JimSpiri ”THE LAST LAP #11”
The latest journey called, "The Last Lap" - IRAQ, 2015
© Jim Spiri 2015
July 23, 2015 Today is Thursday, July 23rd. It is about 12:30 pm in the middle of the afternoon. The routine is becoming familiar these days as I sit here in my abode listening to music by John Prine (That’s the Way the World goes Round) through the heat of the day getting my work done. This is my version of “living the dream”. The mornings do not last long but the afternoons drag on in summer. My hosts are incredible and make sure I am well taken care of. I have food and water and all the other amenities that one needs to make the journey I am on a success. All of my prayers have been answered. I am for sure in a good place. Yesterday started out as an obstacle to overcome. We needed to go to the street markets and pick up some things however the truck would not start. After some fiddling with the wires and things it was determined that the battery was not in proper working order. That meant we had to go into town and exchange the old one for a new one. So, that is what we did. It is not cheap to do such things but it had to be done. Just like back home. The cost was about $65 US, but, the truck needed to be in proper running order because the entire extended family depends on it. It is a little Nissan Frontier that has four doors and a short bed. Getting the battery was a fun experience as the shopkeeper is as most folks here, a relative, somewhere along the line. Omar, the driver of the truck and brother of my host, works as an IP (Iraqi Policeman). However, for the past three months, he has not been paid. Apparently that is the case here in this particular part of Salah ad-Din province. It is kind of a strangle hold that the central government puts on the folks here. Once again it is a Sunni community dealing with a Shia central government. It doesn’t take long to connect the dots as the majority of the Shia locales around the country have all received their pay on time. Remember, this is the area that defeated ISIS, has to deal with the main bridge having been wiped out which stifles economic progress and at the same time has to somehow cover the cost of internally budgeting for it’s own citizens. It’s a mess and it is always the folks at the ground level of things that bare the brunt of corruption in high places. Anyway, moving on….the truck got fixed, the groceries were purchased which amounted to two dozen eggs and yogurt and then brought home to be prepared with the other items in place that always includes excellent bread that is like a big tortilla, all for 20-people. This is a daily routine. In the abode I am in is kind of a combination of two large homes set on one lot that are divided by a block wall. The homes are similar in appearance to those in the American Southwest or northern Mexico. Concrete, block walls, spacious, tile floors and an enclosed living area that doubles as the lawn. Air conditioning is evaporative coolers but are mounted through windows. Basically, I feel very much at home a world away. After the heat of the day waned a bit, I was invited to go on a drive with one of my hosts brother, his son, Abud, and a friend who acted as a translator for me. I readily agreed as I had no idea what would transpire for the day's’ events. We took some roads into town, stopped a place that sells computer stuff, purchased an item and then went for a drive. We quickly came upon a place that was like a large canal that had water flowing into it from a large pipe and hundreds of children playing in the water. This is Dholoyia’s version of a “water park”. It was well over 100-degrees outside still so relief from the heat is a welcomed sight to anyone. As we walked up to the area I was swarmed by all kinds of kids shouting, “Mr...Mr...take picture” which is exactly what I began doing. The photo opportunities were just what I like. I began snapping and snapping as much as I could and then made sure my settings were correct. There were so many kids and so many crowding around I was getting concerned that I was going to slip and fall in. The place is a kind of crossing from one area to another so vehicle traffic was tight. Nothing stopped the kids from having a fantastic time jumping in and out of the water and doing what all kids do around the world do when it’s hot outside. At one point, Abud’s father took his garments off and got into a form of swimmers and joined in. I have a great photo of him taking the plunge. There were a few other adults in the water. I would have joined in but my shoulder is destroyed and I cannot move it enough to even stay afloat without excruciating pain. I’m saving it in case I have to swim somewhere to save my life, like if I ended up falling out of the boat the other day while taking a ride on the Tigris. As Abud’s father finished his cooling off adventure, we walked up to the hill where the car was parked. It was explained to me that this was the sight of many intense battles during the fight to save Dholoyia from ISIS. There were two houses about 50 meters apart that were both completely riddled with all kinds of bullet holes. It was explained to me that one was occupied by ISIS and the other by the fighters saving Dholoyia. This would be considered “close quarters combat” area. The man who owned the one house that was the front line defense for Dholoyia was there and began speaking with me. Turns out he is an Iraqi Army member. He has 9-children and no home left that is liveable. He talked to me for a long time and loves the Americans. He told me a story about how when the Americans were here and conducted their operations they never acted like animals. Yes, there was war, but he recalled to me an instance when “it was all going down” one time, how the American soldiers protected his children with their own bodies even though there were bad guys all around at that time trying to kill the Americans. But he also recalled to me that the ISiS fighters are “animals” and have no soul. The man is referred to as a kind of poet. I wanted to listen to him longer, but we just couldn’t fit it all in at the moment. Perhaps I will go back and talk to him. His story would be valuable in an historical context. As we got in the car to head to another region of the area I kept thinking about this man and his plight. It surely made an impression on me. We continued driving towards an area I had been to earlier on my visit, but this time we took a different road that headed us in an easterly direction. We were going to where the border of Salah ad-Din province meets the province of Diyala. I was in Diyala in 2007, embedded with an infantry unit from Ft. Richardson, Alaska. This was during what we all remember as “The Surge”, when the Sunni Awakening helped the United States save Iraq from complete catastrophic failure, which, coincidentally is exactly what we are bordering on now in Iraq. Only this time, the Sunnis are not so welcomed to help restore and sustain a united Iraq that is beholding to no one, including Iran. The task currently at hand is a complex issue to repair, but the solution is obvious to some. All this for another day….. This day we continued our “drive in the country” along the provincial border area. I liked it up there. There had been some serious farming back in the day before 2006 but since that time, no one really farms it. It is a dangerous area. There are many local checkpoints all manned by the Joubury tribal people. They are all kind of Iraqi Police officially, and all of them have participated last year in the battle saving Dholoyia. All of them . At one point I asked Abud’s father to stop so I could take some photos. It was at a checkpoint like place. I snapped some photos and then a soldier came up and said to me, “Mr. Jim...Mr. Jim….you forgot to friend me on facebook. Why you forget”? Now, of all the things I was expecting to hear way out in the middle of no where from some Iraqi border guard coming up to talk to me as I was taking photographs, that was not what I was expecting. I was for the first time in a long time, speechless. I just began smiling and said, “Oh my. I’m sorry, what is your name again”? And he told me and for sure, I had forgotten. The lesson learned again for me is, do not make a promise you aren’t going to keep. These people here are real folks. They have treated me so amazingly like real family that it tears me apart that I cannot single handedly fix the problems that face them. I constantly ask myself inside, “What was Paul Bremmer thinking”? It kills me inside. Anyway...once again moving forward, I ended up taking a lot of photos with everyone. I like the border area, yet I know if and when the enemy comes again, it will be these guys that will have the responsibility to fight for survival once again. I want so much to take folks from my government right to exactly where I stood this day and say, “Listen, these folks are pleading with you to come and help and repair the chaos you left for them. Just come and sit down and eat some meals with them, listen to them and realize they love America but hate the dilemma we have put them in”. It is times like this I realize why I am on this journey. After the photos were done and conversations finished we hopped back into the car as the late afternoon sun was getting ready to set. We headed back to town, dropped off our friend who translated all for me, and returned to the home of my host. Upon arrival I noticed that the room I stay in had been meticulously cleaned. Then, I noticed some folks began to arrive. Something was up. It was going to be a big meal, again. One of the younger brothers of my host had invited all his university friends in his field of study to have a big meal at the house. There were about fifteen present by the time people stopped arriving. What took place this evening at the abode I am staying at is a kind of get together for them all while I am here so I can meet them all. It was a wonderful evening to say the least. This night I watched as the brothers of my host ran back and forth carrying the food from one home to the other. Never before have I seen the guys work so hard to make sure everyone was taken care of. We partook of the meal in the room I stay in. It was good time and I thoroughly enjoyed the night. I took a few photos of spread and later we retired to the outside lawn area for chi and discussion. We talked much about the agricultural potential in this region and how all of the farms were once rich in production and a stable economic influence for this province. Now the farms lay dormant most of the time due to the security situations since the 2003 invasion. It is sad that this is the case because no doubt this land once known as the Fertile Crescent, is rich in agriculture and could bring Iraq back to a major player in the region simply by farming its way out of the problems war has left it in. The night ended soon. It had been a fun and productive day on many fronts for me. I was tired now and looked forward to a good nights rest. As I write this, I have noticed an increased amount of air traffic overhead again. It was reported in the news that US Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter is in Baghdad today. More indications to me that something is indeed up and things could get interesting as they always do here in Iraq.

The Last Lap #11

Kids enjoying the relief from the heat A view of the "water park" Waiting their turn to jump in the water The plunge Everyone was having fun Abud's, Dhaighen, awaits his turn Everyone is a kid in the sweltering heat At the "water park" Dholoyia style Fish farming on the same canal where the kids are swimming The house destroyed by ISIS still proudly displays the Iraqi national flag. Father, Dhaighan and his son, Abud The owner of the house that was destroyed by ISIS describes to me the horrors of what happened Near the border with Diyala province This is very close to the border with Diyala.  These are the front line defenders should another attach come from the east. The guys showing me videos on their phones of the battle for Dholoyia from last year. As the sun goes down we headed back for a bit of a drive. The spread that was enjoyed in the room I stay in Enjoying the meal with the students.
Kids enjoying the relief from the heat
A view of the "water park"
Waiting their turn to jump in the water
The plunge
Everyone was having fun
Abud's, Dhaighen, awaits his turn
Everyone is a kid in the sweltering heat
refreshing
At the "water park" Dholoyia style
Leaving the water park.
Fish farming on the same canal where the kids are swimming
The house destroyed by ISIS still proudly displays the Iraqi national flag.
Father, Dhaighan and his son, Abud
The owner of the house that was destroyed by ISIS describes to me the horrors of what happened
Near the border with Diyala province
This is very close to the border with Diyala. These are the front line defenders should another attach come from the east.
The guys showing me videos on their phones of the battle for Dholoyia from last year.
As the sun goes down we headed back for a bit of a drive.
The spread that was enjoyed in the room I stay in
Enjoying the meal with the students.