Letters from Iraq- Dec. 2. on the road to Baghdad

12/2/02 on the road to Baghdad

There are six of us in what could be a seven or eight person van. Except for those in the back seat, we are relatively comfortable until we realize Dean is in a considerable amount of pain in his lower back. David introduces him to Ibuprofen and that helps somewhat. When we stop for a brief bathroom break, he gets into the front seat and is able to recline it enough to take off most of the pressure. Not being a world traveler, I am introduced to a squat toilet at this first stop. It is merely a hole in the floor with a spot where to place your feet when you squat. Of course, almost no place has toilet paper so I figure unless you really have to go, its best to wait.

The desert in Jordan is the rockiest place I've ever seen or imagined. I'm not sure if it would be possible to place more rocks on each square foot unless you made them smaller. A large grapefruit sized rock is virtually touching another and another and another, ... probably 15 in a 2 sq. ft. area, I guess. Some areas are tan colors, others are black volcanic rock that cooled too quickly leaving the tell-tale air bubble holes. We see an old volcano in the near distance. There were 2 camels alongside the road and a number of herds of sheep and/or goats in some areas. Then, you could travel for 20-30 miles and see nothing but a flat landscape or a few rolling hills.

Sattar asks us when we'd like to stop to eat since none of us has eaten since our 7 AM breakfast. I said that we'd like to wait until dusk and eat with him if that was OK and he was very grateful for that sign of sensitivity and solidarity. As a practicing Muslim, he doesn't eat or drink anything between sun up and sundown during Ramadan. As dusk approaches, Sattar stops at a rest area for us to buy toilet paper and bottled water. As we're getting ready to leave, he checks his watch to discover that the dusk hour would be in 5 minutes so he suggested we wait and eat at this stop instead of going another hour where it would be more crowded. The restaurant was virtually full but they found a table for 6 of us. So this became our "break-fast" meal. We brought in our own bottled water after we saw what they were going to serve us and we avoided eating any of the tomatoes or cukes.

It quickly turned dark and we traveled another hour before reaching the border. It took about 45 minutes to have our exit approved and only John had to pay the 5 JD (about $7.50 USD) tax because the others of us had been in-country less than 24 hours. We then had a 1/2 drive through "no man's land" before reaching the Iraqi border facilities. We stopped at the VIP area and had to carry in our laptop computers (after removing any modem cards that were not built-in), and video and digital cameras for inspection. I chose to forgo the squat toilet and went into the large waiting room where a black and white TV was broadcasting in the corner. After about 15 or so minutes, there was a woman reading the news in English for about 5 minutes but it was clear that it wasn't CNN but rather a State-sponsored (and controlled) station. (In the US we don't need state contro because we already have corporate control of the media).

After about 1/2 hour, we were joined by three, young, Iraqi men who appeared to be in their early 20s. (One later said he was 29.) We greeted each other and after awhile, Peter asked them how they felt about the impending war. "No problem", the 29 year-old said with a smile. We had no problem defeating the US before and we can do it again. After all, all Iraqi homes have guns in them. We sat in silence and grief knowing that this young man had no concept of what might await him from the receiving end of the US military machine. It was a sad and frightening conversation and I recognized the bravado in his voice that I've heard before when we talked to soldiers outside Ft. Benning.

It took about 1 1/2 hours to complete the paperwork, after Sattar had John pay $40 to the security people to help "expedite" our processing and allow the computers and us in. Had it not been paid, it would have taken us at least another hour and who knows if we would have been allowed to keep our equipment. They then searched through all our luggage before giving s the OK. We then drove to the next checkpoint where we got our passports back with the stamped visa on a separate piece of paper so there is no record in our passport of having broken the sanctions by traveling there. Between the 2 checkpoints, there must have been 15-20 transports, each with 10-15 new Nissan pickup trucks on the back. Sattar told us they are being imported as part of the "food for oil" program administered by the UN. Someone in the van asked if the people could eat them!

After another 4 hours, at times through dense fog, we crossed the Euphrates River and immediately saw a change in that there were trees alongside the 3 lanes-in-each-direction highway. We were entering into the land formerly known as Mesopotamia or "the Fertile Crescent". An hour later, we cross the Tigris River and drive up to our hotel, the Al Fanar. It is 3:15 AM and we wake the night clerk and get our room assignments. Peter and I will share a room as there are only 3 single rooms available. We have no Iraqi Dinar to tip the young man who helps with our bags and as I enter the room, I give thanks because there is a regular toilet as well as a bidet in our bathroom. (Of course, there is no toilet paper- that is why we bought some in Jordan, I reckon.)

We sleep until about 10 AM and then are pleased to discover we have hot water for the shower. (no shower curtain, of course). And we begin our first day in Baghdad.

Steve Clemens, IPT

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