The article that follows is an excerpt from my book, "After Hours: Adventures of an International Businessman", Chapter 5, "Saddam's Guest". Although this Baghdad event happened almost two decades ago, I still think of it as a "current affair". See, Baghdad is still plenty dangerous, and probably more chaotic than when I was there. Then, there was at least a perception of predictability although this account is a paradox considering that statement. |
Dear reader, I beg a favor. There is a place for comments at the end of this epistle--simply scan down. In the years since this so-called "adventure", not one soul (including family) has expressed curiosity nor asked anything about it. Not that I desire to relive the event, but I continually wonder: Why such a lack of interest? Is the situation too socially sensitive, that is, politically incorrect? Is it boring? Not worthy of comment? What??? Anyway, give it a read and see what you think. I'd appreciate your thoughts.
I woke in a momentary stupor of foggy disorientation, like the kind a typical business traveler frequently gets when waking in a strange hotel room after a late arrival the previous night. I wish that had been the case, but my situation was something far more sinister and frightening. At best I received maybe three hours of restless sleep. Most of the night I existed in that never-never land between sleep and consciousness, tossing-and-turning, attempting to ignore the oppressively sticky heat and the sour smelling cot. In addition, there was the sobering possibility that I might never see home and family again. That sudden realization shocked me out of my disorientation or any fleeting thought that I might be dreaming up this whole gruesome business.
I knew it was almost sunrise because I heard the azan, the call of the muezzin for first prayer, resonate from the minarets throughout the land. The first line declared that God was greater than... That's the context: dot, dot, dot. The inference is: God is greater than anything one could possibly name or conjure up. The azan also encouraged the faithful to hurry to prayer (reminding them prayer is better than sleep), and rush to success. Typically during my travels in the Middle East, hearing the azan filled me with a sense of comfort. During the first "Allahu Akbar", I would rise, flip on the television and watch the faithful enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca or the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. I got to where I could recite the prayers with them. Today, however, the azan filled me with fear of the unknown; and fear of being an infidel in a hostile foreign land.
The sleeping quarters for seventy of us was a large, carvernous building that was an old airplane hangar. Huge doors were partially open on one end. Open or not, there was no air movement within the structure. There was also no insulation under the corrugated metal roof. The place was an oven. Our cots, bare save for worn, dirty sheets covering urine-stained, thin matresses, were arranged in a rectangular pattern, seven by ten, with perhaps two and a half feet between cots.
I sat up groggily, everyone else still abed. Good grief, it tasted like the entire Republican Guard marched through my mouth barefoot--a major case of yuck-mouth for sure. An involuntary yawn was a bit too loud, which caught the attention of Tariq, who quickly stood and readied his AK-47.
Tariq, like all of our guards, tried to look like a Saddam clone: same military clothing, same black beret, and same moustache. He was probably half-snoozing in his chair when I caused the disturbance. His beret had been removed, and why not? Who could wear a hat in this heat? I couldn't help but notice that, sans beret, he had scant resemblance to tennis great, Andre Agassi. When he took notice of my confused state, his face softened a bit, and we made eye contact.
"Sabach al-hair (good morning)," I said quietly.
"Sabach noor (bright morning)," he said surprised at my greeting. He sounded almost pleasant.
I gestered at him and smiled thinly. "Andre Agassi," I said. This could be pushing the envelope a bit. It could anger him, but I judged he was by nature a pleasant chap.
"Me? Agassi?" He grinned broadly.
"Nam (yes). Agassi's father was a boxer on the Iranian Olympic team," I offered.
"Then he was Shiite like me," Tariq beamed. "Agassi is Shiite?" he asked.
I knew he wasn't, but said, "Oh, yes!"
Tariq continued to grin, and I thought I might have made somewhat of a friend, if there was such a thing under the circumstances. Tariq must have later repeated our conversation to his peers because from that time on the other guards referred to him as Agassi, which always seemed to delight him.
"You come," he beckoned. "Bring ablutions things."
I picked up my toiletries kit and followed him to the only bathroom in the building. He stood outside the doorway while I relieved myself (though the typical hole-in-the-floor loo), removed my clothes, splashed water from head-to-toe, and applied deodorant. I slipped back into my dirty skivvies, rumpled clothes, and brushed my teeth. It was the nicest thing Tariq could think to do for me, and I appreciated it. I told him so, and he seemed pleased as he escorted me back to my cot.
"Shukran (thank you)," I said sincerely.
"Afwan (you're welcome)," he replied.
Next time, I'll tell you how I got into such a mess in the first place. More to come...
Copyright by Gene Myers Author of: "After Hours: Adventures of an International Businessman" www.strategicpublishinggroup,com/title/AfterHours.html Also available on www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com and www.borders.com
Coming August 23, 2010 from Gene Myers and PublishAmerica: "Songs from Lattys Grove"
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