JimSpiri ”THE LAST LAP #7”
The latest journey called, "The Last Lap" - IRAQ, 2015
© Jim Spiri 2015
July 16, 2015 Today is Thursday, July 16th. Forty-six years ago on this day, the rocket named Apollo 11, blasted off for the moon. I remember it vividly as a fair bit of my childhood had lots to do with what we called, “The Space Program”. Tomorrow is Eid. It is a big celebration in these parts. The timing of Eid has much to do with the sighting of the crescent moon. Once this takes place, the month of Ramadan is over and fasting requirements terminate. There is also much celebration and feasting during this time. It is a big deal and for me, it’s an education to be here during this time in this very place. Learning never ends. Today as always in the summer, it is hot again. Over 120-degrees outside. Things don’t really get going until the latter afternoon time. Especially during the month of Ramadan when it falls in the summer. The humidity in the evening lately has been higher than normal which makes it rather uncomfortable. I am thankful that the room I occupy has an evaporative cooler like the one in my own home. As long as the power stays on it is sufficient to survive the heat. Often the power goes off however there are backup generators that take up the slack in the lack. It is just how things are here. I had often wondered that had we as a nation invaded with giant generators for the people and communities of Iraq what the current outcome would have been. I remember 30-years ago writing a story about one of my journeys to El Salvador saying that had we invested just 10% into water wells compared to the military assistance, peace would have come a lot sooner to that land. But what do I know, I’m just a nobody that travels around the place in and out of hot spots here and there. Last evening I spent a long time interviewing two young men, one aged 20 the other aged 24. There names are Berzan and Ayman. Both of them had been brave fighters in the battle for Dholoyia. Both were injured by indirect mortar fire which also happened to kill one of the young men’s father and brother. These two young men are cousins. They live in the same home. They had a long story to tell and I listened, audio recorded it and video recorded it as well. Throughout the interview I was constantly doing my best to hold in my emotions within and just listen. I found myself once again experiencing incredible and fascinating first hand accounts of what has gone on here in this town called Dholoyia. It is hard for me to comprehend how these folks just move on and go forward with their lives in the face of astronomical circumstances. While here, I have struggled constantly with a shoulder injury that has nearly incapacitated me to an extent. Yet after hearing what I’ve heard and seeing the resiliency of those I’ve spoken with at length, almost all who were injured in one form or another, I decided that I’m fortunate to just have a painful shoulder to deal with at the moment. Honestly, after hearing of such experiences I think back to all the folks back home who have little tiny problems and spend millions of dollars collectively on therapists across the nation. If ever there was a place that needed to “talk things out a bit”, this would be that place. Yet, not in the fashion the shyster-psychology-therapists that seem to be a dime a dozen in every American city back home, want to do. It just takes a toll on the interviewer to hear the stories of those being interviewed. In short the story went like this last evening…..Two young men fought bravely to defend their city from this group we in the west call, ISIS. Their lives were put on hold and daily life was heading to the “red line in the sand” area of town and battling day after day, night after night, month after month to stand up to the terrorists attempting to take over their homes. Almost all of these folks had zero training in military operations. Yet, they made it their “last stand” to defeat the intruders. After losing his father and brother, the 20-year-old also was injured fairly bad as was his cousin next to him. Both spent time in hospital in Balad for a couple months and then were transferred to Erbil for further treatment. Most of their medical care was paid for out of their own pockets until they got to Erbil where some international organization kicked in some help. After sufficient time for healing, the two returned home to Dholoyia with instructions to do follow up treatment at the hospital in Baghdad. This would now be February of this year. The battle for Dholoyia was now over and the dead had all been buried. Life was moving on and things were trying to return to some form of normality. However, there is a problem The area is now under the control of what some call “Civilian Defense Forces” but us in the west refer to them as the “Shia Militias” which are actually an extension of the government in Iran these days. There is for sure no love lost between the Sunnis in this area and the Shia Militias who are in control of the region now by proxy. The government of Iraq is weakened by the strength now of the militias. At the same time, the government is mostly made up of Shia population and the connections between Iran having so much influence in Iraq and the Iraqi government on paper, are blurred quite a bit. At the moment in Iraq, it is no secret that Iranian military leaders are conducting the war to defeat whomever this group ISIS really is. Back to the story of Berzan and Ayman… When it came time for the two young men to go to Baghdad in February for follow up medical care, they went together in one car. At about the area called Balad, which is where the large air base is, which happens to be a Shia area, the car was stopped by militia personnel. There, they were told to get out of the car and subsequently were held captive for two days. It was here they were tortured, beaten, strung up and hung by their wrists, and all kinds of things. I have photos of their injuries from all this. I also managed to video record this entire interview as they were telling me this story. Remember, they were on their way to Baghdad to get medical treatment for injuries sustained while they were defending their town from ISIS. Then, they get stopped, tortured, all their money is taken that was to be used for the medical treatment and now they are in a worse physical condition than before they left. And yet, no one in the west realizes just what is going on here. It is a big problem. And it is a continual problem. After the interview was over, I spent more time with them drinking chi. What kept coming into my mind is the fact that here the younger of the two is now the responsible one for his family. He is the oldest male now in the family after his father was killed. His livelihood is dependent at the moment on how much longer his father’s small pension of sorts will continue. He still pursues his education and making the best of things for himself and his family. And all this while just moving forward and not complaining. These are resilient people. Very strong in a multifaceted manner. It struck me like a lightning bolt what life brings in these parts. And of course, there are many here who say most of this is because of the Americans having invaded. The real straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back is what Paul Bremer did by disbanding the in-place Iraqi Army back in 2003-04. Most of the older people here were a part of that old regime. Is a matter of fact, I have spent countless hours during my time here speaking with men my age and hearing about life under that system. From an historical perspective it is a wealth of understanding over a cup of chi for several hours to learn about everyday practical life from those times past. I always fall back on what I learned early on in this life of mine. One just cannot believe what we are told, what we read and only half of what we’re shown. It is a crazy world. But that world now is currently under the administration of a lot of people that are in my exact age group. So, I have a kind of portion in all this. It does not matter to me if most everyone will not even attempt to listen to what I hear. On the contrary, it becomes my burden to say what I have to say and present what I have to present to those whose face I can manage to get in front of. I have had my share of controversy over the years. Granted, it has afforded me a reputation of sorts. It reminds me of the old TV show called, “Hee-Haw” which ran about the time we were sending men to the moon. “If it weren’t for a bad reputation, I’d have no reputation at all”, one of the characters used to say. I would have thought that having landed men on the moon nearly 50-years-ago, things might have been more advanced than they are by now, at least in how man treats one another. Not the case apparently. Apparently the wise man that said “There’s nothing new under the sun”, was correct. This year, I will watch tomorrow night and see the moon peeking out from behind its veil. I’m sure I will not be the first to see this event. But I will see it. That is usually the story of my life. I don’t see things first, but, I do see things eventually.

The Last Lap #7

Children playing nearby where I stay. The five brothers who take care of me. Berzan (L) age 20 and Ayman (R) age 24 After the interview with Berzan and Ayman, we went to a home to have some chi.   Late in the evening I spoke at length again with Col. Mohammad.  It always informative to speak with this man.
Where bread is baked at the home of my host.
Cousins at my host's home.
Children playing nearby where I stay.
The five brothers who take care of me.
Berzan (L) age 20 and Ayman (R) age 24
After the interview with Berzan and Ayman, we went to a home to have some chi.
Late in the evening I spoke at length again with Col. Mohammad. It always informative to speak with this man.