The Digital Journalist
Street Level
April 2004

by Sherrlyn Borkgren

Wednesday night, Day 3 in Baghdad, and still feeling pretty green. I knew I had pushed the limits by being out late, alone and female. It was dark and the lights always go out about 8 p.m.

I hoped to get back to my hotel but I looked at my watch and realized I was going to be stuck on the streets during the blackout. I glanced at two young boys who were huddled in the corner on Karrada Street, playing with matches. It wouldn't be too bad since many people have generators and light up the stores with them. I photographed a few more street scenes. I didn't have my flash and my camera battery was low. I would just try to stay in lit areas as I moved towards the hotel. A pop from the corner where the boys were squatted startled me even though I was expecting it. A store owner started to assure me that it was just a firecracker but before he could get the words out of his mouth, the glass from his store windows blew out into the streets and the sidewalk where we were standing rumbled. I saw the black smoke of the explosion a few blocks away and ran towards it. When I arrived a couple of men were running from the burning hotel building. One stopped to pull shrapnel out of his leg and said he was OK. In the center of the street a large crater, 10 or 12 feet in diameter and approximately 8 feet deep, sat like a dark sign of victory.

Neighbors were already outside, some holding pistols, attempting to stomp out a huge fire at a nearby house with their feet. My camera barrel was already warm from the heat. The neighbors were desperate to save those inside the house but it looked impossible from my vantage point. The building was nothing but a pile of burning stones.


Photo by Sherrlyn Borkgren/Aurora
The United States military arrived quickly in tanks and began to organize and help carry out the wounded as the local police worked on pushing out the journalists. Then the survivors turned back and realized that other family members had been killed in the explosion. Their pain is sometimes unbearable to me and I feel rather awkward that I can never hold back my tears when the survivors of tragedy fall apart emotionally. I'm glad I have an auto focus on my camera.

The Iraqis first pleaded, then demanded, we not take pictures of the dead. Out of respect I laid my camera on my knee, but if something exceptional were to happen I would be ready. I have rarely seen the US press use dead people pictures anyway. Some photographers pursued it nevertheless.

There were only a few bodies to pull out from the mess. Some were buried beneath rubble and some had just disappeared. A military spokesman Colonel Baker later said that over 1,000 pounds of explosives had been used. Over 30 people had disappeared in the explosion.

I have been staying at one of the cheapest hotels and found a few other freelance journalists, mostly from independent media, also here. By the next morning almost everyone except a few other stragglers, the Iraqis, and me, were gone. Those who hadn't left were talking about it and were looking for a safer place. Most had decided to move to the more expensive hotels that are barricaded.


Photo by Sherrlyn Borkgren/ Aurora
I guess I am safer now since most have left. I stay with the workers, the maids, the dishwashers, and the clerks.

Last night, several RPGs were fired near my hotel. I must admit it was a little un-nerving. Maybe it was because of all the fearful talk from the people who left but I felt my heart pounding a little too fast when the RPGs were close. I would have gone to photograph but it is not possible to tell from where those rockets are launching. So I said a prayer and fell into a peaceful sleep. I woke up in the morning with the sun shining on my face.

It would be arrogant to think that I could even imagine what the Iraqis feel. This is an everyday experience for them and their children. They live in an occupied country and they have few rights and as far as I can see few benefits from the war. However they continue to say to us,

Salam Ali Kam, God's Peace Be On You,

© Sherrlyn Borkgren

Sherrlyn Borkgren is a freelance photojournalist for Aurora. Her website is