SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE EAST–Today I’m on my first full day of vacation since I left for Iraq four months ago. Woohoo!! I was so wiped out when I left Baghdad yesterday that I slept on the flight out of there. I was exhausted. Not just regular exhausted either–I was tired in my soul. It will take a few days before I feel recharged–lucky for me I am not going back until next week.
I am staying in a luxury hotel.
When I arrived here yesterday, I experienced severe culture shock. I just put my bags down in the corner and stood staring at things for a while. There is a statue in my room. Keep in mind for two months I lived in a hallway and for the last two months I have been living in a tin trailer with dirt and dust everywhere, and only a wall locker to hold my things.
After a while I realized I was acting like a crazy person so I went over and sat in a chair and turned on the TV. I wanted desperately to leap into the king-sized bed and sleep all night (keeping in mind it was only 17:30), but it looked so clean and white–I didn’t want to mess it up.
I ordered room service (I hadn’t eaten all day, recalling my extreme nausea on my last flight). I unpacked a bit. Then I went into the bathroom. A shower and a bathtub! With bath salts! And a robe! And slippers!! I could go on for several more paragraphs but this is probably not as exciting for you all as it is for me.
Today I have reserved for me: that is–getting my hair and nails done, going to the gym, and getting a massage. If there is time before dinner I also plan to do some shopping although I actually doubt there will be time. As luck would have it, a reporter friend of mine is here as well so we made plans to go out to a restaurant (restaurant!!).
You may notice that my tone is quite different from the last time I wrote. There are many reasons for this, mostly, though, it is because I am so happy to be out of Baghdad. I really have a love-hate relationship with that place. On the one hand there is the utterly fascinating work–where on a good day I really feel as though I am doing right by the Iraqi people–there are the brilliant and inspirational people whom I am deeply honored to call my colleagues. On the other hand, there is death, the continuing loss of friends, and the ever-present fear that I will lose more. There is corruption (it is not so easy to weed it out when it has been the status quo for at least 35 years) which in many cases continues to be unacknowledged because there are “higher priorities.” In my work, because I deal so closely with ordinary Iraqis, I see firsthand the effects of some of the CPA policies and how our actions influence the lives of so many people. People desperate for jobs, for money, for a chance at the new life they have been hoping for since we liberated them on April 9.
It is a difficult time for the Iraqi people–they are in transition- no-one knows how it will all end up. They look to us to fix everything–but we are each of us only human beings.
I don’t mean to be pessimistic, by the way: although, perhaps, there are only a few signs of improvement right now, we are laying the groundwork for a more stable country. If the Iraqis choose (and in the end it is up to them what sort of country they wish for themselves), they can build on the foundation we are creating and turn their country into what we all know it can be. You can’t meet the Iraqis I meet and not feel hopeful for the future of Iraq.
So, I have decided to stay. At least for a while. People are counting on me- and I figured why have I spent these months here already only to turn around and leave now before my work is done? I realized I wouldn’t be able to justify those previous months to myself unless I followed through and stayed to finish what I am doing. The bottom line is: It’s not just about me. I don’t want to Iraqis to think I am giving up on them–to think that any of us is.
–Martha Malone is a pseudonym for a young American woman working in Baghdad.