Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Iraqi Girl Falls in Love with Perez, Playing Soccer in the Streets with Iraqis, Getting Used to Bombs

3 Sept, 2003

Another day, the same thing over and over again, and all I live to hear is your voice. I love you. I’ll finish my notes from earlier. After going to the U.N. compound, I returned to work. Later that day, actually at night, I went with the colonel on a foot patrol in the Christian sector. I carried a pocket full of Dumb Dumb lollypops and sweated profusely as we walked down the modest streets of the Baghdad neighborhood. We had just started our patrol, when people came out of their houses to greet us, entire families. They kept their distance, but waved and smiled. All of a sudden, a heavy caliber machine gun fired about 200 meters away on the highway, and we got up against the walls along the street. I got on my knee and looked towards the area where the fire was coming from. Then, another burst erupted, so we moved towards the end of the street to see if we could identify where it was coming from. We sat up and looked over the area, but the gunman was gone. When the first shots went off, it was very close and loud, something we didn’t expect to encounter in the neighborhood. Well, then we continued our foot patrol. One man offered me a cigarette, kids said, “I love you!” and whole families would stand on their driveways to say “good evening” in good English. The neighborhoods were very nice, even by American standards. I thought it was interesting to see garden statues of the Virgin Mary in the Middle East! It seemed like a good neighborhood. Then, we got in the trucks and drove to a corner on the main shopping strip (always alive at night). There was a recreation park there and on the other side of the wall was a small, rickety Ferris wheel, on it two Muslim women, young – probably 20 something. So the guys shined floodlights at them to see them better, “Look up, over here!”
“You know, if we were back home, we wouldn’t even notice those girls, but here we shine lights on them!” one of the guys said. I just laughed at the guys, and rested my chin on the back of the Hummer and thought of you.
“Hey Thompson, you have any more candy?” It was Sergeant Marshall. I reached into my pocket and gave him some for the kids. I had a technique where I could keep my finger on the trigger and give candy out at the same time.
We then moved on to another neighborhood. All of a sudden the truck stopped and Colonel Jagger said, “Get out!” I jumped out along with everyone else. We drove right into a street soccer game at midnight. So, in our full battle gear, we played soccer in this Baghdad street, us 8 guys or so at midnight. It was funny, and the boys really enjoyed it, thrilled to say the least. That was cool though.
Our last patrol was uneventful, but we got to meet lots of children and their parents. They’re all so happy to see us. Our driver, Perez, constantly gets told he looks Iraqi by Iraqi people, but he’s Mexican. Anyways, one group of girls comes down with their parents and get all dressed up and excited when our patrol comes – because they have a crush on Perez. That night, they passed a picture of Britney Spears to him and there was a love note on the other side in perfect English. Something like, “If my love was a dollar, you would be a millionaire,” or something.
‘Does everything go back to the dollar here?’ I said to Perez.
“I dunno, but she was cute!” he said. I just smiled to myself, I thought it was neat. “I wonder if any Americans will marry Iraqis after all of this is done?” That is a question we all wondered. And that was the end of that night, Perez adoring his Britney Spears, reading his love letter. I went to bed and read your letter.
Another development happened in reference to the U.N. bombing. One of our medics was with the U.N. Chief Envoy De Mello as he died. He left some last words and a message for his wife and children with our medic. Our commander, LTC Jagger, handled the matter, and I eavesdropped over the whole development, because it was so surreal. De Mello told our medic,
“Tell my wife she is so beautiful to me…” and a message for his children (about university) but I don’t know the exact message. A lot of info was passed to the medic. When I heard the initial report to division, I almost cried – when I heard his last dying words about his wife. He kept going in and out of consciousness. LTC Jagger, then got me to get the name of the medic and an escort for him – division wanted to fly him back to the U.S. right away, and possibly Brazil, to convey the message De Mello wanted to give to his children and wife. No one thought it was a big deal, but I was moved very much. De Mello had done so much work in Bosnia, East Timor, and now Iraq. I wish I had met him during a lunch at the U.N., I regret not even thinking of trying to meet him. Now it was too late, but I won’t miss an opportunity like that again. Such a shame he was killed, unreal. As I write this, there have been two more bombings, another one in our sector at a police station. I was asleep during that blast, but I woke up and heard on the BBC about a police station bombing in east Baghdad, and I knew it was one of ours. Well, it was. Conroy was 300 meters away from the blast when it happened.
“I was drinking Mountain Dew next to my Hummer, when the explosion went off and shockwave went off. I calmly set my drink down (we laughed at his coolness under fire) and then went to take pictures of the burning car.” He said he got a little nervous when they realized other cars parked in the area could be bombs too. So they stayed away. There’s been a lot going on in our area. Often I’ll work on a case, only to get off work, go to my room, turn on the BBC, and hear about something I just worked on. It’s wild. Some of it is international news, but it doesn’t seem so big in reality. A car explodes – OK. But no! It’s an escalation of violence and loss of American control. It seems the media and government can take a small incident (albeit violent, yes) and make it an international incident. Here, for us, it’s just another day, and you think, “I wonder where the bomber is now? Did he ever drive down this same road? Who is he? Does he live here, is he nearby? Do he and others stay in a house I walked past on patrol?” And then you hear George W. Bush talking about global war on terror – but on the ground, in the reality of it, it seems like a freak accident, you can’t believe the world is concerned about it. It’s strange. Maybe we’re just getting desensitized to it being here. Accidents I work with or even hear (BOOM! I hope that wasn’t one of ours
[1]) are international news. I think it’s important not to exaggerate threats or impact of attacks, because it may cause an overkill response or spark another crisis. Problems look so dramatic and simply huge through the prism of media. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. I just say, ‘OK, another bombing, what else should we expect?’ Not, ‘WAR ON TERROR!’ The vocabulary of this war is unrealistic. The violence needs to stop, but there are all kinds of reasons why it will continue, and we aren’t combating all of those reasons.

Controlled blasts became a part of our life on base. They were planned explosions conducted by the bomb disposal teams under controlled conditions. They were often set off to destroy captured explosives or ammunition. Whenever a blast went off, the windows and walls would shake. Several seconds later, people would come into the TOC half-dressed and blurry eyed with the question, “Was that a controlled blast?” It became a routine question, and almost equally, a routine joke.

[1] Frequent explosions often left us crossing our fingers that one of ours wasn’t hit. You couldn’t help but think that when your window rattled.


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