My work in Iraq is finally done. Despite the hardship on my family, I was glad I got to visit the country. Things are not nearly as bad as they are portrayed. For the most part, I felt safe and secure. Obviously, there is much work left to be done to rebuild the country, but I have faith that the Iraqis will make their country strong again.
My only regret is that I was unable to really venture into the country to visit the religious sites. At various times, I was a few kilometers from Ur, considered by many to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham, and the ancient city of Babylon. I was awed by the fact that many of the people mentioned in the Bible walked the very land that I was walking on. I’m looking forward to the day when I can safely tour these sites.
As I was preparing to leave, I decided to get a haircut. The barbershop was staffed by six Bangladeshi men. Before going in, I asked some guys about the quality of the haircuts. They said that they barbers did a good job considering they only charged $3.00. If I really wanted to get a tight cut, they informed me that I should go to the guy who walked with a swagger. When I walked into the shop, I immediately knew who they were talking about. This guy was cool and confident. He gave me one of the best haircuts that I had had in a while. It was definitely worth the price considering that cuts in the US average around fifteen bucks.
In addition to the Bangladeshi barbers, several local Iraqi and Turkish vendors have been allowed to set up shop on the base where I was staying. I visited a few of the shops and was sorely disappointed. I expected to see handcrafted items that reflected the local culture. What I saw was cheap gifts designed to appeal to American souvenir seekers. They sold bootlegged DVDs, counterfeit designer clothing, gaudy jewelry and trinkets made in China. Some of the more resourceful vendors sold Cuban cigars. I did manage to find one interesting thing during my shopping excursion. It was a small book of Arabic poetry that featured some famed Iraqi poets. I was most intrigued by the poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab and his poem “Rain Song.”
On the day of my departure, I stepped outside my CHU (containerized housing unit) and realized that I could not see the sun. That was a bad sign. A sandstorm, which could prevent us from flying out, was brewing. I immediately started praying that the storm would pass. I was really eager to go home.
After a few delays to monitor the weather, we were finally cleared to leave. I was glad to see an armored SUV waiting to take us to the airport. The bus episode was a bit too harrowing for me. At the airport, we discovered that our plane would be delayed by several hours because another sandstorm was passing through. Planes could only fly out when the visibility was 800 meters so we had to be prepared to board the plane at the first break in weather.
As I waited in the airport, I noticed a stern looking Iraqi man, chasing and scolding litterers. A piece of trash would hardly touch the floor before he was all over the offender. It was obvious that the Iraqis were working hard to rebuild their tattered country. I interacted with a few Iraqi men in the airport and they had mixed feelings about the war. They were glad to be experiencing freedom like never before, but they were tired of the violence and ready for some normalcy.
Our plane was finally cleared for take-off and we quickly boarded. A feeling of joy overwhelmed me as the plane lifted off and turned towards Dubai. I was finally headed home.