Aligned With Maghareb
(Editor's note: The following is the fifth in a series of reports from a four-person team of Voices in the Wilderness, an organization which actively seeks an end to the sanctions against Iraq. The team has been living with families in Basra's Jumuhriya neighborhood since July 12 and will remain until September, insha' Allah. You can visit their website at http://www.nonviolence.org/vitw/)
(Basra, Iraq) - Fax in hand and eager to telephone Chicago, we appear, each day, at Basra's telephone/post office. There, workers greet us with knowing looks and a gesture that says, "Lines cut."
"Shukran, Bill Clinton," we respond with remorse. "Shukran, George Bush." Then Mohamed, Entissar, and Fatima smile at us. The ritual is good-natured, but the reality persists. With microwave stations debilitated, often because of direct bombing, and a lack of needed equipment and faulty underground cables, Basra's phone service frequently "goes down" for days. Workers are idled, isolation sets in, and frustrations rise.
I feel relieved, returning to "Bet Nadra," having no choice but to forget about sending our "urgent' fax. Once we settle down on the small stoop outside, beaming, affectionate children will eagerly help us study as we stammer in "baby Arabic." We learn to match names with faces, study the personality of each new, young friend, and thrive on their clever charm. Little girls, hands extended, beg us, "Please, visit my home - now?" An afternoon visit almost always begins with an invitation to "swim." This means ducking into the family's w.c. (water closet, i.e. bathroom) to pour several bowls of water over our heads. I do this about four times a day, but 15 minutes later I am still soaking wet. Seated on floor mats with families, we share stories and laughs, knowing the exchange might replace a good meal. At night, before falling asleep on the roof, we search the sky for visible stars and wait for warm breezes to nudge the stifling air.
A rooster awakens me at dawn. In the tranquil early morning hours, studying Arabic and sipping coffee, I feel embarrassingly safe, given that I'm from the country waging war against these innocents. A few blocks away, on "Missile Street," a young girl, Maghareb, awakens and examines the scars, seven in all, large and dark, that cover parts of her thighs, shoulders, and chest. The wounds were inflicted by a US missile on January 25, 1999.
Friends in the US will soon begin a series of actions in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, trying to awaken people to the criminal warfare waged to "protect" us against Iraq. Aloof and perhaps contemptuous toward the protestors, presidential campaign workers and candidates will endorse policies that abuse Iraqi children and sacrifice them - daily. Eyeing contribution coffers, they won't dare question sanctions against Iraq lest they jeopardize support from defense companies, oil companies, and powerful, influential decision makers.
We shouldn't feel ashamed that, relative to the campaigns, our efforts are poorly financed, nor should we be disheartened by sneers. A little girl, Maghareb, lives in the land of "Lines cut." Her very body speaks volumes about warfare. Yet our efforts are fueled precisely by her affectionate smile and warm embrace. We are aligned with Maghareb.