Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Dreams and worries.

I came back from my last duty visit to the beautiful small town that lies on the bank of the Euphrates south of Samawa and I saw that the town was evolving. I came back with lots of observation; the town is changing but the people are practicing the change without feeling it; they still carry a lot of sorrow from the dark recent past.

One delightful event I witnessed at my arrival was receiving the keys of the new house that was especially renewed and furnished by the multinational forces to host the doctors who serve in this town.
At the gate I saw two flags with two hands reaching out of the flags and shaking as a symbol of the cooperation and friendship between the peoples of Netherlands and Iraq.

With the new housewe started to overcome the hardships we were facing; now we have new A/C devices and a new fridge that are essential in a place where temperatures exceed 50c most of the day time.

We also got rid of the big problem of contaminated water after the multinational forces established a water treatment plant At the beginning people were hesitant to use this water! (they got used to the taste of the polluted water) but shortly after that everyone started to drink the clean water and tankers are still carrying water to the remote villages that belong to the town. At the gate of the plant you can see the flag of Netherlands and it’s interesting to see the Iraqi flag together with the flags of the coalition countries hanging on the walls of the buildings built or renewed under supervision by the forces of these countries, something no one dares to do in Baghdad but the case is different in Samawa; the people consider these countries as friends and liberators and are not at all afraid of showing this. People have exchanged visits with the members of the forces and they even prepared reception parties to welcome the newly arriving troops, Al-Hurra TV reported the event while the rest of the media ignored it as well other numerous good stories. The Japanese are handling the rehabilitation of health centers and hospitals in Samawa and they started to bring in medical supplies, instruments, medical devices and related furniture.

Some officials are skeptical about the outcome of the work as long as corruption is a chronic disease in our institutions. I’m not talking here about individuals but about the corruption of the bureaucratic system that delays the work instead of facilitating it. Anyway, we’re just in the beginning.

The Japanese invited some doctors and administrative health officials to visit Japan and you can imagine the reaction and impressions those Iraqis showed when the returned from Japan; they were in a state of shock from the civilization out there and they came back with hope, dreams and frustration too; we’ve got a long way to walk and a lot of work to do before we can catch up with the civilized world.

Everyday I watch the progress in building a new internet café; the walls are getting higher day by day and I guess that the work will be done within next month. There are rumors in the town that the café is going to be supervised by the local clerics and one man told me that these clerics will allow Islamic website only and forbid accessing other sites “this is no Internet. Internet service means that you can access any website you want” he added laughing. I’m still not sure of this rumor but the locals are worried that it may come true.

The multinational forces invested the time of the summer vacation to rebuild some schools and build new ones while we in the hospital started to do the routine health checking for the students who have just finished elementary school and going to be in the 7th grade next season.

The children were happy carrying their application forms but the story is about some girls who refused to have pictures taken for them, I asked one of them “what would you like to do when you finish your studies?”. She replied with apparent sadness “I’m not going to finish high school, my parents won’t let me continue after 9th grade”. I asked again “Is that what you want?” she replied “I don’t know, it’s for my parents to decide....”.

On the other side some parents confirmed that they insist to have their daughters finish their studies “the future is different from the past as you know doctor” one of those parents said to me.

Something caught my attention while I was examining the students, some of the names do not belong to the south in any way; names that are not even Arabic and when I asked about it the students told me that they were Kurds. “What would the sons of the mountain do in the south?”I asked. Here an old man tried to make things clear for me he said that they were 500 families forced to leave their homes and brought to the south in the early 1980s “these kids were born here” he added with tears starting to form in his eyes “but it’s ok, we’re all Iraqis and here is our land too; this is what Saddam planned for us, twenty years is too much time and my son got married here. We have to accept it and I wish that Allah will avenge us”. Later I knew that most of those families returned to their lands in the north while 13 families decided to stay in Samawa.

I felt pain, deep inside, I’m supposed to work here for one single year but I’m counting days to go back to my beloved Baghdad. What would I do if I had to stay here for the rest of my life. I kicked these thoughts out of my mind; this is beyond my capabilities and it’s not going to happen again in our new Iraq.

I heard a lot of unconfirmed stories about crimes committed by Saddam’s regime in this town but I’m going to mention one of these because I met the victim himself. He’s an agricultural engineer and I met him one evening in the coffee shop. He was dedicated to his job as many of the locals said.

When the uprising started in 1991 he was taken with his family to one of Saddam’s jails “Saddam’s dogs left me handicapped” he said and showed me his arms that were full of ugly scars from torture “they used a hot iron to burn my arms” I shared his pain with him while he was telling me the details “I survived because I was not found guilty but my two brothers were not lucky as I was; I’m still looking for their bodies in the mass graves” and continued “Saddam had stolen every dream we had, look at the desert just beside the river! we couldn’t plant anything here, and even now we don’t have the money or the technology and Baghdad was and still taking the priority. I doubt they will look after us soon. The future is not for my generation, it’s for our children”.

I am trying my best to assure the people there that the best is coming and I point to the changes that happened in their town but the worries are great and the shadow of the past is so heavy.

Someone told me once “we don’t need reconstruction because we don’t have anything at all and we need to build everything from zero point. When you start your building on a weak base you have to expect it to fall soon and Saddam left us with weak basis in everything. We need help from the whole world to stand on our feet”.

No one I met talked about "ending occupation", "Jihad"...etc. These 55 thousand people who are mostly She'at and who live in this small town named Al Khider dream only about peace and prosperity and they believe in the goodness of the others especially those who are helping them

I left the small town with her worries and dreams and all the way I was thinking: After all what we've been through, we are finally free and trying to build our country, and there are people from all over the world who are doing all they can to help us. On the other side we have people from outside and inside Iraq who threat, kidnap and kill these good people and all in the name of Iraqis! Did they stop once to ask Iraqis what they want?! No of course not, as they were sent by Allah and they don't need to hear from humans! They pocess the absolute truth, yet they can't convince simple people of their own skin, religion and nationality!

-By Mohammed.

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