Saturday, May 15, 2004

Not in my city.

My last trip to Samawa was short but full of events. It’s not easy for someone who used to live in Baghdad to accommodate to life in a village far away in the south. Baghdad is the most civilized place in Iraq and there’s no way one can compare it with the rest of the governorates not to mention the ignored villages in the south.
I set off with a number of passengers heading for Samwa. The road was quiet despite the troubles in Kerbala and Najaf, which are both on the road. We had to use the old road as the new one (the high way) is closed because of the current fights in those two cities.
My arrival day was the day when a rally of support and gratitude to the coalition passed the streets of Samawa. The scene was very delightful for me, I, who believe in the necessity of establishing a strategic partnership with the free world represented by the coalition, because this the only way for Iraq to rise again, prosper and join the modern, free world. Such partnership, the way I see it, is vital for the free world in its war with terrorism, the corner stone of which is to establish peace and stability in the ME. Yes, we should put our hands in each other’s because we have a common destiny. It was a very encouraging thing to see that the simple people there understood the case and this is probably the first time where people go out to the streets to thank and support our allies in the coalition, but strangely it came from ordinary, simple people not from those who claim to be civilized intellectuals.
On the road to the residents’ house we passed near the coalition base in Samawa; the striking and ugly feature of this base, like any other one is, the concrete wall that surrounds it. These walls initiate a sensation of fear in the hearts and a feeling that there’s a huge block between the people and the coalition. I understand the security necessity of these walls but they still form an unpleasant sight for everyone, except this particular one. The coalition forces here invited all the kids-and their parents-in the neighborhood for a special festival, the kids were given paints and brushes and a definite area of the wall was assigned for each kid to paint on whatever he likes and to sign his painting with his/her name. I leave it for you to imagine how this hateful wall looked like after this festival. It became a fascinating huge painting that gives a feeling of brotherhood and friendship. These paintings eliminated all the psychological walls between the folks and the coalition here.
At the end of the festival, gifts were given to each kid; toys, clothes, candies…
You can’t imagine how happy the kids were when they stood proudly pointing at their paintings; flowers, birds, hands shaking and the flags of Iraq and the coalition countries, and then pointing to their names; Zahra, Mohammed, Sajjad, Fatima… together with phrases like; yes for peace, Saddam has fallen and many others. No one can watch this without having tears filling his eyes and I feel sorry that I couldn’t take pictures for this carnival, as I wasn’t there when it happened, but the people there told me the whole story.
I reached my destination, which is a small town about 35 km away from the center of the governorate. It’s a very simple town that suffered from Saddam’s neglect like many other southern cities but what pleases me in every trip is the appearance of a new foundation in the town. Last time I was surprised to see a new water treatment plant (or the so called RO in the south) near the river distributing clean water for the whole town for free, with four brand-new automobile tanks to deliver water to the remote villages twice a day. Everyone is grateful there as our major health problems are caused by polluted water. Now, this new processing plant will help rid the city of many health problems.
In my very last trip, the special new thing was a campaign to renew the doctors’ residency that we-12 doctors-live in and a decent temporary place is provided for us until the old miserable residency is fully rehabilitated.
The other new foundation that is being constructed now is an Internet Center. Who would dream to see Internet service available in a southern village? This is more than a dream coming true, it makes me feel proud and it makes people believe more and more that the change is in their interest.
I always talk to the people there and the accelerated rate their consciousness and understanding are growing at, often surprises me. In one of the meetings I asked them about their opinion about the government and the president they would like to have in the future, here, a man said “ I’d prefer a Christian president” as a matter of fact I was shocked as I wasn’t expecting to hear such a perspective in an almost exclusively Shei’at village. Here the others agreed and clarified their friends point “we mean that we don’t want an Islamic or Shei’at government” “see, the SCIRI party established a library and a school to give religion classes that no one attends despite it cost the party thousands of dollars and occupied one of the towns’ buildings. Take a look at the water treatment plant that the coalition established, people gather around it every morning”. “We want those who know what we need, not those who tell us to do what they want” another man added”.
I totally agreed with their perspective because at the end, the one who provides more services for the people is the one who wins their trust.
The saddest incident for the citizens during my last visit was the death of a coalition soldier from Netherlands in a grenade attack. The small town was shocked and I could hear everyone say, “who did this crime is a stranger and he’s not of us for sure”.
Many of the town’s known figures, officials and tribal leaders headed to the coalition base to declare their support to the coalition and to condemn the crime, one of those men said-with apparent affection-during the funeral ceremonies “our loss is big and we feel ashamed; you’re our guests but we couldn’t protect your men’s live; we’re terribly sorry”.
The pictures I see are so many and they bring hope, I remember the last day I spent there before I returned to Baghdad, and I was watching Al-Samawa local TV (now they have their own local station) and it was broadcasting one of the sessions of the district’s council when a woman stood up wearing the traditional costume and behind her was a group of women, she started to yell in the face of the chairman of the council saying “Listen to me! You can’t ignore our voice anymore. These women elected me and put their trust in me and I demand authorities like those of men. My voice will not stay low from now on and I have to give those who elected me what they need”. I don’t think you can realize the meaning of this picture. It simply means that we have moved tens of years forward in a matter of months and we have broken the chains of a long dark past. The cry of this woman was enough to awaken me to the great progress that happened.
I know that the story is long and you probably feel bored but I feel committed to uncover these pictures and the last one was on our way back to Baghdad where we were delayed for a few hours after the coalition forces blocked the road, we didn’t know why but one of the passengers started to complain saying “those Americans always put obstacles in our way and make our lives difficult” the driver couldn’t hold himself from answering this comment in a sharp tone as he said “NO, it’s not the Americans. It’s because of those bastards who plant bombs on the roads. You must thank the Americans for delaying you for a couple of hours to save your live”.
The point behind all these pictures and stories I mentioned is that the people started to speak out and express their feelings and here we’re in great need for support from the free world to back the progress. Moving back is absolutely unacceptable; we’ve put our feet on the right way and we need help from the others. Never let the bad pictures lay their heavy shadow on the good, bright ones. The negative media want our eyes to pause on the bad events to win time in this worldwide battle and to make us forget the good pictures that encourage us to keep the momentum. This includes most of the major western media.
They are ‘unconsciously’ supporting the terrorists and the totalitarian regimes in the region to stop this great progress. The media have managed to create some distrust and hate between some Iraqis and some of the coalition and the west in general. Well, not in my city, it seems to be immune to their poison.
The road is long and hard but together, we can do it.

By Mohammed.

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