Things are going wrong. In Umm Qasr
the man in the street told me that his family hadn't had food in three days. He still
found it in himself to bow before rummaging through a garbage bin. An army truck full of soldiers drove past uninvolved, with
mirrored sunglasses reflecting the desert
glare. I turned my eyes away, down toward the ancient buildings and the gleaming
. When I look back, he's walking away.
I don't know if I can deal with this. I got here by using my dual nationality, after hostilities were over. I flew from LAX
to Vancouver to Halifax to Paris to Ankara to Kuwait City, and rode across the border with a man who knew no
English, operating on the commands of the concierge. We did not speak. I was familiar with only a smattering of Arabic words
when I arrived and I wasn't much better when I left, but I could shout the names of cities like nothing else. "Baghdad!
Baghdad, you desert swine!" I felt bad, though. Cursing at foreigners is a classic American pastime by all accounts, but
it's tough to keep up full-time.
The troops are everywhere. In America it's nearly impossible to comprehend two hundred thousand soldiers maintaining an entire
country that neither respects nor understands them -- and nonetheless you see them everywhere. A mobile army is a remarkable
thing. They're omnipresent.
Anyway. Baghdad itself is majestic in its own way, when you leave the decimated city blocks and walk through the marketplaces.
America's best conception of what the city resembles ought to be Aladdin, with guns. Rifles are everywhere, shotguns,
pistols; I can't imagine postwar Munich but it must have been like this.
I wish that I could make sense of the experience. Words don't suffice to convey the realities of Iraq; I didn't dare carry a
video camera through customs or the airport or the border or even the streets. The hostile glares that I get just for
being present are bad enough - a seven-hundred dollar reason to mug me in a dark alley would be overkill.
I want to go home. You can hate the suburbs all your life and long for the cities. It doesn't matter. Things will never really
get bad for you.