Thursday, April 19, 2007

Safety & Soccer

5 Mar 07
Woke up to the alarm this a.m. Huge explosion sounded close…shook my trailer. Radio said several Iraqi police cars at the terminal received shrapnel damage/broken windows and the fence at their compound was knocked down. Master Sergeant Gary leaves today…I think this is their send off for him.

Adnan and I discussed living conditions under the Saddam regime. Like many here in Iraq, they yearn for the safety during the Saddam regime. So long as you didn’t oppose the regime, life was good…there was no crime, the streets were safe, there were no drugs, ultra-radical Islamists, etc. All of those things have changed. Kidnappings happen routinely and don’t always cross over to other sects of Islam (Sunni or Shiia) as I would assume but is aimed at obtaining a ransom. We both agreed that some countries are destined to live under dictatorial rule and that Iraq is one of those. Not certain what the future holds for the country but I agree with Colin Powell who said “if you break it, you have to fix it.”

I played soccer with the Iraqi Air Force tonight. I was terrible and they knew it right away…my left leg is barely suitable for doing anything more than walking/running on. The Iraqis are very gracious and they continuously put me in key plays so I could score a goal. Over and over again they fed the ball to me but I’m so bad it took 30 min for me to score. Worse yet, I scored a goal for the other team not long after my first goal. Finally, Uday came across the field and said, “we are finish now.” I replied, “well, I think I was finished about 10 minutes ago.” Dhiaa heard that and very politely said, “I think maybe you finish more than 10 minutes.” You have to know yourself and your strong suits.

Britain introduced soccer here during their occupation after World War I so the Iraqis use a number of English terms during play like “cross it,” “goal,” “header,” “out” and “foul.”

Went indij again for dinner. The alarm sounded in the middle of dinner. The Iraqis all sat still as if no big deal. Ali said “it is just a mortar.” They are very fatalistic by nature but I think numbed even more by years of war with us and now the insurgency. I sat calmly with them but DC jumped up, tossed on his body armor and helmet and started telling me to do the same. Everyone stopped to look at him while he kept insisting I put my stuff on. I walked over and put my gear on but immediately felt terrible—these guys have no body armor. There were 6 at our table. When DC and I went back there was only the two of us. After a few minutes a new guy came back and asked “you are frightened?” Slowly the others returned to the table.

Several guys were asking about my family so I went back to my trailer to get the photo album Susan and the kids packed for me. There were pictures of us at home, on vacation at the beach, Christmas, or on vacation at Disney World. About half way through, the new Lieutenant joked that my neighborhood looked like a neighborhood in Iraq. All of them laughed and Dhiaa said there are no neighborhoods that safe anymore in Iraq. Then unexpectedly, one of them asked, “why would you leave this beautiful and safe place to come to Iraq?” I stumbled for words then belatedly mustered, “because I want to see Iraq safe again.”

I love the entire photo album but in that moment the pictures seemed to go on forever as it sank in on the Iraqis that the U.S .is the richest and safest place in the world and that we have no understanding of the safety challenges they face simply to go to work each day or grocery shopping for food and essentials.

Earlier in the day one of our team members joked that he wanted to go to a café on the Shaat Al Arab River for lunch. An Iraqi officer scoffed at him and said, “this is our dream…not yours!” Adnan explained that there used to be many cafés along the river but since 2003 it is much too dangerous to go to a restaurant.

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