At an exhibit in Chicago about the war in Iraq

What I remember first is blood.

It wasn’t everywhere and it was only one day when I went searching in Iraqi hospitals for colleagues badly hurt in a blast that is stuck in my mind’s eye. A door swung open in one hospital and there was blood everywhere.

On the floor. On the walls. On the beds. And there didn’t seem anything else but blood. Or at least I couldn’t focus otherwise.

But that’s not what I talked about when I talked about Iraq the other day at a presentation on the Iraq war at the MCA, an exhibit that is amazingly brilliant for its reliance on dozens of people to sit and tell their stories one at a time, day after day: soldiers and refugees and anti-war activists and scholars and physicians.

I talked about the Iraqi psychiatrist in Baghdad who told me how Iraqis were too numb to feel because of all they had suffered and this was in the early days after the U.S. led invasion. I talked about the fear I remember seeing on the face of young soldiers headed out on patrols and how one night at a military hospital a young soldier waiting to hear what happened to a pal said he wished he got hit too so his waiting would be over. And I talked about the smothering oppression in the Saddam years and how I met people digging up mass graves and families searching for lost friends or relatives and people who had spent years in prisons for the slightest disregard to the former regime.

There was so much to say and I seem to have said so little and I wanted to say more. In the days to come folks will sit, as I did, on a couch in the middle of the very modest exhibit, drink tea and nibble on Middle Eastern sweets and talk about what they know from their time in Iraq or from their contact with those of us touched by Iraq: a VA hospital psychologist, soldiers who have fought in Iraq, Major L. Tammy Duckworth (Nov.7) who is now an assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, artists, anti-war activists, human rights experts, and Iraqis from Chicago and its long-established Iraqi community, some new arrivals and some passing through. Some of the sessions will also be Arabic. In so many ways this too is a Chicago story.

The picture up below is of the cafe in  Muntabbi street, a street of booksellers, a revered place for Iraqis who sought books banned by the old regime, and a place the exhibit commemorates with the wreckage of a car blown up in an attack there. A place where I bought a caligraphy of great art work and lovely meaning from the Koran from a well-known caligrapher who was killed in a random attack some time after. The exhibit runs until Nov.15

click here to learn about the exhibit at the MCA: mutanabbi

salaam, Stephen

this is about the exhibit too;


Waiting for the wind في انتظار الريح

Cairo – Heat. Endless Heat. It hangs in the trees. It hangs on the shoulders of the man carrying a heavy  pack on his back. It hangs on the dogs sleeping.

Heat and dust that does not move, that seems glued in place and that is waiting for the wind to carry it away. Heat that does not go away. Heat that does not belong here and now. Heat that exhausts the exhausted.

No breeze here in Giza. No breeze here downtown. Nothing stirs in Bulak and Zamalek and on and on.

The sun sets and the Nile’s admirers gather, seeking haven.

Crunched together on the bridges, standing in the few dark places along the Corniche, stetched out on the tired grass, sprawled alone on benches, hunched over in bunches, tensely waiting on benches, couples talking, staring, wondering, waiting, hoping, thinking, sleeping, smiling, crying, they are waiting for the wind that they hope will flow through them. The wind that they think will refresh and give them a new spirit.

Heat. No relief