On the Dutch news, Baghdad is reduced to a morass of inhuman misery. It’s unreal and far away from us. But what do we know about each other’s life? Together with journalist Paulien Bakker, I visited Baghdad in September 2011. We had only one question; how are you?
Published on: New York Times Lens (US), New York Times at War (US), One World (NL), De Correspondent (NL), NRC (NL), Radio Netherlands Worldwide (NL), Il Post (IT), Flavorwire(US), Guernica Mag (US) and Iraq Sun (IR). Winner PANL Award 2012 (NL). Exhibited on Fotofestival Naarden (NL), Photoville (US) and De Gang (NL).
During our trip, I made a short documentary about Paulien (4 min)/
A glimpse of one of Paulien's stories:
Mustafa, Baghdad April 8, 2003
Sometime after noon he heard a monotonous roar that came closer and closer. The plangent noise frightened him. He ran out the gate to look. All their neighbors had taken to the streets; most of them still wearing their house pajamas. Everyone wanted to see what was going on. Suddenly a tank turned the corner. Mustafa was shocked. These were not their tanks. A second later everyone realized it and panicked. People scattered in all directions. Mustafa and Haidr just reached the gate of their house, a neighbor who was too far from his own raced through their gate after them. “They’re here,” muttered the man in panic. Yes, that’s clear, Mustafa thought. His heart hammered in his chest, and he leaned over to rest his arms on his knees. “Let’s go inside,” his mother said. They walked into the kitchen and shut the door. They sat down in the living room and listened. Now what?
But the fighting was already over. Some time passed. Then his uncle asked: “Shall we go and look outside?” Mustafa joined them. They passed through the gate, rounded the corner. Everyone was outside. Neighbors were talking together, and families just sat in the doors of their homes; shops were closed. Everywhere people were chatting. “What happened?” “We saw tanks.”
Someone pointed to where there had been fighting. Mustafa looked. He couldn’t make out if it was true or not, since the streets were still exactly the same as the day before. He saw no battered streets, no destroyed houses or demolished cars. But the tanks of the Iraqi army and Saddam’s Fedayeen had left. Where had they gone? He saw people laughing. His uncle also seemed relieved. Mustafa looked at him. Why was he laughing? But he couldn’t pluck up the courage to ask. He wanted to go home. Mustafa felt sad and strangely confused.
Cars with white flags or handkerchiefs tied to their antennas drove slowly by. A man said: “You should not go there; there’s an American tank around the corner.” It terrified Mustafa. Imagine if they met an American tank. How would he prove that he was innocent? He heard they had gone into the next street. His mind was racing. Would Saddam still come back? They were still fighting in Tikrit, they could come back.
When would they be able to return to school? Exams were in less than two months, and what would happen if they didn’t go on? He saw the gate of their house and quickly sneaked in. The world might have changed completely, but inside it was just as it had been before.
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