THURSDAY, 17 JANUARY 2008
Baghdad had a heavy cloud hanging over it, never in my memory had it been this quiet, people walked around in a daze, an air of hopelessness prevailing.
I was travelling south to work, with my week’s worth of things in a shoulder bag, and a cool bag filled with home made frozen food.
As I entered the coach station garage (3alawee al 7illa), and moved in my usual direction I was carried along with crowds moving in a massive wave in response to a call for passengers travelling to Diwaniya.
I climbed into the blue and white-stripped bus, and jostled for a seat with the young soldiers and an elderly lady with a chicken under her arm.
The scenery had become familiar by now, several months into my placement just south of Hilla, where I was working at the small hospital (Mustashfa al-Qatha'a) with two other doctors. We shared the doctor's house with a further two girls posted to clinics nearby as well as the two dentist who had been there for two years.
Layla would often travel with me from Baghdad, other drove down, and one girl whose husband worked in Hilla had settled and rented a house nearby.
On Saturday morning we would all arrive to relieve the person who had held the fort for the weekend.
It was the evening of the 14th January, the two-bedroom house was overcrowded, with 3 families crammed in to the space, like everywhere in the surrounding rural areas the small local population had been swollen by hordes of Baghdadi families who had travelled down in search of that elusive sense of safety.
We had finished our evening meal, and taken turns to have a bath in the single bathroom, the original "wet room", with a single water faucet, and an outsized plastic tub that would be filled with water heated in the three largest saucepans on the gas stove in the nearby kitchen.
As we sat around the kerosene heater, drying our hair, one of the girls made a feeble joke about meeting our maker smelling sweetly!! The laughter was hollow.
What's the 4th of February someone said jokingly?
Everyone knew the reply to that one, Il arba3eenia mal til sha3ab il 3iraqi. (the forty day anniversary of the death of Iraqis)
But nothing happened.
48 hours later the human frailty called hope started to flicker again, they'll never really bomb us we reassured each other as we went to bed late that night
It was around 2:00 in the morning when we woke up with a jolt, the sky was alight, full of loud planes, and in the distance the horizon was a blaze of fire, in shock we rushed across the road to the hospital, and everyone kept repeating “they are bombing us, they are actually bombing us”.
We piled into the office clambering over the one and only telephone there that occasionally worked, the first call was to the family in 7illah, they knew little more than us, within the short while it took for my turn to arrive the phone line had died and my heart sank.
Back in the darkened front room of the house someone turned on the radio, in the mist of all the noise, the lights, the horror, for some bizarre reason the national radio station (Itha3at 6out al Jamaheer ) was playing songs by Fairuz.
Moving the dials in disbelief, the static eventually cleared, and George Bush's voice came through loud and clear-Today we have commenced operation desert storm-.
Three days later, the stories coming in thick and fast, Baghdad had been bombed beyond recognition, Dora was burning, the communication centre had been hit, I decided to try and return home.
I set out before dawn, hitching a ride with the off-duty ambulance driver who dropped me off at the nearby Al-7amza where buses were still making the trip to Baghdad.
As I sat by the window on that morning with the cold wind numbing my face my whole life seemed to pass before my eyes, what would I find when we arrived in Baghdad? Would our house still be standing? Was my brother alive?
On the outskirts of Baghdad a bomber plane flew over us, and the bus screeched to a halt, “That's it” shouted the driver, everyone out; I'm going no further.
After several worrying moments and a quick collection of some extra fees, he agreed to take us further into the centre on the proviso that any repetition of what had happened would automatically mean the end of our ride.
As we drove into the garage the sirens started to whine once more, everyone piled out of the bus and I looked around in disbelief, there was usually a swarm of people here, the buses and coaches filling within literally minutes of arrival, this morning the place was deserted, one of the platforms had collapsed.
I walked out into the main street and it was as though I'd never seen this city before, there were no cars on the road, the people what few of them there were, shuffled forwards slowly towards the bridge.
I crossed the bridge with one other person that morning.
The ministry of defence was a quiet empty shell of a building, it had been evacuated some time earlier but the building had still been targeted several times, across the bridge and below, I couldn't resist the temptation to visit the Medical City.
The main reception area was totally deserted, the last time I had been here it was teeming with patients, semi-patients and visitors. Today there was no one.
Halfway along the corridor I saw a nurse I recognised, “everyone is down below” she told me.
"There is no electricity" she said "most the patients were discharged, anyone left was transferred to the tunnels under the building"
I descended into the tunnels, which had functioned as commuter channels between the various parts of this great medical centre, that day they were dark dank and noisy, as my eyes became adjusted to the dark I saw the patients lying in disorderly lines along the walls, fluid bags nailed to the walls above them, blankets instead of beds below them, the tunnels had even been divided into surgical and medical sections.
Coming out into the sunshine again I resumed my walk home, as I shuffled slowly forward blinded by my tears, and walking through the streets covered in shattered glass, visions from (The day after) passed before my eyes.
POSTED BY 3EERAQIMEDIC AT 20:01 8 COMMENTS
A good, descriptive post. Thanks.
18 January 2008 07:01
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
Beauuuutiful post.. I, too, remebered the nightmare of 15/1/1991.. i suppose all of us did one way or another ..the memory so vivd.. i kept asking myself was it really 17 yrs ago??
Never shall i ever forget the dark gloomy nights filled with fear and the ugly sound of sirens and bomb shelling.. i used to have cramps and shake all over unable to overcome the fear..
uptil now i hate the sound of Monte Carlo musical commercials of (el -arabi oil) and duracell batteries).. i dont think i ever will ..
thank u for sharing this..
20 January 2008 08:48
It is carved into our minds.
Oof ya Yasmin, you remember "Il 3arabee lown il thahab-Il 3arabee ta3moo 3ajab" it is the defining jingle of that entire hideous time.
Everytime you write here or on your site I am reminded that I have a twin somewhere in this world.
20 January 2008 14:21
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
dear 3eeraiq Medic,
My feeling also..blv me..
al arabi lon el thahab i shall never ever forget as long as i live,it used to give me the feeling that somewhere outside the gloomy darkness that wrapped everything the world was going on with its ev day life.. a feeling of isolation and that no one outhere knows or even cares what we r going through.. it was Awful..
domtee Be kher..
21 January 2008 07:55
Oh dear....the way you ended this post made me feel little sad. It was a post written with a deep psychological insight. You described how many felt that day. Thenk you for speaking for us. We need such posts that mirrors what happened and what it left inside our memories. It is rare to find someone who can speak it in words the way you did. Reading that wonderful post made me felt that I was living the detail you said. I lived that day in my home with my familly. But in the future when I get older and my memory get more tired I may think that I lived some things we said here. I mean i will get what you said as a false memory when I get some type of dementia if I am up to live till am elderly.
22 January 2008 09:13
The way you ended your post made me took a pause. "as I shuffled slowly forward blinded by my tears". I read that line again. My room mate asked me what I am reading. I said little harsh: something. Tears did not came to my eyes. But I think I was resisting them. Thank you 3eeraqimedic. That post was a piece of art. Of some holy art that we really need.
22 January 2008 09:16
I searched about novels talking about that day. that war in general. I did not find many. I found only 2. One was for Muhamad Khudair calle AL SALSAL. The other was for Jasim El Raseef and it was better than the first called TARATEEL EL WAAD تراتيل الوأد. Your post was great. For me it was better than both novels. Thank you again and sorry for commenting too much but it was really great.
22 January 2008 09:20
As Yasmin said so long ago yet still very raw, I am sorry it upset you, but our collective recent history has unfortunately been a series of devastating events, as someone much more eloquent than I once said "it is painful, Iraqi stories are all painful"
I had meant to follow this post with three other related ones, but then had second thoughts.
I wish I had the time to read all the novels and books you recommend, but time is short and I am still wading through a massive book on the social history of Iraq in the past century, which will if I ever manage to complete it prompt another long post I am sure.
23 January 2008 00:20