Editor’s Note: We first published this in Sept 11, 2008. This was written by a wonderful grandma who lived in Florida.
I have no picture today, but I look at the sky this evening as the day wanes and it is very like that Tuesday: rain and heavy clouds. But back then I was walking in the pastures, weeping for the future.
Tonight I have just watched the general and the ambassador and the senators, the ‘suits’, trying to make sense out of all this mess. How can anyone?
I remember driving across the middle east with my father when I was a seventeen year old. There were four of us; my dad, my two brothers, one a bit older and one a bit younger, and me.
We drove on dirt roads through the back of Turkey, then into Syria and on into Lebanon where we were going to live for more than a year. This was not your cruise ship tour.
Going through the small villages we saw many cafes with men sitting outside playing some kind of board game (backgammon? dominoes?). These men often had shaved heads.
The children, (never girls) who might be there too, also had shaved heads. We saw this scene over and over- men doing nothing. My siblings and I began to refer to them as “drones”. I wondered where all the women and girls were.
These people were not at all interested in us or at all welcoming though probably few Americans had ever been to their villages. These people were the most foreign people I have ever seen.
There was absolutely no point of contact. When we wanted to buy some bottled water and pointed to a likely looking container, they sold us ice cold ouzo ( a highly alcoholic brew). Try drinking that when you have been eating the dust on the road for a few hours!
We didn’t expect much. My father expounded (as he often did) on the differences in cultures. It sounded like blah blah to us. We were too young, too embedded in being Americans.
Living in Beirut was a wonderful cornucopia of senses. The city was building, as it always is, and the smells of fresh concrete, flowering trees and kibbi, the platters of spicy ground meat coming from communal ovens, the leathery smells from the shoemakers were my world.
I loved going to school with Arabs. I loved spending time with Lebanese families. But these Arabs were from Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and other places where parents were progressive and wanted to have their children prepared for going to universities in Europe and the United States. I had never heard of girls wearing burkas, or even head scarves.
My older brother soon left to go and study at the Sorbonne. So I was the oldest now.
My dad wanted me to travel with him on his occasional trips to Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. He was on a fellowship to study archaeology. We’d go to small cities and towns and he’d give a lecture on the local archaeology and I would do the slide show.
These trips were always interesting, sometimes alarming. It is hard to imagine now, that someone in our State Department at one time thought that having a prominent classicist give lectures in small middle east cities was a good idea.
I do remember that the lecture hall was always packed and that there were many more questions than my dad had time to answer.
The people who came to the lectures were not drones.
It was an easier time then. I was in awe of Mesopotamia. I grew up thinking about the Cradle of Civilization. There were so many incredible ideas, artifacts and tracks of the first best civilization. In those lecture halls the Iraqis were lovely and responsive and proud. It was slow with the translator.
But as soon as we began to drive across the unremittingly hot desert, through the small settlements, I saw the “drones”. I do not understand these people, the Iraqis, the Sunnis, Shias.
Tonight I watch the “suits”, the senators and generals, talk about what to do about Iraq. I do not think they have a clue about the culture they are dealing with. Sometimes it looks like us, but this is a mirage. Islam is opaque to us. They need to find their own solutions.
I cannot imagine what we were thinking in going to war in Iraq. We have wrecked the infrastructure, the society, the natural life, and the irreplaceable historical artifacts of a whole country. And we have let thousands be killed.
I hope you are reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. Makes you think, you and I,self-satisfied Americans.
Source: Grand Mamolly