excerpted from The Other Side,
by David Smith-Ferri
This August marks 10 years of severe economic sanctions against Iraq. Last summer, I traveled to that country with seven other Americans to see firsthand the impact of this ongoing U.S.-led international embargo. I continue to be haunted by the faces and words of the people I encountered, and the pain and devastation I witnessed.
|This five-month-old Iraqi child suffers from marasmus,
a gradual and continuous
wasting of the body.
Photo by David Smith-Ferri
It was a pleasant summer day when I hopped on a plane and left the ruggest hills of the Ukiah Valley, California. Three days later, I stepped into a malnutrition ward of a hospital in south-central Iraq, where our group began a crash course in the economics of the embargo. At every bed, a mother and child instructed us in the chilling algebra of the sanctions: The young, the old, and the poor are cancelled out in the equation.
At the first bed two-month-old Sajar Ali lay sleeping. At birth he had weighed 7 pounds, 14 ounces; now he was a pitiful 3 pounds, 14 ounces. He was suffering from amoebic dysentery; his swollen face and abdomen were characteristic of the severe malnutrition and dehydration we would observe throughout the ward. Indeed, he appeared to be all stomach and head - his spindly arms and legs seemed peripheral and unfinished, an afterthought.
Sajar's mother, Zaineb, sat wordless at his side, waiting. She too was malnourished, so she could not produce milk for breastfeeding. Indeed, Sajar had contracted his illness through polluted water used to mix infant formula - a clue to how the sanctions have wormed their way into the heart of Iraqi society.
We asked our guide to explain that we were Americans who had come to Iraq to learn about the effects of the sanctions. This done, we asked if Zaineb had anything to say to us. "Sajar is my seventh child," she said. "All six brothers and sisters have died from illnesses since the embargo started." We stood in stunned silence. "Please tell her we are sorry," I said to the doctor.
… Here in the United States, a question arises: What might it mean to be in solidarity with the people of Iraq? First and foremost, it means speaking and acting in opposition to the sanctions, and doing so with the same ardor and tenacity that Iraqi people oppose them, as they cling daily to life, to hope. We can also learn about, and enter imaginatively into, present-day Iraq - reading about it, watching videos, listening to speakers, praying - then tell others the Iraqis' stories, be their voices here in the United States.
Solidarity thus conceived honors the people of Iraq by embodying the gifts they offer: hospitality, humility, patience, love, passion - gifts borne of strength summoned in the face of suffering. To speak and act each day with the same heart with which the people of Iraq, even now, speak and act, is to join our words and actions powerfully to theirs, recalling that, as children of the same nonviolent God, our fates are inextricably entwined.