Wednesday, May 18, 2005

LEAVING HOME, GOING HOME

My time in Iraq is coming to an end. I’ll be leaving to return to the U.S. and to wait for my husband to come home this summer.

I’m sad to go as I have made great friends here and forged wonderful memories. Despite the news from here, we have managed to have fun and do a bit of sightseeing. I’ve gone on boat rides and picnics, went hiking and swimming. Amidst the misery, there is joy.

Still, I leave feeling angry, disgusted, upset and totally disheartened by what has been happening. Since the new government was sworn in on April 28, hundreds of Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombers, car bombs, drive-by shootings, roadside bombs, assassinations. One of my co-workers’ cousin was killed a few days ago by masked gunmen because he worked for the Americans in the Green Zone. One associate who was visiting from Baghdad was talking to a co-worker about the situation in her city. “We like Americans but we don’t like the American soldiers because of the incidents that have happened. Instead of being friends, we are now enemies. I feel sorry for them when I see them patrolling and I think they look sad, maybe because they are missing their homes. And maybe they feel like they are unwanted here because they are foreign occupiers.”

A former colleague who recently went to Baghdad told me of narrowly missing death. He had just driven away from an area where a car bomb exploded a few minutes later. Then he went to an office and two hours after he left, two of the employees there were shot to death. “I think Iraq has a bad future. Nothing good can happen here,” he told me. He and another co-worker are thinking about leaving Iraq because “things will not get better.”

I desperately want to feel hope for this country and to see some good. And there are happy stories, but the tales of destruction and murder seem to outweigh them. Even my husband can’t take it anymore. He recently told me he can no longer endure the chaos and killings, and he is now drained of compassion, of any feeling at all for what is happening here.

And the answers I hoped to find in coming here are still elusive. Sometimes I think America’s invasion of Iraq and its handling of the post-war period have set off a chain of events that can’t be stopped. It seems the insurgents have an endless supply of people who want to do harm. And it only takes one person to kill 60 some people, as happened recently in Irbil. Of course, it is innocent Iraqis who end up paying the biggest price.

I know there are some who will say I’m not seeing all the good that has happened since America ousted Saddam. Or I’m ignoring the freedom and democracy that Iraqis now enjoy. But I have had the good fortune of living among the people. I work with Iraqis five days a week and we hang out socially nearly every day. I’m in their restaurants, markets and tea shops. When I leave here, I will feel like I am leaving my home.

And I will continue working for the organization that currently employs me so I will still have a deep connection to Iraq and its people. I’m also hoping to be back to Iraq for a visit within the next year. My wish is when I return, I will visit a completely different country from the one I left . But my heartache for what is happening here prevents me from being optimistic. I’ve talked to my Iraqi friends about this before: When will it be Iraq’s turn? When will its people find happiness?

I hope the answer is soon, very soon.