Letters from Iraq- Dec. 15-16. Returning from Baghdad
Dec. 15-16, 2002 Returning from Baghdad
Our return trip to Amman is delayed by an hour because Dr. Swann has to go get his blood test for AIDs so he isn’t fined $200. at the border. Our faithful Baghdad “cab” driver, Mohammed drives him to the clinic and after some back and forth about why he is here and the fact that he is a doctor, he is charged only $25. instead of the usual $50. The reason he didn’t get the test before is that several people told him the copy of his recent test conducted in Canada would suffice but apparently he received information correcting that impression. As we head out of town, David asks Sattar if we can stop at a fruit stand and buy some bananas and oranges for our long trip. We see in the distance the new “mother of all mosques” that Saddam is building that will hold 45,000 worshippers- at a time when many families are barely scraping to get by. I wonder if they feel the same way some of the families in the Middle Ages must have felt when great sums were spent on Europe’s cathedrals.
The land between the Tigris and Euphrates is irrigated and we see people working in the fields or tending grazing sheep and goats. Soon after we get beyond the river valley created by the Euphrates, we see miles and miles of desert. Occasionally we spot a few Bedouin tents with a new wrinkle- pick-up trucks and other larger trucks instead of camels! We pass a few smaller cities where, Sattar explains to me, the government has given the people the land on which to build their house. Almost all new construction appears to be concrete construction. A few hours west of Baghdad, I spot a few Iraqi tanks in the desert. Sattar asks us not to take photos of them. We comply since we still have to cross the border and I’m wondering what might happen since I left the laptop computer I brought in Baghdad for those remaining there with the IPT. I told Cathy and Cliff to give it to a local family if it was not needed in the future.
When we arrive at the border, Sattar very efficiently gathers all our passports and visas and other documents and begins the processing while we wait outside the building. The large painting of Saddam is graced by a text in English and Arabic stating that we are welcome here and that he has instructed the workers to efficiently serve us. After about an hour or so, Sattar returns and the guard begins to inspect all our luggage. When he asks each of us how many US dollars we are carrying, I can see Sattar getting upset. I learn later that this guard is very out of line with this questioning since we have entered the country with the blessing of the foreign ministry and should not be asked to declare the money we are carrying. Although I only have $20 USD of my own money, Sattar suggests that Peter give me the money Kathy gave me to pay Sattar for the trip and for our meals and hotel and visas for Jordan. Since they have no record of how much money I brought into the country, it should be no problem, but it becomes one when the guard asks where the laptop computer is. When I reply that I left it in Baghdad, he said, “We have a problem”. I’m a little nervous- but not nearly as much as I’d be without Sattar by my side as we drive to meet with the guard’s supervisor. He tells Sattar he is hungry as we drive to the building in the back. The guard quickly stuffs two bananas into his mouth and consumes them before we arrive at the supervisors station. After a few minutes, the two supervisors tell me that I can go now, but I should be certain to fill in the proper forms for carrying money into the country next time I visit. Sattar has already explained who we are and the purpose of our trip so I have escaped any trouble. Sattar is asked for a “tip” by the original guard on the way back and when I ask Sattar how much is appropriate, the guard tell Sattar he wants $20. I pay the “tip” and we are allowed to proceed to the Jordanian border.
Sattar insists that he be allowed to buy us supper in Jordan when we stop just before sunset. He is such a generous and beautiful man. We pray that he might find a way to emigrate with his family to Canada although we realize it is a long-shot and an expensive undertaking. He drops us off at the Al Monzer Hotel after dark, driving us all the way into Amman, despite the regulations prohibiting Iraqis from driving in the capital city. It saves us both time and money at the end of a long day on the road. David is catching a plane in the very early morning and we say good-bye to Dean as well. We’ll say good-bye to Neville at 6:30 AM as we leave for the airport. Although our flight leaves at 10:40 AM, Kathy instructs us to get there at least 2 hours early to secure our seats.
The Royal Jordanian flight is quite full and the magic sheet Peter passes to his seat-mate starts a very friendly discussion with the Palestinian sitting next to him. He is from Ramalla and he excitedly tells the man sitting next to him about us. I am sitting next to an older Arabic woman who can’t read so he tells her about us as well. Peter and I discuss how we will answer the immigration form we are given prior to landing at Shannon airport in Ireland. The US has set up immigration there to attempt to prevent anyone from even landing on our soil who “should not be there”. Oh, the tentacles of empire that reveal our national arrogance! We decide to list Iraq since the question on the form asks what countries (plural) have you visited? Even though there is no visa stamp in our passports stating we have entered Iraq, our passports show we entered Jordan, left, and then re-entered, with a 2 week period unexplained. I’m glad to have my attorney traveling with me! Peter says making a false statement is a crime in and of itself and we should concentrate on why we were there rather than risk arrest for lying. We had previously talked about “pleading the 5th” on the form but felt that might raise more questions and delay our return to the states. As it turned out, neither the immigration official at Shannon or the customs official in Chicago asked any questions as we proceeded through.
We are back “home” with a large responsibility: we must share what we’ve experienced and increase our efforts to stop this war. We are grateful that we have many friends and loved ones who will share that burden with us.