I spent my final night in Baghdad under palm trees with my cousins, laughing hysterically and enjoying every moment over chai until the chatter faded and the time came close for me to leave. The remainder of the night, or morning, was exhausted listening to Summer of ‘69 while packing for my flight. Once again, the east and the west in me battled head to head. Shouldn’t I be listening to some old Iraqi folk if I am so in love with this place? Why am I listening to some house remix of Bryan Adams while mentally planning my next trip back?
I thought about the trip, and whether or not it was actually scary. Did I ever feel like my life was threatened? Not often. The soldiers never scared me—they were all dolls. We didn’t witness any bombs. We heard what may have been a gunshot once. There was a fake bomb scare one night. Oh--and at one point, there was a sniper aimed at my head...but not on purpose! We just happened to drive through some guy's target. None of these things scared me. What did scare me, when I was scared, had been the lack of value in human life. Don't get me wrong, it is not that Iraqis disregard human life--it is that life is lost so often and so tragically here that it is impossible for Iraqis to mourn the way we do in America. There are so many kidnappings that it is impossible to report them all on the news. There are many deaths that a whole newspaper would need to be dedicated to obituaries, rather than a humble section of a the Times. In America, human life is valuable. Comatose individuals are attached to machines, left without a voice or blink for months or years before they are allowed to pass. If a 13 year old gets caught in a gang crossfire, we generally hear about it in the news. If a child is kidnapped, I receive an Amber Alert text. If a dog is saved from an abusive football player in Nowheresville, the civilized world goes crazy. In Baghdad, if a camera is turned towards a group of people, and whoever is behind the camera is accused of being a journalist, one stray bullet will lead to nothing more than another lifeless human being. Another death. Another family that will mourn with the rest of the country—possibly for a second, third, fourth, or fifth time. So there I was. 5 am. iPod was on The Clash by now. Getting ready to leave what was the grim reality of life to 22 million people.
En route BGW, Baghdad’s International Airport. Like a binge eater after starvation, my eyes were glued to the road. I didn’t want to miss a thing. What if it took another 7 years before I could come back? What if, what if, what if? I put on my shades…young, lost, and fabulous—I guess some things will never change. Palm trees under the orange desert sky alongside old masonry buildings tangled in barbed wire never looked so beautiful. As Gibran so eloquently stated in The Prophet, the desert, with its endless monotony, put me to dreaming. Goodnight, Baghdad.