Why I Choose To Stay In Baghdad

Why I Choose To Stay In Baghdad
April 20th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Why I Choose To Stay In Baghdad

Why I Choose To Stay In Baghdad
Houston Chronicle
April 20, 2008 An Iraqi mother has her reasons for enduring
By Zaineb Naji
BAGHDAD Before I drive my children to school each day, we go through a safety checklist familiar to mothers around the world: Sit in the back seat; fasten your safety belts.
But because we live in Baghdad, there are some additional safety rules I have to remind my children of in order to keep my two sons, ages 5 and 9, safe: Don't sit near the windows; if you hear shootings or an explosion, drop to the floor of the car immediately.
And before I drop them off at school, there are more warnings: Never talk to strangers; never play near the school gate; never tell classmates their full names or their parents' occupations.
These are the burdens that every Iraqi mother bears. Life revolves around trying to imagine what calamity can befall your family. Every mother spends her day compiling a list of precautions.
Every day is spent contemplating such "what ifs." What if my house is being monitored and my children are kidnapped when I step out to shop? What if a roadside or car bomb goes off? What if we are stopped at a fake checkpoint and asked for our IDs? Over the last five years, I've learned how to answer some of these questions. When I shop for groceries now, I only buy foods that can be stored for a long time to reduce the number of trips I have to make to the store. For fresh food, I plant seasonal vegetables in my small garden.
But there's still one "what if" I have not been able to resolve: What if I lose another friend to the violence? Hardly a day passes without hearing that a friend or relative has been killed or decided to flee Iraq. Today, I only have one or two friends or relatives left in the city.
The worries are endless. I have managed to survive only by asking the Almighty to keep evil from us and by making myself and my family accustomed to living this strange life in Baghdad.
One learns a great deal about oneself during wartime. One thing I learned is that I cannot give up my home and accept life in exile.
When I contemplated moving my family out of Iraq, I asked myself, "What do I want to gain from leaving? Would I really be able to secure a future for myself and my family? Am I willing to leave for good?" If I left Iraq, I would have to give up my current position as a university professor and start from scratch. That's not easy, especially for an Iraqi exile.
Here, I own my own home and have established myself both at the university and within the journalism community.
And by staying, maybe I can teach the upcoming generation that there actually is hope of improving their lives in Iraq. I hope I can at least teach them the importance of a free and independent media.
While I expected life to improve after the fall of Saddam Hussein, I also knew that it would not be easy. I'd read enough history to know what happens when a state collapses after a war.
But even I could not have imagined what has happened in Iraq over the past five years.
If an opportunity ever existed for Iraq to rebuild itself and stand on its own feet again, that time is now past. Instead of reconstruction, we have been preoccupied with settling old scores and looting the country of its natural resources.
That is the tragedy of the Iraqis. We cheered at the prospect of change but could not bear the price of freedom.
Many have lost everything over the past five years: their homes, their money, their children and even their lives. Some decided the cost was too great and eventually left.
But some like myself have decided to stay.
If we do not stick it out, we will end up losing our country and our children's future.
While I might live to see the day when security and stability are the norm in Iraq, surely I must remain to build such a future for my children.
Naji is a reporter in Baghdad who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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