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Now the Bombs Are Every Day

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May 18, 2013, Baghdad

Yesterday, Friday, I was helping one of the children in the family where I am staying with their English lesson. It was good for my poor Arabic as well. Several family members joined in the lively exchange, and the lesson elicited many laughs. Later I went off to visit families I haven’t seen for six months, both in different areas of Baghdad.

The night before I had been unable to sleep as the family watch dogs outside were barking incessantly. Suddenly at about 1:00 am I was jolted upright by a loud explosion out front! I jumped up to find that the mother of the family was also awake and alarmed. We went to the roof, but could see no flames or sign of the explosion. The generator providing electricity for the fans was so loud that the rest of the family slept on impervious to the loud blast. We found out the next day that a house nearby had been targeted, possibly to avenge a “wrong doing” from the past. It appeared the perpetrators had waited until the owner left, so fortunately the house was vacant.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was as to see the new day dawn! The restless night, the long hours of invoking God’s help and trying not to let fear overtake me, has given me some sense of what people in Iraq face every day.

Even before we left yesterday to visit the families, we heard of an explosion about 12 kilometers from our house, and a second in the same area later in the afternoon! The news this morning is equally grim: 160 Killed in Three Days of Iraqi Sectarian Violence. It seems evident that Sunni areas are being targeted. One bomb went off at a Sunni mosque in Baquba after Friday prayer. When people gathered frantically at the explosion site, another bomb went off claiming even more innocent lives.

“Yes, there is an increase in violence” said one of the fathers we visited, “but we don’t know who is behind it… it used to be bombs and then a week’s rest because of increased security at checkpoints. But now it is every day—a different strategy— and the checkpoints are useless.”

This family of six are being forced to vacate their simple two-room apartment as the owner says his daughter’s family has been targeted and they need to move in. They wonder if this is true. The apartment costs about $420 per month, which is very expensive for this family and given the humble type of dwelling. The father has been searching for another place to live, but even one-room apartments he told us are going for $500. a month. In Baghdad one must pay to live in a safe neighborhood.

The father has no steady work, but has found sporadic jobs at construction sites, lifting and carrying. A welder by trade, he bought a small welding machine, but with the lack of electricity, he found himself unable to make a living.

Another family father is being pressured at his workplace to join a militia. His salary would increase over a thousand fold. He now earns what I would call a “non-living” wage. Fearful to refuse them, he told them he would think about it in order to buy himself some time. But they are expecting an answer soon. They pled with me to help them get to the states. My stark description of the depressed economy and lack of jobs in the U.S. did not dissuade them. They want a future for their children, and anything looks better to them than what they are currently facing.

In spite of the sad news which dominated our conversations, we experienced great joy at seeing each other again. I am amazed at how life goes on despite such difficult circumstances. Amazed at how gentleness and warmth, goodwill and dignity, deference and hospitality prevail.

Cathy Breen can be reached at her new email address: newsfromcathy@gmail.com