Alright, the guy next to me here at the "cyber cafe" (the name is deceiving, there is nothing 'cafe' about this place) is alternately giggling to himself, burping, and smacking his lips. It's driving me BATTY. Fortunately I typed this entry up ahead of time, the other night, so I am just going to cut and paste and get the hell out of dodge.
I volunteered at the hospital the other night. There were virtually no Americans, a good thing, but there were plenty of Iraqis in the ICW. I am not sure if they were all part of the same IED blast or if they were injured in various different tragedies. I read a couple days ago about a mortar that was aimed at our heads but instead fell short, falling into a field of Iraqi children playing soccer. I am not sure if the kids were the same, but there were three little Iraqi boys, must have been about 7, in the ICW. So tiny, so adorable…it’s almost more painful to look at them when they are conscious than when the kids here are unconscious. Those giant jaded brown eyes shuttered with long lashes. These kids did not seem vacant or haunted, like some people think all wartime children ought to be. But I didn’t really interact with them, I just watched from a distance, as I dutifully stocked supply cupboards next to patient bedsides.
I interacted with the most Iraqis I have ever interacted with tonight. Stocking the medical supplies took forever, the drawers were just chaos and none of them had the right amounts of the right things. I spent almost four hours reorganizing about 40 beds’ medical supply drawers. Tourniquets, iodine swabs, burn pads, guaze, bedpans, IV start kits. One Iraqi guy looked to be about my age, maybe a few years younger, he wasn’t hurt too badly. He was really friendly, through a great deal of hand signals and quizzical looks I managed to figure out his name, that he was probably an Iraqi policeman, and that he was injured by an IED that hit him in the leg twice. He liked to play guessing games and flirt with the nurses. Getting blasted by an IED didn’t seem to dampen his spirits much. I saw him drop a water bottle on his own thigh accidentally and he winced and slapped himself on the forehead before grinning over at me.
Another Iraqi guy had a skin graft on his lip, and about half of his mouth sewn shut. You could see burn marks from fragments of whatever hit him all over his head and face. I was trying to be quiet stocking his bedside table but he woke up and started motioning that he wanted something…I have learned that if they want something, the nurses and med techs often do not have a much better idea of what they want than I as a volunteer can figure out, so I usually try to figure out what the situation is before I go drag someone into it. So this guy is motioning about his blanket, like he wants it covering him more. So I try to cover him more with his wool blanket that’s all bunched up on his side. No, hot!!! Too hot!! He gestures. Ok, I pull it down. Sheet, up! Ok, I pull the sheet up. Over head! Ok, pull sheet up over head! No, bad! Feet are uncovered! Really swollen, bruised feet covered in stitches peeking out under the sheet. “Beeeeg”. He says. Aha, got it! You want your sheet to be big enough to cover your face because it’s too bright and you want to sleep, but long enough to cover your toes because they get cold. You want a bigger sheet. Ok, problem solved. I get a thumbs up, a smile (as much as he can muster through his stitches and skin graft), and a firm handshake for my eventually successful attempt at decoding his desire.
There were some detainees there, more than usual. They are shackled to the beds and they are not allowed to see, a curtain gets pulled around them and they have bandages wrapped around their heads to cover their eyes. That’s all I’m going to write about that. Except that a few of them looked really young. I couldn’t help but wonder if these guys were actually insurgents or if someone just wanted to make some extra dough from the Americans so they handed these guys over. There’s no way for me to tell, of course. That’s above my pay grade. Young Army guys guard them in shifts, looking bored out of their skulls. I have to say though, the resilience and resolve of the Iraqi civilians in the ICW is unreal, I can guarantee that if some American civilians had injuries similar to these Iraqi civilians, there would be a great deal of moaning and groaning and general scene-making; for the most part these people seem to have accepted their fate with a tenacious quiet fierceness. The guy making the most noise was a detainee, wailing strangely in English but not saying much more than “oh my God”, and he wasn’t even that bad off compared to the other guys in there. I asked one of the nurses what was wrong with him and she said he was “generally unhappy with his situation at this point in time”.
I went to go get a cup of coffee and ran into one of my favorites from home. He looked tired. He told me he was working out on the helipad and brought in a two year old, who he then watched die. He was there when they broke the news to the child’s father. I suspect that experience will haunt him for years to come...but then we talked about how important we thought it was for people to volunteer at the hospital, to get out of our little routine of 12 hours of work and then go work out and then go to bed. We talked about how important it is to remember that you can guarantee someone here legitimately has it worse than you at all times, and how important it was to get ourselves out of our little “H-6 Bubble”, our Air Force compound bubble You think you have a bad day, no you did NOT have a bad day, go take a walk through the ICU or the ICW in Iraq and then try to tell me you had a bad day.
I think therein lies a great deal of the world’s problems, that the people making a lot of the big decisions in the world do not take strolls through the ICU and the ICW here in Iraq on a regular basis. I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortensen talks about being in the Pentagon to brief some military intel about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan after September 11, and all he could remember about the Pentagon was that everyone ran around with laptops, surrounded by concrete, and that Rumsfeld had really shiny shoes. He calls the war on terror a “laptop war”. And these are the individuals making huge decisions affecting millions of impoverished, uneducated Pakistanis and Afghanis and Iraqis, dropping thousands of bombs and not following through with the aid we promised to repair what we destroyed with pushes of red buttons from 8,000 miles away. The quickest way for Americans to make enemies out of Muslims, Mortenson points out, is to make promises and then break them. Lord only knows how many promises have been broken here.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
--W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”