Anbar Province map




I met a man, his wife and two beautiful daughters in my doctor's waiting room yesterday. They were obviously Muslim and looked to be Arab. One of the little girls was very young and adorable, so I asked how old she was. The man looked surprised to be addressed by a stranger in public but said "6 months". I said she was beautiful. He smiled slightly.


That started a conversation where I asked where he was from, he said Iraq. I asked "Baghdad?" and he replied, "Anbar". He had only gotten out a bit more than a year ago, so I knew that meant he had lived through it ALL. Saddam. The "liberation" The Occupation. The Uprising. ALL of it.


I said "oh I am so sorry. I apologize on behalf of my entire country. We elected an idiot for a President and he destroyed your country and killed so many of our young people for no good reason. I am so, so sorry".


This took him aback, but we continued to talk. He talked about how bad Saddam had been but made clear that it was all worse since.


I asked "are you Muslim" and he said yes. I asked Sunni or Shia and he was surprised I even knew the two branches. So we talked some more about what is going on and he mentioned that he sees on American TV all the news about Christians being killed, but he wants us to know that they are killing EVERYBODY. I said I understand and made clear my hatred for ISIS.


All the while he would occasionally be looking at his phone and doing what I long ago got used to watching my two teenage kids do, texting. As I already know they think nothing of doing it while engaged in a real life conversation, I thought nothing of it. At one point I asked if he had any more family and he said "all of them, except my wife and children" as he gestured to that beautiful trio sitting next to him. A lump started to build in my throat. He held up his phone and said "my sister". It took me a second, as at first I thought he wanted to show me a picture. But I focused and saw it was a chat conversation. "Is she still there, in Anbar?" "Yes". She says; "there is nothing left to do but die". I wasn't sure I heard him right through the heavy accent and my face must have showed the confusion. He repeated "there is nothing left but to die".


ISIS at work in Anbar Province


At that point the lump in my throat came out through my mouth, my voice made some sound that startled everyone in the waiting room and my tears streamed down my face with no thought to who was watching. This was the last straw for him too and his tears began to flow, but in a completely silent way. The daughter looked at her mom, who simply shook her head while rocking the infant.


The receptionist noticed and asked if we were alright. Before I could think of how to answer, he did; "yes, I just shared some news, that is all". She went back to what she was doing and the others in the room did their best to make believe they heard and saw nothing.


Suddenly I realized that all of this could be a metaphor for, well, everything.


I was called in first and when I got out the older daughter was sitting there and I think the fact that she had seen her father talking to me for so long made it ok for her to acknowledge me. She said her father was with the doctor. I had to wait for some papers and they came at the same time that he came back out. We walked outside together and at the street motioned that we were parked in opposite directions. We shook hands and he pulled me in close and hugged me. His wife acknowledged me for the first time with a slight smile. The older daughter looked back as they were walking away and waved goodbye.


And me?


I was left alone with a heartbreak that I could not begin to explain to my wife when I got home...



Originally posted


Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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