Wake up this morning in Sulaimaniya.
Breakfast with Don McCullin. He is 68 going on 20, with such life
in his eyes and, as my English colleague remarks, so “well spoken.”
Don is deciding what to do. He has a new wife and a new baby and he’s
been waiting for the war in the north for the last month and doesn’t
know how much longer he can wait.
Sulaimaniya is full of journalists, many of whom have been here for
the last two months. I am happy to leave and head for a more remote
locale. We drive down a road to Kifri, the furthermost town on the
northern front line, an hour and a half from Baghdad on the eastern
side near Iran. I have a Bganbegan - a new hi-tech satellite modem
pointing out of my front car window. It will allow me to transmit
data and images as we drive. I have an antenna on the roof for a Thuraya
satellite phone that gives me the capability to make a call anywhere
-- like a local call.
Ahead of me, the mountains loom on the horizon. The houses in the
villages we pass are stone and cinderblock; the countryside, as we
head into spring, is green and lush. We see women in black robes with
their heads shrouded and tattoos on their foreheads. Shepherds stand
in the countryside tending flocks of future shish-kebab.
One senses that there is a war-- there is a vibe is in the air-- but
so far there is no concrete sign of a war anywhere I have been. And
yet, expectations that the fighting would be over fast seem to be
fading. Twelve years of an American-led embargo against Iraq and a
sense of national pride in response to the invasion of their country
have been catalysts for more resistance than most people imagined.
Earlier this afternoon, while we were setting up a videophone to connect
to Atlanta, a man approached to show us several pieces of photocopied
photographs and text. He wanted us to know the terror that Ansar-Al-Islam,
a fundamentalist ancillary group of Al Qaeda, has brought to this
corner of the country.
We also heard last night that six suicide bombers tried to enter from
the extremist area near Halabja, near Iran, into Kurdistan: three
were shot and the other three arrested. American paratroopers landed
last night outside of Erbil and took over the airstrip.
We drive over a mountain and see ahead of us a majestic vista with
a Galapagos-like lake shimmering beneath us. The sun is shining through,
the clouds are spring-like and soft. I just want to make some beautiful
pictures. I would come back here again - in peacetime - to enjoy making
images for myself. I guess I always try to make images for myself
that can stir my senses and that remind me of the power and potential
of the natural grace that surrounds us.
As we drive, I think about a poem that Pete recited at dinner last
night. One verse went something like this:
This is the lore of the Yukon
and ever she makes it plain:
send not your weak and your feeble,
send me your strong and your sane.
Strong for the red rage of battle,
sane for I hurry them sore.
Men who are grit to the core.
We stop beside the road about 30 kilometers Kifri. The Mahmud Ahmed
Abdullah family, seventy-four strong, are living in a field by the
road, in tents made from sticks and flour sacking. The family members
have a common trait: blue and green eyes. The elderly women have black
tattoos on their faces, the younger women and girls wear black scarves
over their heads. The men wear carefully trimmed, full moustaches,
and have well-groomed eyebrows.
The Mahmud Ahmed Abdullahs left Kifri because they were afraid of
missile attacks (the front line is two kilometers from there, and
one and a half hours from Baghdad). They think the war will last twenty
more days. They say the Iraqis are fighting because Saddam hangs insubordinate
officers and the soldiers are afraid.
The family is for a free Kurdistan after Saddam. The men explain to
me that they welcome the Americans as liberators, but not the Turks.
Despite their plight as refugees, we are immediately invited for tea.
The dignity of these people is very strong. One of the elders of the
clan had worked for an American company and wants to know if he can
work for us.
I spend the late afternoon photographing in Kalar, a town 30 kilometers
from the front line about one and one half hours from Baghdad. There
is an acute state of high energy here. People say many have left the
city for fear that Saddam will unleash chemical weapons. And yet,
their anxiety about being so close to the front lines is mingled with
a sense of anticipation and enthusiasm that the war will ultimately
benefit this country and its people, despite the unknowns ahead.
We put up for the night with a Kurdish family, three generations of
English teachers: father and mother, their two sons, and their granddaughter.
They watch Fox TV and enjoy speaking English with each other. They
have an American perspective on their country. The grandfather explains:
“For thirty-five years I have not been living comfortably. I
have no car, no good life. Here you work your whole life just to survive.
We are a rich country with more than twenty thousand oil wells but
we don’t get to enjoy any of these riches.”
It is surreal to be watching Fox TV, drinking mint tea and enjoying
the warmth and hospitality of this Kurdish family. Everybody crowds
around us to eat the dinner laid out on a table cloth on the sitting
I wake up this morning to hear that on the American side down in the
south, there will be a four to six day pause to re-supply. My guess
is that the Americans will also use the hiatus to mount more of a
presence here in the north.
Over the last two days, I have transmitted 80 photographs to CNN to
use as visuals when we hook up. Pete Hornett, my traveling companion,
has been quite awesome in helping to get all of the technical things
accomplished to set up these live shots.
Yesterday I did my first live stand-ups for CNN, three in all. I described
the situation here in the closest border of the northern front, two
kilometers from the Iraqi front lines, 180 kilometers from Baghdad,
and near the Iranian border. We spoke about conditions in these border
towns, where there is very little work and where people make their
living by smuggling petrol and kerosene from Iraq.
I also photographed in the market places of Kifri, the northern front
border town. The people there scrutinized me in a different way from
other parts of Kurdistan where people are always open and very warm
at first contact. Here, we are just north of Al Qaeda group Ansar
as-Islam territory -- near Halabja, where Hussein used chemical weapons
against the Kurds in 1988. I don't know if the looks I got are due
to my "exotic" appearance, or whether I symbolize the presence
of the Americans -- a thousand paratroopers arrived near here two
days ago. Could be there is more tension here, on the border with
Iran, with the war looming.
My spirits are good. Yesterday was a full and gratifying day. I felt
like I was tapping the many different layers of my sensibility and
expression. I attended a funeral near here in the mountains for a
man who died of natural causes. The small, beautiful cemetery stirred
thoughts of the number of funerals I have photographed around the
world. My own sense of mortality at age 47 is setting in and the cemetery
and the grieving for lost life took on a strong meaning for me on
this day. When the mourners scattered the earth over the coffin, I
was once again reminded that, since this is the way that we all must
go, I must live every day fully and appreciate my family and friends
every second along the way.
Early morning in Kalar, in the small house Pete Hornett and I have
rented to cover the eastern side of the northern front. Our team is
coming together: Salar, a recent college grad, bright and handsome
-- our translator and now "chief live shot engineer"; our
driver Sherwen, the elder of the group; our Peshmerga "guards"
-- two brothers Dilshad and Hunar, who could both be fashion models
in New York or Paris; and our housekeeper, Ahmad, who everyone thinks
talks too much. Seated together on the floor around a table cloth,
we finish a breakfast of bread roll and jam, eggs, and tea and coffee.
There is beautiful light this morning. It is Sunday and spring is
here, the weather having changed overnight. Driving down the roads
evokes in me a strange mix of feelings -- as if I were in the Karoo,
a vast flat open prairie in South Africa , with the trappings of the
Yesterday, we were in Kifri. Coalition forces bombed the front lines
there and while we were on the roof of a Peshmerga bunker, two mortar
attacks fell a couple hundred meters short of our position. I spent
the afternoon in the market place photographing people in the beautiful
light -- so many strong, proud faces in this town of little work apart
from the smuggling trade.
Late last night, we set up a live shot. We were all jacked up and
ready to go: I had Wolf Blitzer talking into my ear phone and I had
begun my delivery and was in mid-anecdote when the transmission line
went dead and I disappeared off the air. We'll try again this morning.
Now, in a spare moment, I'm reading emails from friends. I am fortunate
to have some really caring, wonderful friends who mean so much to
me. I will call Charlie later. I spoke to him yesterday: his mom said
he is worried and waits for my call everyday. Such a sweetheart.
Later I spend another afternoon in Kifri photographing more people
in the market. I ask them to tell me about their lives. There's a
widow in black who lost all of her family in a Saddam Hussein mustard
gas attack on the town of Anfal in 1988; a soldier who earns $30 a
month - he bought his Kalishnikov on the black market for $100; a
retired house builder who spends his days playing Tawli, a kind of
backgammon; and a man whose five children sell eggs in the market
- 30 for $1.50 -- that he smuggles in by donkey from Iran, over the
On our way home, we see a militia marching in formation. We stop to
get the story. They are not Kurds, but Arabs, recruited from the south,
members of the Iraqi National Congress financed by the United States.
A Canadian guy of Iraqi descent comes out to speak to us. In perfect
English, he says that the Americans have completely screwed up so
far in this war, particularly due to the fact that the Turks wouldn't
let them launch a northern offensive from Turkey. A bit farther down
the road, in a remote village off the beaten track, we encounter a
houseful of American Special Forces who refuse to talk to us.
I now think this war could go on for some time. A depressing thought.
Spring is here: I feel sad not to be able to enjoy the birthing process
and the positive energy of life that the new season represents. This
war - with its death and destruction, it crushing military hardware
-- is the antithesis of spring.
Kifri : Visit the local headquarters of PUK, the Kurdish political
party that is popular in this area. After tea and lunch with the commanders,
I leave with a brief and an aviation map detailing where the front
line is across the north.
We are about an hour from Baghdad, as the crow flies.
Overnight, the weather has changed directly from winter to summer,
short-circuiting spring. Pete has bought our guards, the two brothers,
new pants and shirts, belts and shoes. Their sweet faces glow with
pride. They have been so attentive, trying so hard. I am sure that
the shoes that the younger brother chose are too small but he is so
proud to have them that he refuses to admit it.
We spend the afternoon visiting a front line position where about
a dozen Peshmerga soldiers live in a small mud-packed bunker just
outside a village. On a hill about two hundred meters away, the Iraqi
Army is poised. We go into the village where previously, some 300
families had lived. Only a few remain. The others have fled to the
mountains for fear of a chemical weapon attack. This village is regularly
shelled by the Iraqis and the other night, when the coalition forced
dropped bombs on the Iraqi positions, the people said that "metal
rained from the sky." I will try to tell the story of this village
and transmit a set of photographs to CNN.
I am very melancholy today. Don't know if it is the weather, the beginning
of April, the fact that my ex-girlfriend's birthday is in two days
-- but my heart feels heavy, for the first time in several weeks.
When we crossed the river, we lost a laptop computer with some digital
photographs I had made in Turkey. Fortunately I had already edited
the best material, burned them to CDs, and shipped them back to New
York. Nevertheless, we might have lost some original images. Perhaps
this thought has temporarily set me back a bit: in twenty two years,
I have never lost any original photographs.
I remind myself that we are still alive, breathing, limbs intact.
I think about all of the equipment we could have lost- and of course
that puts things in perspective. I realize that as so many others,
I have been deluded into thinking that this war would be over quickly.
Now I figure it could take weeks, maybe months, with many dangerous
days ahead. I've been on the road two months - they've gone by fast
and yet I feel like I've been away a long time.
After several weeks on the road - ingesting countless shish kebabs
and sweet teas - I'm desperate for some exercise, usually a vital
part of my day. I go with Pete to a local soccer pitch, a slab of
dirt field with craters, and run laps for a half hour. We quickly
become the center of attention. I get the kids watching along the
field to run with me. I hold hands with one of them as we run, enjoying
the moment and wishing (I must admit) he was my son Charlie. Afterwards,
we do wind sprints, sit-ups, pull-ups. Then I get all of the kids
in a circle and we kick the soccer ball.
In the late morning, we head for Kifri. On the way I say to Pete that
even though it's been quiet the last few days, we should be careful
about getting sucked into a false sense of security. Minutes later
we encounter carloads of people racing out of town: during the night
and early morning, coalition forces had bombed the "castle"
where the Iraqi army has its front line position. The castle, only
200 meters from town, took a direct hit, so the Iraqis retaliated
by lobbing mortars into Kifri, killing at least three and injuring
many others. This is the same town where I had been walking among
the townsfolk in the marketplace.
I make calls to Atlanta and go live with the news. It makes me anxious
to have the ear-piece that connects me with the anchor go in and out
of sound as I'm standing there waiting to respond to them after they
set me up on air.
After the broadcast, we race into town and are directed to the home
of a young school teacher who had been killed.
We come upon a very dramatic scene. The men, in Muslim tradition,
are behind a curtain in the back yard washing the body and preparing
it to be wrapped in a white sheet for immediate burial. On the other
side of the yard, three generations of Kurdish women are wailing in
grief, pounding their chests, beating or scratching their faces, and
angrily screaming "Saddam Hussein!" as they look skyward.
The body is taken into the house and the men kneel beside it. A wooden
coffin is delivered. After the corpse is laid inside it, the family
members throw themselves on the casket. Then, as the grieving women
wail, it is put into a small truck and driven, in a motorcade, to
the cemetery, through what is now a ghost town.
That teacher and his family had awakened this very morning to a new
day. In an instant, their family history was changed forever - along
with the history of this community. I haven't been amid such suffering
and grief for a long time, though what I see around me is all too
familiar, an echo of other wars I have covered.
I am accepted into the heart of this most intimate of moments -- why,
I can only surmise. There are, perhaps, several reasons: the Kurdish
people's awareness of their historical disenfranchisement, and their
collective will for their plight to be recognized and addressed. I
feel the sharpness of their need to shout out their despair and to
share this universal moment of mourning with others who understand
their grief. Perhaps, too, they recognize the camera as a tool to
memorialize the life of the person who has just passed. Finally, there
is a sense of kinship we all feel because we are exposed to the same
risk of random death. I feel privileged to have such access to this
moment. I can only hope that my pictures do their small bit to arouse
people everywhere to recognize and affirm life and to find a resolution
Lofty ideals, perhaps, in the face of one family's tragedy, mixed
with my heart-felt commitment to preserve their dignity. At times
like these, I feel conflicted: moved by the unbelievable, almost theatrical
beauty of what I am witnessing, chilled by the reality that the slain
teacher could have been me or a member of my family. I have a heightened
awareness of the value of our precious and ephemeral lives. In one
moment we share in the banalities of everyday life, in the next moment
we are gone.
On another level, though, I am thinking of this as my work, and that
I am grateful to be working with my colleague Pete. We have really
good chemistry - temperamentally, we complement each other. He is
very focused and calm in the midst of chaos -- just as I have been
trained to be over the years. Or perhaps those qualities come naturally
What I am learning about myself this time, out here, is that I possess
a good measure of stamina: I realize I can bank on myself. And yet,
I can be thrown by other things-- like this morning's email from my
ex-girlfriend, who haunts my thoughts. It was a simple line saying
she hoped I was okay and that I would come home safely. It is her
birthday today. I miss her a lot and I am pained by the loss of our
friendship and our dreams together.
I get to bed at about 4 a.m., still running on adrenaline after a
physically and emotionally draining day. And I had spoken with my
mom. She said she is more worried this time than ever before, with
both twin sons in the theatre of war. It upsets me to be the cause
of her concern.
In the morning I get up and go for a run. While I am here, the best
way I know of to cope is to be a responsible part of my small team
and of CNN's effort to cover this war. I am also responsible to myself
-- to do my work in my way.
After circling around Kifri for days, Pete, Salar, Dilshad, and I
roll through the town marketplace. The Iraqis have finally retreated
from their front line position just outside of the town. They'd been
lobbing shells into Kifri for the last 72 hours.
As we drive through town, people peer into the windows of our car
and wave and smile big smiles. They act as if we have liberated their
city, or so I surmise from the sentiments they are expressing. Or
maybe they are simply projecting their happy recognition of us as
Americans, whom they appreciate for bombing the Iraqi front line.
We stop for a cup of tea. A man with a huge, very touching smile suddenly
walks over and kisses me on the cheek. He looks at me and makes hand
motions to represent an exploding bomb, and then he points at me.
Then I realize what he's trying to say. Everyone in town who got to
know me while I was photographing in the marketplace knew that a cameraman
had been killed the day before. They had assumed that I was that cameraman
- and they are happy to see me alive.
Three more men come over and give me sacks of fruit and vegetables
and a kiss apiece. The tea shop owner won't allow us to pay the bill.
I am as touched by their reception as I am saddened by the death of
a BBC cameraman. We find out later, when we visit the castle that
the Iraqis had held, that he had driven off the road into the middle
of a nearby mine field.
We spend the rest of the day exploring the castle and an old police
station, both overrun, now, with Kurdish Peshmergas. We watch these
fighters gleefully burn an Iraqi flag, tear a poster of Saddam Hussein
to shreds. The Peshmergas find log books with the names and birth
places of the Iraqi troops who had occupied these positions. They
also find craters from the American bombing of these positions.
The war definitely is gaining momentum. We hear that the Americans
are about to enter Baghdad and that troops will finally be allowed
to travel through Turkey into Northern Iraq. I have a feeling the
coming days will go quickly and will bring rapid changes in the war.
Pete, my colleague, calls his mom today. I hear him on the phone saying:
"Well mom, I haven't seen all of these glamorous reporters you
are talking about where I am. This is the mother of all sexual deserts."
Yesterday morning, I wanted to get some news so I asked the man who
has been bringing us food if I could visit his family to watch TV.
When we got to his house, his nine-year-old sister Avin, who knew
I had a son her age, wondered if I had spoken to him. She left for
a moment, then returned with a red rose, which she gave to me.
Sitting on the terrace of their home, looking out on the quiet and
lazy town, feeling the warm air, I stared for a while at that rose.
It was as if I had never see a rose before. I examined the aesthetics
of the flower, the petals, the color, the pistils in the center. All
aroused my interest and appreciation for the beauty of a growing thing,
the beauty of our natural world, in sharp contrast to the destruction
and pain that I have been witnessing in this war. It was a quiet,
simple moment of respite and contemplation, a restorative time out
from always trying to keep on top of the "big picture."
Last night, we had a visit from another CNN crew, a good group of
itinerant professionals, including Brent Sadler, who are very driven.
I was up on the roof of the house where we had done a live shot, trying
to feed some footage through a camera and a video phone. The stars
were shining and the moon was overhead. Salar, our translator, was
there, too. He's a young Kurdish mathematician, very self-contained,
dignified, strong, with lots of initiative, and completely low maintenance.
We were having a beer when this incredibly smart young man took me
by surprise. "David," he said, "I am twenty five years
old and I don't know what it will mean to live with freedom. I have
no idea. I have never been anywhere outside of four towns in northern
Iraq, and that is it."
I suddenly realized that in all the talk about freedom, oppression,
and democracy, no one has addressed the fact that this society, for
35 years, has known nothing but one regime. No one has acknowledged
that a change of government will bring its own challenges. And nobody
even really talks about what "freedom" means -- I have to
ask myself about the significance of this concept that we take so
much for granted.
Today, we visit a group of elderly Kurdish fighters in Kifri. Sitting
with them, it occurs to me that this war is going to be over soon.
It's a question of days: the Americans have entered Baghdad.
Up to now, I have been on guard for all of the unpredictable occurrences
of war. Suddenly I feel free to envision getting on with my life,
going and staying home, watching children play baseball or kick a
soccer ball. I envision the possibility of romancing a girlfriend
and doing the things most people do on the weekends.
I ask one of the elderly men what he thinks about the war. He answers:
"This military strategy has been so good. They haven't taken
out electrical power or bridges. They've tried not to hit civilian
areas." Whether this is true, I don't know. But I am overcome
with emotion to think that possibly - in the midst of this horrible,
destructive, divisive conflict - the cost in human lives had been
I would like to think that this war will make possible a new future
for Iraq, a future with a positive direction. Ideally, a democratic
Iraq will enable the world to refocus its attention in the mid-east
and to create a Palestinian state that isn't at the expense of Israel.
Ideally, it will offer us the chance to be less dependant on the oil
of the Saudis and their regime -- which I found oppressive in its
way when I was there in '91. It will be interesting to see what the
future holds for the Kurdish people. I have been very impressed by
them. Rarely, if ever, have I met a people so gentle, gracious, dignified,
and so appealing.
Baghdad will fall any day now. My mind is on my next challenge: getting
there, staying safe while making photographs of the changes to the
country and its capital. I also look forward to going home soon, to
seeing my son Charlie, to sharing life with my family and friends.
I feel emotional tonight. It has been a long week. The tragic death
of the BBC cameraman this week really shook me. The following day,
the field where he died looked so peaceful. The townspeople had already
moved beyond the event, looking forward with excitement to peace and
a new way of life. But I remain saddened by the loss of his life.
I think about his family, and about the many others in this war whose
lives have been changed from one moment to the next. I think about
the history of a family and a community changed forever by the random
incidents of war.
And I keep thinking back to the rose that Avin gave me yesterday.
I walk into the house, into the room where I sleep along with Ibrahim
(the homeowner, Dilshad and Hunar -- our two Kurdish Peshmerga guards,
Salar, and Pete.
It is after 1:00 in the morning. Pete and Salar are asleep. Sprawled
out on the floor in front of the TV set, with the new satellite dish
we acquired yesterday to get news, are Dilshad and Hunar, watching
a European X-rated channel. A ménage á trois is happening
I'm a bit hung over from last night's wine and beer. Drink three Nescafes,
and then decide to go over to the local soccer field to run and exercise
for an hour.
My entourage of children awaits me. At one point I am doing sit-ups
when I hear a cow mooing somewhere. I moo back. Then I start making
animal sounds, imitating a sheep, a dog, a rooster, a cat... The twenty
or so kids mimic the sounds. It's more fun than I've had in a long
When I get to town, Pete and Salar are in a huddle with our whole
team: the two guards, Sherwen the driver, and Ahmad, the middleman
who is brokering the house deal and who collects $80 a day for the
rent, the housekeeping, the laundry, and the food, and his brother
Mohammed. There seems to be an uprising: Ahmad talks too much and
is getting on everyone's nerves, our crew hates the food, and Ibrahim,
the owner of the house - who actually is doing all the work- is getting
a very small cut.
Pete, in his direct and funny way, is mediating. Apparently Ahmad
and Mohammed want to raise the rent because of a fall in the value
of the dollar. Mohammed quickly adds that the electricity is costing
Ibrahim quite a bit. Pete's happy to hear this - it plays into a strategy
he's been working. Now it's on the table that Ibrahim deserves more
Mohammed hems and haws and comes up with the figure of $90 a day for
his mother's exquisite cuisine, washing, being our "fixer,"
finding a car to replace ours, which is out of commission. Pete happily
agrees. Everybody is pleased. Then Pete plays his trump card: the
conditions are that Ibrahim will be paid his fair due, which means
less for Ahmad and Mohammed in the end.
The upshot is Ahmad quits, Mohammed storms off, and Ibrahim takes
over for $20 less than what Ahmad's been getting. There are smiles
all around. Sherwen exclaims: "Our minds are at rest - we are
released from the chatterbox Ahmad!" Pete retorts: "He is
probably a really nice bloke, but he isn't going to be on my Christmas
list. And I suppose at three in the morning a hand grenade will be
lobbed over the house wall."
Later today we are downloading photographs from my computer when John
Simpson from the BBC reports on TV that a large convoy -- including
himself and a large contingent of Peshmergas -- had taken control
of two Iraqi tanks moving along the front lines. The convoy was then
spotted by an American airplane that dropped two bombs and killed
18 people, among them a translator for the BBC and American Special
Forces soldiers. Forty people were wounded - one of them the brother
of the Kurdish leader Barsani. Pete remarks: "It is a further
shock wave about the dangers of friendly fire."
I spend the day figuring out how to record and download and transmit
a sound track through my computer and send it back to Atlanta. I get
frustrated trying to learn the minutiae of using a computer. It's
time-consuming and often I feel so inept as I try to accomplish a
simple task. I finally succeed, after an hour on the phone with a
techie in Atlanta. Pete cheers me up: "It hasn't been a big day
photographically but it has been an important day. We are all a lot
happier, the food is better, we have a visit from another CNN team
-- and we have survived another day of coalition bombing!"
I am also amused by the story of the British Helicopter pilot. American
ground troops mistook him for the enemy and fired on him using surface-to-air
missiles. They missed the target and the British helicopter pilot
landed and strode over to them with his white scarf blowing in the
wind. He asked them if they had ever seen an Iraqi helicopter, and
then got back into his aircraft and flew off. To miss your target,
then to find out your target was friendly, and then to be told off
by your target, would dwell on my mind for months! The story is typical
This morning I go to the market and ask a tailor to make some shirts
for me and a little Kurdish costume for my son Charlie, like the one
that the men wear here. I choose a beautiful material and find a boy
his size for the fitting.
All day yesterday, I was learning how to transmit footage to Atlanta
with Final Cut Pro. Even though I have spent my career making strong
photographs, there's a whole other time span ahead that requires the
same commitment to mastering the new photographic and film editing
technology. As long as I keep reminding myself to break the learning
process down into small steps, I can manage. Still, I experience moments
of frustration and intimidation. At those times, I feel quite inept,
something that I have to fight against. I know that having access
to these tools is empowering and will give my expression and voice
Back in Kifri today. Coalition forces report they have found "Chemical
Ali," dead in Basra. We do a standup in the streets with a man
who has just returned from Baghdad. He has smuggled in a truck full
of rice. Like so many people in this town where there is little work
other than smuggling, he's been plying the trade for the last ten
years, bringing in kerosene and petrol, at great risk. Several relatives
and friends were killed by Iraqi military as they tried to make their
way back to the north across Iraqi lines. He tells me that his trip
last night was the easiest in the last ten years because there is
no longer an Iraqi military at checkpoints in Baghdad.
In a tea shop, I interview the patrons about their reactions to Chemical
Ali's death. "We are feasting here today at this news,"
one man says. "Chemical Ali was responsible for the mustard gas
attack on Kurds in 88 when some 5000 people were killed. And there
was the Anfal operation in Kurdistan when Chemical Ali tried to 'ethnically
cleanse' Kurds from this region. Thousands of men were taken from
their homes and have never reappeared."
After a moment he adds: "We are so excited that our freedom is
coming now soon - that we can live in a democratic Iraq."
American troops are in Baghdad. The Iraqi minister comes on TV to
announce that Iraq is defending the airport and the city. Seconds
later, a Pentagon briefing and CNN show pictures of tanks taking over
the Presidential Palace.
News travels slowly to these regions. We stop at a small roadside
stand to find no one knows the Americans are in Baghdad. One man suggests
that 'the special forces bring in big TV screens and set them up in
town squares throughout the country so the people know what is happening."
I enjoyed interviewing the smuggler today in Kifri. I have been doing
these kinds of interviews for the last three weeks and it's dawning
on me that I can do this pretty well, in fact with some flair. The
process is natural for me; I simply exercise the same curiosity and
appreciation for contact with people that I practice in every other
moment of my life. It's all about facilitating understanding between
myself and others and learning to appreciate the flavor of different
cultures, of different ways of thinking about things, as well as the
We get our shirts today from Ibrahim, our housekeeper. Also, Charlie's
Kurdish outfit that I had made for him. I will enjoy seeing my son
in the Kurdish pants. My friend Robert Weiner, who wrote Live From
Baghdad, calls them "dump pants" because as he says "they
are baggy enough to take a dump in and no one will know." I am
sure that Charlie will appreciate the bathroom humor - and that he'll
be enchanted by the idea that his outfit comes from an exotic culture
that was part of his daddy's adventure, and now his.
I spent yesterday, once again, trying to manage a computer crisis.
I was on the terrace at 4:30 a.m., transmitting footage, when it started
to rain. There was a power outage and then a surge and the computer
screen went black. Didn't sleep the rest of the night, knowing it
would be impossible to transmit my photographs without this computer.
There is no way to imagine where in northern Iraq I could get another
All morning I've been drying the thing with a hair dryer. It still
won't start although the hard drive seems to be intact. I finally
reached another CNN producer here in the north who was able to locate
a spare laptop with another crew up here. Spent another bunch of hours
on the phone with Atlanta getting it configured.
Now it's about 4:30 p.m. Baghdad is falling. Our TV shows American
tanks in front of the Palestine Hotel in the center of the capital.
I get a call from Earl Casey and Eason Jordan at CNN. They thank me
for my work but say that given what's happening in Baghdad, they are
pulling back crews -- including mine. I tell them that in the next
24 hours, I hope to make it to Baghdad if at all possible. Of course,
there are lots of ifs.... if the people here in the north know what
is happening in the south ... if we can get through the front lines
... if we can avoid friendly fire as we head south. Eason gives me
the green light. We agree to speak again on Sunday to assess my next
We race out the door to Kifri to see if we can find a way to get to
We made it a little ways past Kifri yesterday. The Peshmergas had
taken much territory but the path south was still not open. Lots of
excitement in the air, the anticipation of triumphant days to come.
But so far, no clear news about the situation at the front line. When
we got back to the house, CNN was showing the scene outside the Palestine
Hotel. Abrams tanks were arriving and taking charge in the middle
of the city. Then we saw the dramatic footage that will become the
icon of the fall of Saddam: of the people toppling his statue, dragging
the head through the streets of Baghdad.
The mood in our house is charged tonight. Everyone's keyed up: our
guards, driver, and translator, all Kurdish, are excited and anxious
that today we're heading for Baghdad. Of them, only the driver Sherwen
has been in the capital, to work as a taxi driver. There's also a
sense of jubilation over the fact that the man who has ruled all their
years in this country has just been deposed. At the same time, there's
a feeling of melancholy. Everyone knows that soon we will part and
go our different ways.
Ibrahim makes a big feast and we sit together, companionably but quietly.
After dinner, Hunar and Dilshad put on Kurdish TV which shows people
dancing in the streets to Kurdish music. They immediately start dancing
and so do I. Sherwen joins us. We dance together, the way Kurdish
men do, with our hands in the air, sometimes linking our little fingers.
I am truly overcome with emotion. No matter that three of my companions
can't speak English and I can't speak Kurdish. We have learned to
speak another language with one another, the language that comes with
sharing intense moments of happiness, solitude, fear, sadness, sensuality,
respect, jubilation. We have slept in the same rooms, eaten the same
food, used the same toilet, suffered the same estrangement from our
families. Through it all, we've forged a bond through working together
and becoming a team, each of us vital in our different ways.
By nightfall, the celebration in the neighborhood hits a high pitch.
There is the banging of tin drums, music, singing, and the sounds
of people dancing. We go outside our compound. In the darkness, several
hundred meters away, a block party of Kurds has formed to dance together
in the street. Drivers honk their horns as they go by. This is a society
which generally segregates men and women. Tonight, all come together
to hold hands and share the language and joy of dance.
The women, who are usually in the background in this culture, have
a clear sense of their strength and power of seduction tonight. Pete,
Salar, and I go over to photograph the dancing and are invited to
join in. I find myself linking little fingers with a beautiful Kurdish
women on one side and a handsome Kurdish man on the other. This moment
of dancing and joy is no doubt being shared by Kurds all across the
north of Iraq tonight as they celebrate a new future in this country.
This morning, frantically, I try to get my computer to receive emails
(I am overwhelmed by how dependant I have become on a computer and
by the need to stay in touch by emails with my family and friends.
Meanwhile, the team prepares to head for Baghdad.
We get a call at noon that Brent Sadler's crew had already headed
south. I go immediately into rush mode: got to hit the road. We install
the special racks we've had made for the roof of the car so we can
permanently attach our satellite dishes. This way we can transmit
live as we drive south.
We finish packing, share a goodbye tea, tie the luggage to the roof
of the car and cover it with white canvas on which we've painted TV
in large letters. We shove off in a convoy of two vehicles for the
south. Salar is with Pete and me in one car; in the other are Sherwen,
the driver, and Hunar and Dilshad, our two Peshmerga guards.
We reached the town of Jabara, which only that morning had been liberated.
People rush out into the streets to cheer our arrival -- reminds me
of Bucharest when Ceaucescu had been deposed in Romania. Down the
road we meet a small contingent of American Special Forces and Peshmergas
who are moving forward very carefully. We follow them for ten kilometers
until they stop in an Arab village. They invite us to visit the house
of an important elderly Kurd in the village.
Turns out there's an agenda. The visit to this elderly gentleman is
a scouting mission on the part of the Kurds. They want to know if
anyone in this predominantly Arab community has a car they can take
over and make part of the Kurdish Authority. I think I'm witnessing
an emerging system of barter, and apparently the Kurds' capacity for
We are told not to go any further south because on the outskirts of
the village, there are Iranian mujahideen who haven't yet retreated
like the Iraqi army. So we drive back a few kilometers and then make
for a parallel, more westerly road that goes to Baghdad. We have about
two hours of light left and we want to push all the way. I sit on
the top of the roof of our Pajero hanging onto the luggage rack as
we race south, taking in the truly beautiful countryside that spreads
out in all directions.
As we approach the town of Jalulah - which until this morning had
been firmly in the control of the Iraqi Army - we see dozens of armored
vehicles and tanks that the Iraqis had just parked on the side of
the road. We also see many soldiers and it starts to become difficult
to distinguish the Iraqis who have surrendered from the Kurdish Peshmerga
who have taken over. Outside of this town of some 500 thousand people,
we see men looting refrigerators and every other conceivable booty
from the local Iraqi army barracks. The scene is intense. The streets
are jammed with people. I do two live standups that put us on the
map heading south through uncharted ground - an opening corridor from
At dusk we head south again, but run into another group of men who
say there are 300 Iranian mujahideen up the road and that we should
wait until tomorrow morning. We return to Jalulah. Sherwen pulls up
in front of a kind of villa and he, Pete, and I walk to the front
door. An Arab gentleman greets us. We ask if we can sleep in his house
for the night. He doesn't hesitate to invite us in and introduces
us to three of his children, his wife, and his parents.
We are ushered into a guest room. And then food is prepared and laid
out on a table cloth on the floor. A strong, very tall Iraqi man sits
near me. Later, I find out he our host's son-in-law, Hillal. I ask
him how he feels about Saddam and the current situation. With sadness
in his eyes, he says he doesn't want to speak of it. Still, he is
gracious to us: the family then proceeds to serve their guests, one
an American stranger, a veritable feast, and to then accommodate us
with beds and blankets.
The next morning, Hillal is in the foyer praying. He lays out another
spread of food for us. I ask if he is a sportsman. He smilingly admits
that he had been the goal keeper of the Iraqi National Soccer team.
Does he coach children to play? No, he says, he's been involved with
other work: "the army." And what did he do in the army?
He quietly acknowledges that he had been a colonel in a Republican
Guard unit in Baghdad. He and his family had arrived from the capital
We converse for the next hour. He wonders if there couldn't have been
another way to disarm and to remove Saddam Hussein without bombing
and hurting so many people. I agree. I tell Hillal that I have had
only two heroes in my life. One was my father, a wonderful husband
to my mother for 52 years, a compassionate doctor who charged people
only what they could afford, and a tireless fighter for the integration
of schools in our corner of Indiana. The other is Nelson Mandela.
What I deeply believe the world needs is for its leaders to communicate
and to facilitate the consensus of their people in the spirit of Nelson
Mandela. We both agree that neither Saddam Hussein nor George Bush
is a Nelson Mandela.
Hillal is upset that Americans want Iraq's oil. I believe that, certainly,
the multi-national oil companies do. But if there is anything positive
to come of this, perhaps the war will lessen the grip that Saudi Arabia,
another oppressive regime, has on the world's oil resources. I tell
him that in a best-case scenario perhaps his children will be able
to participate freely in a democratic society. After a long conversation,
to my embarrassment, he thanks me. It is I who owe him thanks, I say,
for touching me so deeply with such gracious and generous hospitality
that I will never forget. We must now leave for Baghdad.
We are about ten kilometers south of Jalulah. A group of Peshmerga
fighters excitedly stop us from going further. They say that Iranian
mujahideen are firing from the fields. We pull over and try to sort
out what's really going on. Suddenly an army jeep races up with a
fighter who has taken three bullets in the abdomen and one in the
chest, just missing the heart. Pete, who has extensive medical training,
grabs his first-aid kit. We lay the man on the ground. Pete cuts through
his bloodied shirt and seals the entry and exit wounds with plastic
bandages. We put the man into the back of a truck and he's raced off
to the hospital.
I had photographed and filmed Pete as he treated the wounded man.
I am now determined to get these images on the air as my tribute to
Pete's efforts and to reveal the realities of war.
We hit the road again. The further south we go, the more intense the
scene around us. We continuously meet up with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters
who tell us to turn back because they have been shot at. Then we meet
Iraqi Arabs who insist that the Peshmergas are looting everything
in sight. But we keep going. I am sitting once again on the roof of
the car. The countryside is beautiful, although littered with abandoned
We pull into to the town of Al Khakis, with me still on the roof of
the car. In the other towns we'd driven through, we could quickly
get a sense that the tide had turned: the murals of Saddam Hussein
had been defaced and the people would cheer us. But in this town the
murals of Saddam remain -- and nobody's cheering.
At an intersection men in civilian clothes with Iraqi flags around
their shoulders are checking all of the vehicles. Several spot me.
No smiles there. They look like hawks with prey in sight. A man about
20 meters away points his AK47 in my direction and, shouting something
unintelligible, starts running toward our car. If there ever was a
life or death situation, this is it.
I dive into the car, pushing aside the video camera so as not to damage
it, and scream to Pete to step on the gas. Salar, in the passenger
seat in the front, also dives to the floor. Gunfire starts blasting
in our direction as Pete screeches through the intersection. The car
is weaving and dodging like a scene in a bad movie, with bullets cracking
as they whiz by. Flattened against the floor, I keep thinking any
minute now I'm going to feel a bullet come through the door into my
legs or my ass.
Pete races the car forward about 300 meters. Up ahead is another checkpoint:
a traffic light and men stopping cars. With the gunmen chasing us,
Pete makes a sharp right turn and careens down a street directly towards
an army barracks where Sadism's figure looms on a huge poster. Seems
to me that we're heading straight for a hornet's nest. How can we
get out of this? I have the desperate notion that our only option
is to ask a family somewhere for refuge. I yell to Pete: " What
are you thinking?" Pete yells back: "I think we are in the
shit, that's what I'm thinking!"
Somehow, we get back on the main road, having bypassed the traffic
light, and find ourselves racing through town, heading south into
the countryside. A car is coming up fast behind us. A man shouts out
the windoww: we find out that the car with Sherwen our driver, Hunar
and Dilshad, our two Peshmerga guards, inside had escaped the angers
of Al Khakis by turning off a side road and taking a detour toward
There's no turning back now. But as we move south, we realize that
the rest of the route to Baghdad is probably not liberated, and we
will probably run into more of the same. We reach another small town,
and another roundabout where the traffic is stopped. In an instant,
we're encircled by a dozen armed Iraqi men in kaffieyhs. This time,
though, I catch someone's eye and he smiles. I motion him to get in
the car with us, and he climbs in. To our relief, all the other armed
men, deferring to our unknown passenger's authority, escort us through
the roundabout and out of town.
I am holding Pete's navigator which indicates we're only 40 minutes
from Baghdad. There don't appear to be any more towns in between.
I call the international desk at CNN in Atlanta and describe our situation.
They're worried: no one else has been south on that road. They have
just heard about another crew which was robbed and beaten near Chamchamal
- among them is Mitch the New Zealander, my fellow-traveler across
the river into Iraq.
We stay in phone contact with Atlanta as we race south. There are
masses of vehicles heading in both directions, stacked to the roof
with dozens of family members and all their belongings. The closer
we get to the capital, the more cars clog the roads. People stare
at us - the first westerners to appear on this route -- with suspicion,
fear and anger. Smoke from oil fires blackens the horizon. There is
an intense afternoon light, an almost monochromatic, ominous charcoal
Luminescent highlights glint off the objects and people beneath it.
The effect is as if someone has put a huge soft box over the sun.
It's a backdrop I've only seen before in pictures from Kuwait in '91.
The navigator reads nine minutes to Baghdad. With the city sprawled
in front of us, the roads congested and chaotic, I fear that we are
driving into another hornet's nest. Then, in a field to my left, I
see a huge arsenal of military machinery. It doesn't belong to the
Iraqis. It belongs to American Marines. We've hit the perimeter!
We pull over when we see a group of Marines and report where we've
come from. They can't believe we've forged our way along that treacherous
route. After a few moments to stretch and collect ourselves, we're
back on the congested road, heading south. This time we're following
a Marine convoy into Baghdad. From my rooftop perch, I look out on
scenes of destruction, streams of refugees, oil fires.
The convoy pulls over, but we drive on towards the city center. We
find a man who speaks English and ask him to take us to the Hotel
Palestine. He hops into the car and we race through burning Baghdad
neighborhoods. Massive murals of Saddam Hussein are still plastered
everywhere. Baghdadis push shopping carts stuffed with looted goods
through the streets to the sound of sporadic machine gun fire in the
Ten minutes later, we pull up in front of the Palestine Hotel - in
the same spot where only two days earlier we had watched the statue
of Saddam Hussein come crashing down. Welcome to Baghdad. In the lobby,
I meet Patrick Robert, a French photographer I've known for years.
He calls me Peter, my twin brother's name. This has been a familiar
experience over the years- it probably means Peter is already in Baghdad.
I locate the CNN crew: Walter Rodgers, Martin Savage, and Christiane
Amanapour. It's great to see Christiane again - we first met in '91
in the first Gulf War where we spent days in the Dharan Hotel trying
to figure out -- along with Forrest Sawyer -- how to evade the press
pool situation of that war.
I move on through the lobby. Ahead of me, I see my twin Peter, wearing
a flak jacket, his face tanned, his long blonde hair blonder from
days in the sun. There's nothing new in this encounter: it's the characteristic
way we've been meeting in war zones for the last twenty years. We
hug - feeling the bond and intimacy that springs from knowing another
person from the womb on up, through a childhood playing in the fields
of Indiana. Images of our shared life flash through my mind as we
stand together, staring at one another, in the Palestine Hotel in
I introduce him to Pete Hornett. Then I check in and my brother goes
with me up to my room. I help him transmit his photographs back to
the Denver Post. I send my own photographs to CNN, then do a live
standup on the hotel roof.
At the end of a long day - a long several days, really -- Pete Hornett
and I share some Russian Vodka with my friend Seamus Conlan, one of
the sweetest and most generous photographers I have ever met. It's
a special evening of swapping stories in a hotel room a few floors
away from the spot where, several days earlier, a US tank round killed
Back in my room, I discover Salar fast asleep, stretched out naked
on one of the beds. Pete Hornett sprawls on a mattress on the floor.
I crawl into bed and am out for the count in Baghdad.
Wake up a little the worse for wear, after a day of high adrenaline
and a night of downing more vodka that I am accustomed to.
We hit the streets of Baghdad to photograph. I had been here in '91,
before and after the first Gulf war, and again in '96. I immediately
sense that the mood has changed. After a twelve-year embargo and another
war, the Baghdadis seem to be drained of the life force. They no longer
exhibit the generosity and curiosity toward a foreigner that I remember.
Instead there is a look of real concern in their faces: concern over
where to get water or food in a city without electricity, a government
or police force. And for now, the only manifestation of "freedom"
seems to be the right to loot. I see people gleefully racing out of
former government buildings toting cabinets, chairs, light fixtures,
you name it. People come up to me constantly with the same message:
"Tell George Bush we are waiting: waiting for a new government,
food to eat, and a return to order."
A small girl walks by me with two AK 47 ammunition clips. Groups of
men exchange bundles of Iraqi dinars for dollars. At the marketplace,
there are only meager food supplies: potatoes, tomatoes, a few apples.
The water from fire hydrants is used to bathe in and to take back
home in buckets to drink.
I transmit the day's photographs and do a live hook up with Wolf Blitzer;
a bit later, a live-to-tape piece to accompany my photographs. In
the stand-up I report that while the people in Baghdad didn't necessarily
support Saddam Hussein, life under his regime was a known quantity.
What they seem to fear now is the lack of any sense of what comes
Up at 6 a.m. I go to the hotel across the street where my brother
Peter is staying. Until yesterday, I hadn't seen him in three months.
From conversations with our mother, I know he had a tough time in
the south. As a "unilateral" photojournalist, that is, unattached
to an American military unit, he found it hard to find places to sleep
and food to eat and the work was dangerous.
The electricity is out in Peter's hotel. As I knock on the door to
his room, Eric Feferburg, a wonderful French photographer, shows up.
Peter lets us in to his gear-filled room. I am struck by the thought
of how many stories my brother has covered and how many of his hotel
rooms I have visited over the last twenty years. There is a familiarity
to the things he travels with and the way he organizes them, creating
his own world, his cozy bunker, in the middle of chaotic war zones.
The three of us converse in French. I have read that many twins create
their own secret language when they are growing up. Peter and I, though,
have always taken pleasure in learning and speaking foreign languages.
We particularly enjoy the colloquialisms and argot of French. So now,
in that flavorful language, we share our war stories. I can't describe
how pleasurable it has always been for me to hear my brother recount
his experiences. He speaks with such passion and such a thirst for
life --as well as some self-deprecation --as he describes his incredible
adventures in vivid detail. This time, in addition to telling great
tales, he makes us a good cup of coffee.
Peter and Eric show me their photographs on their computers. It's
astonishing how digital photography and computers have changed the
experience on the road -- enabling us to see our work while we do
it. It's both motivating and rewarding to download a day's work, edit
it, and immediately re-experience the intense emotions and sights
of the war zone. Our images not only embody the impressions that we
need so desperately for other to see, they are also our emotional
My brother asks me if I want to travel and work with him today. I
am torn because we haven't worked together in a long time. We both
came into photography as teenagers and spent three years with one
camera documenting one inner city street together in Fort Wayne. Spending
a day together has been a special privilege going back a long time.
But this time I refuse. I have been very worried for him during this
war - tragic things have happened to so many of our colleagues. Somehow,
I feel that our karma on this story will work best if we continue
to work separately. My intuition is not to change that dynamic now.
And when I am working in the middle of conflict, it's always been
my habit to honor my intuition -- that ineffable sensation of some
kind of energy that I must stay true to, to keep my guardian angel
Later this morning, I am in the old city doing interviews. Before
coming to Baghdad, I imagined that I would see American tanks driving
through this part of town. But I see no American troops. I wonder
if the old city is not considered a strategic zone for the American
military to manage. Then, literally behind my back, American tanks
come rolling along the pavement and barrel through this ancient quarter,
a roaring convoy of monstrous machines. I spin around -- and make
one of the most memorable images from this war for myself. It shows
Iraqis- in particular a young Iraqi girl - cheering the arrival of
the troops. It's serendipity- one of my favorite words, because it
embodies the idea that if you just keep working with concentration
and purpose and discipline, interesting things come at you.
Later in the day, with Pete and Salar, I go to one of Saddam's Palaces
along the Tigris - the one where he actually lived much of the time.
U.S. Marines patrol the perimeter of the kilometer-square compound,
keeping journalists out. Nonetheless, they let me in when I flash
my CNN credential. Pete and Salar wait in the car. For the first time
in weeks I am alone, walking in the bright sunlight through the stunning
and immense landscape that was Saddam's backyard, enjoying the solitude
and peacefulness in the midst of the chaos of Baghdad.
I pass by a tank; a single American soldier sits on top. We start
to talk. He's from Warsaw, Indiana, minutes away from where my mother
lives. When I tell him I had played football for Fort Wayne Elmhurst,
my high school in Indiana, we really connect. He says he's going home
to visit his mom in Indiana as soon as he gets out of Baghdad. Walking
on, I think about my mother back home who is constantly thinking of
Peter and me over here. I know that she's glued to the news on TV.
I cry a little. For some time, I've been yearning to see her in her
country home where the only sounds are hummingbirds chirping in the
morning. I'm aware of how her time on earth is not infinite and how
much I love her and miss her.
I continue my walk to Saddam's "house" -- a gargantuan palace
with a huge arched entry way and a colossal gold chandelier. The front
steps are thick with the concrete dust that settled after the palace
was bombed. I walk through it photographing the remnants of opulence
that had been Saddam's daily ambience: sitting rooms with marble floors
and walls of inlaid ivory, the size of high school gymnasiums.
Inside, I bump into a petite Roumanian journalist. We swap deposed
dictator stories. She describes her tour of Ceaucescu's mansions after
the fall of Bucharest in '89. I tell her about being in Ceaucescu's
office with the militia who had taken over the Roumanian Presidential
Palace in '89, all of us watching his execution on a TV screen.
We walk together through the palace and find Saddam's bedroom, an
auditorium-sized room with a marble floor. I stretch out on a luxurious
divan next to Saddam's bed and film my colleague doing a standup for
her Roumanian television network. In turn, she photographs me lolling
on the divan. At that point, I realize I have a serious urge to relieve
myself. So voila: into Saddam's bathroom I go and piss in his gold
plated toilet, only realizing in mid-stream, as it were, the exquisite
irony of the moment.
Back at the hotel, I organize a story for CNN with the day's photographs
and some sound bites of an old man I had interviewed in the old city.
As I do a live to tape standup on the hotel roof, Christiane Amanapour
sits next to me -- she's been up all night doing live shots and has
a half-hour before her next one.
After my delivery, we joke around a little. She tells me I have done
well - except for using the word "bellowed" when I had meant
to say "billowed." I tell her that doing this standup in
front of her was only slightly intimidating and that anyway, my mother
still corrects her 47-year-old son's grammar. She shows me photographs
of her son Darius and talks about getting home to him and her husband.
We chat about mutual friends from the time we both lived in Paris
and reminisce about how we had originally met --in the first Gulf
War in '91. As always, I feel enormous respect and admiration for
her strength, professionalism, and intellect.
Today is my last day in Baghdad. It is also my ex-mother-in-law's
birthday. It is also the anniversary of my wedding to my ex-wife.
A very emotional day for me.
A huge explosion just went off near the hotel. This has become part
and parcel of this life: I have learned to put it out of my mind.
It has been a long almost three months on the road. My body is only
starting to release the deep tensions that result from being constantly
on red alert to what's happening around me and from the relentless
concentration it takes to do my work. Not to mention the steep learning
curve in the world of television reporting -- a new form of storytelling
for me. I'm also unwinding from the strain of sharing a room with
two other men for the last month, of being so far from loved ones
and friends, and from the pain of witnessing the devastation and disillusionment
the war has brought to the lives of so many people.
Last night, in search of a computer cable, I went to Peter's hotel
and called his room from downstairs. I was about to make my request
when I caught myself and asked him how his day had gone. He told me
that he had just experienced what was perhaps the saddest moment of
his professional career. He had been at a hospital when a father came
in with his beautiful, 11-year old daughter. She had been suffering
from pulmonary pneumonia, but her father had been unable to get her
to the hospital until then, because of the war. She died in front
of them; the doctors tried to resuscitate her, to no avail. Peter
said he broke down crying, along with the doctors, his driver, and
the child's father. I went to his room to hug him - and be hugged.
This morning, around six a.m., I go to the CNN workspace where Christiane
has just finished her live shots for the night. We talk for quite
a while -- the way we used to several years ago. I'd forgotten what
pleasure I get talking with her. Today she tells me how she met her
husband whom she obviously adores. We talk about Karin, my ex-wife,
who has always been very fond of Christiane (and vice versa), about
my son Charlie and her son Darius, about our careers as journalists.
She has a strong sense of purpose which I find very appealing.
Our conversation makes me realize how anxious I am about going home
-- back to the hustle and bustle of New York, back to puzzling over
what to do next in my life as I head into my 48th year. I'm anxious,
too, about being a good father to Charlie, and about finding companionship,
and about continuing to exercise my professional skills in ways that
keep me engaged. This is clearly all too much to sort out today, but
I can't stop thinking...
Over the last year, I have been trying to live one day at a time:
to get up every morning and point myself in a constructive direction.
Perhaps this war zone -- the close calls we have had, the ephemeral
quality of life that I have witnessed, along with the many tragedies
that are part of the palette of war -- has heightened my sense of
mortality and quickened my resolve to live every day as if it were
Working in a war zone provides a photojournalist with a sense of daily
purpose. Other people's lives, dreams, and tragedies become so important;
they keep everything in perspective. They spur us to underscore in
our work the value of life, love, and family. I suppose what I fear
most is to return to the banality of a lifestyle that provides all
the modern amenities. Living that kind of life, I am at a loss to
know how to contribute to this world -- for I am without the convenience
of a quantifiable mission of serving others.
But enough reflection. I must embrace this moment with gratitude.
Gratitude to Eason Jordan and CNN for having supported my work in
the field and given me such a tremendous opportunity to learn and
to have a voice. To my family and friends who have been so concerned
for me. To my mates, Pete Hornett and Salar, and Jack Van Antwerp,
who had worked with me in Syria and Turkey, who have been with me
through thick and thin these last three months. Gratitude for the
opportunity to see my brother Peter so vibrant and fulfilled in his
work, and to renew and deepen my love and respect and friendship for
him. And gratitude for the opportunity to share life with so many
wonderfully passionate, sensitive photojournalists and journalists,
who have given so much of themselves and remained true to their convictions
in spite of enormous risks -- and even at the cost of their lives.
After writing those words, on this, my last night in Iraq and Baghdad,
I go down to the hotel "restaurant" for a bite. I say restaurant
in quotes because it has no electricity, and usually no food, either.
Still, it has become a congregating place for journalists and soldiers
who come in to get off the street and spend time in somewhat more
peaceful and familiar surroundings.
The restaurant, lit by a gasoline-powered generator, is dim; the décor
tattered and dreary. I talk to a young man who works for the Denver
Post. I struggle to stay engaged, although I'm bone-weary -- and I'm
also thinking about tomorrow, when I plan to leave Baghdad for Kuwait
early in the morning.
Suddenly, I'm caught off guard by the sound of a piano. I don't know
where that sound is coming from, but I do know that it is not the
middle-eastern music I've been hearing for the last three months.
I turn around. A U. S Marine, a young Hispanic man, in his mud- and
dirt- stained chocolate chip uniform, helmet, and flak jacket, his
machine gun slung over his shoulder, sits in front of a piano. He
stares dreamily ahead, his body language slowly changing from that
of a stiff-backed soldier to that of a man losing himself in his soul
and folding himself into his music. He starts to riff: first something
light and tentative; then a little Motown; then, slowly, he's deep
into the Blues.
I look around. We're all reacting the same way: people start drifting
in to see where the music is coming from. All at once it's a full
house, with everyone listening in silence, mesmerized by the rhythms
and the spirit of the melodies. The notes sing of life, sadness, and
the affirmation to keep moving on; of the spirit of the young man
who taps out a soft and swaying and sometimes joyful ballad on a piano
in a dark corner of a room in the heart of war-torn Iraq.
Within minutes, the piano is surrounded by soldiers, all with weapons
draped over their shoulders: young men, some white, with dirt-smeared
faces, some Hispanic, some Asian, some black... all young American
men in a far away place, and yet, for a few moments back home... connected
by song and the familiar beats of a music their ears and hearts have
grown up with.
And then it is over. The young piano player gets up to go. As he passes
my table, I thank him for his beautiful music. He tells me he is from
South Central Los Angeles. He learned to play the piano in the church
where his father is a Baptist minister. He seems surprised and a bit
embarrassed by the impact his music has had on the crowd. He responds
to my appreciation with a soft "Thank you, sir," puts on
his helmet, and turns to go back out into the midnight streets of
an uncertain Baghdad.
© David Turnley