Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering things past,...and future

Way back in 2004, in the Agadeer Hotel, Baghdad, I met a number of folks I want to recognize here.

Mike Ferner, currently Veterans for Peace president, former corpsman (that's a medic for the US Navy) drafted into the Vietnam War. Mike helped me understand the lay of the land in and around Baghdad and Balad, the huge US military base where my son was deployed. He also helped me contact the Public Affairs Officer at Balad. I emailed her, told her I was coming to visit my son, and never heard back from her although the lads in uniform at the gate to the base seemed to expect me. (My hijab threw them off and one did threaten me with an M4 or M16 until I removed the hijab and showed my US passport.) Mike's book is "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq."

Dahr Jamail was there in January 2004 too. He and I just did an event sharing our work and our books at the University of Idaho. His latest book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan , shares the stories of US troops refusing to fight.
Listen to our combined event on Raising Sand Radio or visit the Raising Sand Radio web site for all archived shows.

David Martinez was making a film in Baghdad. He and Robert Eischelman tried to help me get online so I could continue to find my son and await his email. (That didn't really work - for some of the reasons Christian Parenti outlines in his book below, particularly the sections about the informal power structure in the Agadeer Hotel.) Anyway, after a big anti-war rally in San Francisco Civic Center, someone called to me on Market Street. Turned out to be David. We've run into one another here and there - usually after long passages of time. He just turned up again through another friend. These days David is busy with all kinds of things you can find out about at his blog, Cafe DMZ. Check it out.. 

Christian Parenti describes the scene in the Agadeer Hotel in his book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. The Agadeer Hotel, I hear, is shut down and has been since about 2004 or so.

I would like to know what happened to Staff Sgt. Juan. I met him, first, at a lovely coffee shop near the fully fortified Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. He came into the cafe in full BDU with an M16 or M4, took off his helmet and ordered coffee. I was there for the online internet cafe - again, looking for my son. I struck up a conversation with Juan and learned his wife was deployed to the Baghdad Airport. Their kids - 2 and 4 at the time - were living with Juan's folks in the SF Mission District. The next time I saw SSgt Juan was on the main drag in Baghdad after an IED had been discovered at Firdos Square. I'd gone into an internet cafe - a different one - and came out half an hour later to a cordoned off street and US military everywhere with tanks at the ready. I describe this scene in my book including SSgt Juan's description of an 18-year-old member of his unit who shot and killed a civilian. The young man was not able to function after that, wouldn't touch his weapon, wouldn't go out of patrols. He was sent back to the US with PTSD.

So this posting acknowledges a few of the brave and creative folks I've met over the last few years working for peace and  toward understanding who and what we are as human beings.

Let me finish with a letter from M'kesha, a National Guardswoman of Jordanian Arab descent, who has had a very hard time with the US NG. From her deployment to Iraq she wrote:
"...I may not be able to change the situations I face or the world here but I hold true to things that make me who I am. I will change. I'll return home a different person but I"ll not let go of my joy in life. I will not let go of my ability to find beauty in squalor. I can't explain the faith that surges through me but I know that I will return whole. I will not let this tear me apart."
M'kesha has a child today. He's about 5 and suffers from dyspraxia - an inability to use language - believed to be a result of the toxics M'kesha was exposed to in Iraq.

When people ask me how I keep doing the work for peace and understanding I share M'kesha's letter. She found that life is not one thing OR the other - beauty or squalor, for example, that it is BOTH beauty AND squalor, BOTH good AND bad, BOTH evil AND heavenly, BOTH warlike AND peaceful. It is our work as humans to become more human and more humane in understanding and practicing BOTH this AND that, simultaneously.

Do try this at home!

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