Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Imagine

Last week Maxine Nash and I visited a friend of the team at his home. Nuir (not his real name) invited us for dinner and to spend the night. A number of things related to that visit seemed quite “normal” for life here in Baghdad. But trying to put in the context of what is normal in North America really strained my imagination.

Visiting their home: Nuir picked us up after dark to minimize the possibility of our being seen going into his house. Maxine and I wore Iraqi head coverings again to minimize the likelihood that someone might see him bringing Westerners to his home, since that would make Nuir a potential target for insurgent retaliation. Imagine: You live in North America and you invite some friends who are visiting from Japan over to your home. You tell them not to arrive until after dark and to please wear the caps and jerseys of the local high school football team to help them blend in.

Getting around: On the way to and from their home we saw lines of cars, some stretching for several miles, waiting to get gas. There is a major fuel crisis in the country with the price of fuel going up dramatically in the past month. The price has increased as much as 500% on the regular market and 2-3000% on the black market. Imagine: You get up in the middle of the night or even spend the night parked in a line waiting for the gas station to open. If you don’t have the time to do that, you pay twenty times more than what you have been paying, knowing that it will affect the amount of food and other necessities you can purchase that week.

In their home: Nuir lives with his wife and two children, ages six and eleven. We spent most of the night with kerosene lamps for light because their neighborhood is getting only about two hours of electricity per day. He has a battery-powered converter that gives the family enough power to run a couple of lights and the television for an additional three to four hours. Imagine: You have to structure your home life around two hours of electric power a day. That will limit your ability to do things like use a computer, play music, listen to television or use any electric appliances you might have like a washer and dryer.

Children: Their son doesn’t live with them. He lives with a grandmother. One reason for this is security. The grandmother lives very close to his school so he stays with her to avoid walking home through areas that have had numerous instances of kidnapping and robbery. The family lives in a second story apartment and their daughter can’t play outside in their neighborhood due to the lack of security. She can only play outside at the grandmother’s because she has an enclosed backyard. Imagine: Your children are confined inside your home at all times. The only outside activity they have is when you visit a relative who has a walled enclosure around his or her backyard.

Business: Nuir has a small shop selling stationery items and business is suffering. Many of his customers come from outside the Baghdad area. They are not able to come to his shop because it is extremely dangerous to drive on the roads leading into the city. Bandits force cars off the road to rob the passengers. Religious extremists do the same looking for foreigners or people from religious sects other than their own to either assault or kill them. Imagine: The customers for your business can’t reach you for fear of being robbed or killed traveling on the main highways into your town.

You might imagine that this family’s circumstances are much worse that those of other friends, contacts and partners of CPT in Iraq. Actually their circumstances are better that most. Imagine.





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