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[casi] Happy New Year.. from Riverbend

Monday, January 05, 2004

Happy New Year...

Technically, I haven't blogged for a year- not since
2003. We've been phone-less for the last few days. The
line suddenly went dead on us around 4 days ago and
came back only this afternoon.

So this is 2004. Not surprisingly, it feels much like
2003. We spent the transition from last year into this
one at my aunt's house. She dropped by on the 30th and
said that since no one was going anywhere this year,
we should spend it together at her house. If there's
one advantage to war, then it's the fact that families
somehow find themselves closer together. Every year,
we'd all be in a different place: parents at a
gathering somewhere and E. and I with our friends…
other people would spend it at one of the dozens of
restaurants or clubs holding New Year parties.

This year, New Year's Eve was a virtual family
reunion. We decided we'd gather at my aunt's house but
it couldn't be too big a gathering otherwise we'd be
mistaken for a 'terrorist cell' – women, children,
dishes of food and all.

We got there at around 6 pm and found out that the
power had been coming and going all day and that the
generator had just enough gasoline for around 3 hours
of electricity. We decided we'd save it up for the
last two hours of the year which turned out to be a
wise decision because the electricity went out at
around 8 pm and didn't come back until noon the next
day! We're lucky we left our house early because E.
found out that roadblocks were later set up in several
areas that had the people trapped well into the next

Almost an hour after we got Aunt K.'s house, a blast
shook the whole area. I was preparing to light a bunch
of candles set up in the middle of the table, when
suddenly a huge 'BOOM' shook the room, the windows and
the family. E. and I ran outside to see what was
happening and we found my aunt's neighbors standing
around at their gates, looking as perplexed as we
felt. We later found out that a bomb had exploded near
a small fast-food place a few kilometers away. 'Tea
Time' is a little two-storey restaurant in Harthiya
that sells hamburgers and other sandwiches full of
fries and mayonnaise.

We sat around from 8 until 11 in the dark, munching on
popcorn, trying to remember the latest jokes (most
about the Governing Council) and trying to pretend
that the candles were festive candles, not necessary

While many people consider 2003 a 'year', for us it
has felt more like a decade. We started the year
preparing for war. While the rest of the world was
making a list of resolutions, we were making lists of
necessary items for the coming battle. We spent the
first two and a half months of 2003 taping windows,
securing homes, stocking up on food, water and
medication, digging wells and wondering if we would
make it through the year.

March brought the war and the horror. The scenes we
witnessed made every single day feel more like a week…
some days felt like a year. There were days where we
lost track of time and began counting not hours and
minutes, but explosions. We stopped referring to the
date and began saying things like, "The last time we
saw my uncle was… the day the Americans bombed that
market in Al Shu'la and dozens were killed."

They say the war ended in April, but it didn't end in
April. April was just the beginning of another set of
horrors… watching Baghdad burned and looted by
criminals… seeing the carcasses of burnt cars and the
corpses of charred humans on the roadside… watching
the tanks and Apaches shoot right and left… realizing
that it had turned from a war into a full-fledged

So we sat, the last few hours, thinking about the last
few months and making conjectures about the future. In
the background you could hear a few explosions, some
gunfire, helicopters and planes. I kept thinking
something terrible was going to happen and we'd never
see the beginning of a new year.

At around 10 pm, they turned on the generator and we
gathered around the television to watch the rest of
the world celebrate their way into the New Year. The
kids fell asleep on the living-room floor, in front of
the kerosene heater, before the clock struck 12 and
the thuds around us began getting heavier. Immediately
after twelve, the sounds of warplanes and explosions
got so heavy, we could hardly hear the television.
There was nothing on the news, as usual. Al-Iraqiya
was showing some lame fading in and out of its motto
on a blue background while all hell was breaking loose
outside. We found out the next day that a restaurant
in A'arassat, a wealthy area in Karrada, had
explosives planted in front of it.

What have the first few days of 2004 felt like?
Exactly like the last few months of 2003. The last few
days have been a series of bombs and explosions. A
couple of nights ago they were using cluster bombs to
bomb some area. Before the bomb drops, you can hear
this horrible screaming sound. We call it 'the
elephant' because it sounds like an elephant shrieking
in anger. I'm not sure what it is or what its purpose
is. Someone said it's supposed to be some sort of
warning signal to the troops on the ground to take
cover in their tanks before the bomb hits. It's
usually followed by a series of horrific explosions
and then the earth shudders.

It's strange what you can get used to hearing or
seeing. The first time is always the worst: the first
time you experience cluster bombs, the first time you
feel the earth shudder beneath you with the impact of
an explosion, the first tanks firing at houses in your
neighborhood, the first check-point... the first
broken windows, crumbling walls, unhinged doors… the
first embassy being bombed, the first restaurant… It's
not that you no longer feel rage or sadness, it just
becomes a part of life and you grow to expect it like
you expect rain in March and sun in July.

May 2004 be better than 2003.

- posted by river @ 1:12 AM

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