I no longer dream. The good news is the nightmares have faded as well. Three sleepless days out of the last ten, and counting….
Making the decision to return to Iraq is about as difficult as making the decision to go in the first place. On the one hand I know what to expect, on the other hand…well...I’m going to Iraq…on purpose. On the ground, things are different. The decisions have been made, you are there and you do your best to stay alive. The decision to go is the one that torments you. It is like standing in the doorway of an airplane with your parachute on, but then waiting two weeks to actually jump.
The days before leaving, a lot of things run through your head. You are much more aware of the news and you start paying attention to the body count: who died where, what kind of bomb went off, and how many lives it took. Your mind races constantly and life seems more vivid, the smells stronger, the colors brighter and the thoughts highly melancholy. I think about a memorial I just saw on the beach in Los Angeles. More than four thousand crosses in the sand, representing the number of dead US soldiers. This scene was depressing enough. Some numbers are too depressing to even comprehend… the hundreds of thousands of crosses it would take to represent the civilian toll, the severely injured, and those missing, never to be found again.
There is a graveyard I passed. A mountain of carved stones, flowers, flags, and letters to the lost. The towns: Baghdad,” “Ramadi,” “Basra,” “Diyala.” I know I will soon be back.
I think about the dirt, the heat, the exhaustion, the children’s faces, the injured soldiers, the fear of the Iraqi people as dozens of soldiers break through their doors in the middle of the night, and the fear of the soldiers as they wonder if their last breath is seconds away. Finally I think about the abandoned streets of Baghdad — what seems a different planet — and hope I will be able to do my job, and give people a glimpse of this world. I have to remind myself to focus on the reason I’ve decided to go through all of this, that I, like many others, want to bring the reality of this war back home, that I want my camera to capture the unimaginable, and help people by telling their stories to the world. But I wonder if any of it can be accomplished at all.
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