Glimpses of the Iraqi Wilderness: Vignettes from the Voices in the Wilderness Campaign
by Bob Bossie, SCJ
September - Dar Al-Salam Hotel on Sa'adon St.
Early morning in Baghdad.
Kathy, Randy and I sit in the lobby at the suggestion of the night manager, Kamaram. Tired from our 14 hour, all night drive from Amman, we await a decent hour before trying to reach the rest of our delegation who arrived the night before and are staying "who knows where." I offer Kamaram our Arabic leaflet.
He reads it quietly, then spills out his feelings - tears welling up in his eyes. "It is much worse this year. There is no hope. Prices continue to go up but our salaries are so small. What can be done to make a difference? Tell me, what can be done? "I have a degree in organic chemistry but I can't live on the salary of 3,000 diner a month ($2.14). Here I earn 10,000 a month but I work 16 hours a day. My sister needs insulin for diabetes but it costs 5,000 diner so I can't buy it. What can be done? Tell me.
|Zahra Ali, 7 months old,
with nutritional marasmus.
She is very close to death.
Al Mansur Hospital, Baghdad, February, 1998.
- Voices in the Wilderness
"Others in the street feel the same way as I do. I don't know if they will tell you but I will. It has gotten much worse. Nothing can be done." (In 1990, before the war, one Iraqi diner = $3.00; now it takes 1,400 diner to equal $1.00)
St. Raphael's Hospital - Baghdad
The anesthesiologist bursts forth with frustration at his inability to do even emergency surgeries because of the lack of essential supplies. Sister Maryane stands to the side, tears flowing down her cheeks as, I sense, her own struggle and frustration find expression through his words. I am surprised by this uncommon expression of emotion from this strong, placid professional woman. Sr. Maryane tells us that catgut or sutures cost 30,000 Iraqi dinar ($21.50) on the black market for one dozen. I say, surely you mean a dozen boxes. No, she says, for one dozen sutures.
Dr. Mahmoud Maki, Director of the hospital, which formerly was comparable to the best in the US, waits with us outside the main entrance while our bags of medicine are emptied and itemized inside so they can be returned to us for future use. Again, he tells us of the pain caused by the sanctions. The US delegate to the UN 661 committee was the only one who rejected over 50 contracts for medicine and food recently. The Foreign Minister of Iraq wrote an immediate letter in complaint, he said. He motions toward the unlit light fixtures in the overhang in front of the entrance and says there are no replacement [incandescent] bulbs. The one florescent light affixed to the ceiling is their only alternative. Dozens of persons, mostly mothers and children, wait on the ground around the entrance, hoping that some medicines can be found for their treatment. Dr. Mahmoud tells us angrily that this never occurred before.
"No one would be sitting around like this," he says with a sense of shame. "All the people now say that the United States government, not the people of the US, is the number one enemy of humanity and human rights, not just against Iraq but the whole world. I say this to you now, not as a doctor but as a father. My six year old son already says these words: 'The United States government is the number one enemy of humanity and human rights.' This will not be forgotten for many years."