, without fear that I will be poisoned by the horrible water of Baghdad. Down in the street below the apartment, a woman washes her car with copious amounts of fresh water; the soapy water from her car runs down the street, then into the gutter. Meanwhile, in Iraq, there are outbreaks of cholera and hepatitis, in addition to people suffering ongoing nausea, diarrhea, and kidney stones from drinking diseased, dirty water, which the Western corporations continue to fail to treat due to the ongoing lack of rebuilding.
People lazily cruise the nearby river in large leisure boats, fishing for fun if they feel like it. In the Tigris, which runs through Baghdad, a few desperate fishermen work the river to catch polluted fish with the hope of selling them in the market in order to purchase vegetables for themselves and their families.
There are no checkpoints here; there are no military vehicles roaming the streets, carrying soldiers, who aim their weapons at civilians watching them pass. Here there is a mail service, the phones work on the first try, and one can order take out and have it delivered to the front door. There are employees of the city who clean the streets, water the trees and grass, and keep the parks clean.
I slept well last night, knowing that I didn?t have to fear being kidnapped from my hotel. People in America sleep assured that no foreign military will crash in their door in the middle of the night and illegally detain them or one of their family members. There isn?t a huge prison on the outskirts of the city that families know that their detained relatives are most likely being tortured and humiliated in while they sit worrying with the knowledge that they can do nothing about it.
I don?t have to worry about my friends here being detained simply because of their nationality. In Iraq, any Iraqi, at anytime, could be detained by the US military without charge and held indefinitely, and there is nothing they can do about it. It is a place where the mightiest military on earth is the judge, the jury and, oftentimes, the executioner.
Baghdad, like most of the cities in Iraq, is a place where chaos reigns. Danger is omnipresent; it takes one?s mind off the filthy streets, shattered infrastructure, rampant unemployment and gloomy future.
The frontlines of global imperialism are frightening. There is no hiding the raw, ugly face of corporations profiting from the blood and suffering of the ongoing brutal occupation of Iraq. Yet, back inside the country that has launched the invasion and now supports the occupation, people go about their daily lives.
If the news gets too intense, we can turn it off and take a walk. Or go to a movie. Or call a friend. Meanwhile, in Iraq, as one friend told me when I asked how he dealt with living under such horrible conditions, “We just live day by day. It is only up to God whether I die because of a car bomb or being run over by a tank today. I just try to make it through each day. What else can we do?”
Dahr Jamail is an American freelance journalist who has reported directly from Iraq since the invasion. He kindly submitted several of his dispatches to the World Crisis Web.
Article courtesy of Islam Online