Sunday, May 31, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
On Monday evening, Memorial Day, I learned that two friends of mine from the Embassy had just been killed. They were on a visit to one of our major projects in Fallujah when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb. A third individual with them, a Navy officer whom I did not know, was also killed. Two security personnel were badly wounded but survived.
Hearing news like this is a punch in the gut. These two men, Maged Hussein and Terry Barnich, weren't just names to me, or faces I knew around campus. We were teammates in the Iraq Transition Assistance Office (ITAO). And these two were the stars of the team.
Maged was an American of Egyptian background. He was tall, slender, impeccably dressed, modest, gracious, funny, and brilliant. He was a true gentleman. He never mentioned his PhD and never copped an attitude with anybody. When I first got to the Embassy and was trying to learn my job, Maged spent hours with me going over projects, funding, technical details, political implications, how each effort fit (or didn't) in the grand scheme of things, and the background of each one. Maged rarely had to look things up - he knew everything going on with dozens of projects. And he told it straight, no matter what. Maged was our "water guy". He was in charge of everything ITAO was doing with water treatment plants, sewer systems, irrigation and drainage, dams, everything. Including the Fallujah waste water treatment plant, which is what the team was visiting that day. Because of Maged, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis tonight who have clean water or working sewers. He would shrug it off or say I'm exaggerating, but it's the truth. Maged made a difference in this country.
Terry Barnich was just as brilliant and just as much a gentleman. He was also very outgoing, athletic, good-looking, and a bit of a mischievous rogue - but always in the spirit of fun. Terry was always game for something new, and if it happened to push the boundaries a bit, so much the better. He had a background in law and an incredible talent with words, so he was often called on to provide briefings to the multitude of study groups and high-level visitors coming through. One of our office partners, after hearing Terry spin a problem project as a great success story, said "Terry can polish a turd better than anybody I know". A bit crude, but true, and Terry loved that phrase when he heard it. He served as the deputy in the office, and with his innate grasp of the political environment in both the Iraqi government and our own Embassy, he kept our office well-positioned to do our job. I always enjoyed working with Terry - his comments and advice were excellent and he respected my input. And he jumped in and provided cover for me on a couple of occasions when I got myself into hot water. Most people would've let me flounder. Not Terry.
And now they're gone, killed by a bomb planted who-knows-when by some nameless goon. These deaths are a tragedy. Not just to Maged and Terry's friends and families, but to the Iraqi people. When I heard the news, I just felt like saying "fuck it, if that's the way they're going to be, then let 'em have this goddam country". But that's not right. Terry and Maged came here to make this place better. "Came here" isn't the right term ... that sounds passive, as if the fickle finger of fate pointed to them and said "You! Go!". No, to get to a job here takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. You don't just raise your hand. These two guys worked hard to get here, then they worked amazingly hard to make a difference. And they made a helluva difference.
Another thing. As bad as I feel right now, and as all ITAO members feel, there's not an Iraqi in this town who hasn't had the same experience. One day, something bad happens, and somebody near and dear is dead. The Iraqis that I work with have had enough of that. They just want to have a job, take care of their families, and live in peace. They're sick of the fighting and killing.
So I've buried myself in my job the past couple of days. I'm okay until somebody asks me about it or makes some sympathetic remark. Then I have to struggle for control. Terry and Maged worked as hard as they could to make Iraq a better place, so Iraqis like those I work with will have a better chance at life and fewer reasons to take up the gun. Neither of them would have walked away from the job if the bomb had hit a different vehicle. I can't, either.
But Memorial Day will forever mean something different to me.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
This is the "chai" part. Chai is tea, which Iraqis love. Americans drink cold tea by the gallon, but Iraqis drink hot tea by the milliliter. And they dump an amazing amount of sugar into it.
Here's one of our hookahs. Many of us of a certain age would call it a "bong". However, there's no wacky tobacky in here. Iraqi hookahs use a highly flavored tobacco in which the tobacco taste is almost obscured. Part of the enjoyment of the hookah bar is picking out which flavor to try. I went with watermelon.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Does anything strike you as surprising in these drawings? Anything at all?