Day 2 — Baghdad
Baghdadis Still Have Hope
Last night I taped my windows before going to bed.
The Pilgrims, our security detail, suggest that all glass get taped up because in the event of a large, local blast, nobody wants shards of flying debris to cut them up while they're sleeping. It was a little surreal. I kept thinking about the "duct tape" crisis in the U.S. that took place in February while I was in Kuwait — how Home Depots across our great nation were totally shaken down by a panicky populace. The threats here are real and a little unnerving. Today, there were some new friends waiting for us outside of the hotel, a couple of Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members who are now working guard duty because of the attacks at the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, where CNN and FOX have their headquarters. I could talk at length about the omnipresence of fear and insecurity here, but it would only paint one side of the story.
The other side is that of a city that has adapted to life at war. Today was my first official day in Baghdad, and while I didn't get to see very much of the city — traffic jams are absolutely abysmal — it became very clear that life here has not ground to a halt. People are not hiding in their basements with their heads tucked between their legs. And compared to the hyper-panicky reactions of "duct tape" America to the slightest intimation of terrorism, I have nothing but respect for Baghdadis. Crime is out of control, there is no infrastructure, electricity is irregular, an occupying force flies its choppers through the air and drives its tanks through the streets, attacks are near daily, and still people have adapted. Not only have they adapted, but they still have hope for positive change even though there is a near unanimous feeling that things in Iraq are headed straight down the crapper.
Today, I made my first Iraqi friends. Waleed R., the son of a former Baathist colonel whose metal band Acrassicauda was featured on MTV, was my first interview. I have an interesting relationship with Waleed — I was supposed to interview him by phone the day the "shock and awe" aerial campaign started. That conversation was terrible because he was worried Saddam's police would retaliate against him for speaking out and because halfway through our phone call a bomb knocked out the phone grid. He is an exceptional young man. His politics always differed from his parents and he has since done work for an NGO, the State Department and started his own independent newspaper. It was amazing to be able to have the face-to-face conversation I wanted with Waleed. Tomorrow we will go tour the waterfront to see the damage of the bombing campaign that stopped our first interview.
Waleed took us to an Internet cafe and a record "store" — I use that term loosely because everything in it was pirated, burnt CDs. (The access to information and culture is just one way that life has changed for young people since Saddam.) Then we dropped Waleed off at band practice and got back to the hotel because our security didn't want us on the roads at night.
Read Day 1: Dangerous Driving And Deadly Donkeys
Read Day 3: What Those Plumes Of Fire Actually Did To Baghdad
Read Day 4: Cotton Candy And 'The Matrix' Amid The Rubble
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