By Cathy Breen
What a handsome young man. He came three months ago from Baghdad. He said he had to. He left his wife, his mother and six little children behind. When I asked about his children, he became silent and I realized after some moments that he was crying. I too was silent, hesitating to continue. So young, I thought. All he has ever known is war.
Then Mustafa, I will call him, took up his phone and began to show me pictures of his children. I silently praised the wonders of technology. He began with his youngest, about 1 ½ years old, and progressed to the eldest, about 11 years of age. What beautiful faces, what bright eyes! Noticing his discomfort I avoided looking at the young father too directly as we spoke. But now I looked him full in the face studying his eyes. Where did the children get such beautiful eyes, I asked him. From their mother he said, and he showed me her picture. What a beautiful smile your wife has, I said, all the time aware of the pain of separation. This is war, I thought. How damnable.
A good friend, I will call him Ali, had told me about this young man the night before. They are friends. Mustafa had told Ali about the situation in the hospitals in Baghdad. How does he know so much about hospitals? Because he often takes people from the streets after explosions. Mustafa told him that at times there are so many wounded people after explosions that they are laying on the ground outside the hospital door as there is no more room inside. The doctors are forced to leave the seriously wounded to die. What must that do to a person’s psyche and spirit?
As a nurse who has followed the number of Iraqi dead in the news since the war, I have had to leave the thought of Baghdad hospitals behind me. It was simply too painful for me to imagine. Some figures have it that 80% of the country’s doctors had to flee because of kidnappings and assassinations. Mustafa told me tonight that the doctors in hospitals are just out of medical school. I have often wondered how they manage to remain sane tending to shredded, shattered, mutilated bodies day after day. I remember an Iraqi friend telling me a few years back how he had seen a mother, beside herself with grief, shrieking and running with the legs of her little boy in her arms to the hospital. She had only his legs.
Ali is waiting for resettlement to the U.S. He has been waiting for over two years now. He is a trusted friend, guide and translator for us. We have tried to help him find out what is causing the delay. He had a second interview this past August with someone from the Department of Homeland Security. This has sometimes proved to be a good sign. The woman seemed kind and assured him his clearance was through. He would be traveling soon. She had only a couple of questions, some papers for him to sign. Why don’t you go back to Iraq? she asked him. The situation is good now, she said. Didn’t you hear the news yesterday, Ali asked her. In Baghdad alone there were five bombings?
I opened my calendar to the day before Ali’s interview. I have one of those at-a-glance monthly calendars. Sure enough, there I had written. 89 dead, 315 wounded. President Obama said on October 7th of this year that the United States was “responsibly ending” the war in Iraq. It seems he hasn’t heard the news either.