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Mothers, Kids and Crash Kits

by ROMI MAHAJAN

You will excuse me if this is somewhat disjointed.
Bombing began at 5:35am this morning and I will attempt to tell
you something of this. We don’t know for how long the Internet
center will be open and the servers up and running. So I will
be thinking and typing rapidly.

We feel most fortunate that the center
is even open as the streets are almost deserted, and stores closed.
Everyone is waiting for the next wave of assault. We had heard
that the bombing would probably begin after 4:00am. I had had
a call at 2:00am from Newsweek, and Kathy Kelly was also awake
and on the phone. Being up already, we began to knock on doors
to wake folks up. “Where might the safest place be in the
hotel” we asked each other. And what items other than the
crash kit should we take?

These were not new questions, but somehow
it was different now that the hour had arrived. Those of us on
the peace team are new to this. It was and is a grace to be together.
I can’t imagine going through this alone. And I can’t imagine
a finer group of people to be with. We are a mix of Iraqi and
internationals in the hotel. Some of the staff have brought their
families here, so we have children around us as well. And then
it began. The thunder of bombs and the tremors to the building
we were in. It was very strange.

Some of us were gathered in a little
tea section of the downstairs lobby which is about 15 yards away
from the glass-front of the building. Cynthia handed me a bag
of earplugs which I began to hand out to everyone downstairs.
Children and adults alike took them and thanked me gratefully.
Some of us went back and forth to the shelter in the basement,
others of us lingered downstairs or even stepped outside now
and then as the sun was coming up. As a couple of us stood outside
for a moment wondering when the next onslaught would begin, the
call to prayer sounded outside.

One Muslim woman began to weep quietly
and another get up to comfort her. An elderly man bent with age
walked back and forth with a cane. This CANNOT really be happening
I thought. It cannot be MY COUNTRY that is doing this. Dear God
in heaven have mercy on us. My prayers joined with the call to
prayer that was being sung even as the bombs fell. The bombing
went on sporadically in bursts about every 15 minutes and then
stopped after a couple of hours. We heard later that a military
installation had been hit, a special target attack, and that
this was a last minute change of strategy.

Now we can expect, beginning tonight,
the “Shock and Awe” tactic that will be massive and
non-stop. All the more reason I am so grateful to have this unexpected
window of opportunity to write you. Or to get out to visit the
hospital this afternoon. Bettejo and I took advantage of our
friend, Waleed, the University student and taxi driver who came
by the hotel later in the morning.

He was able to take us to the Children’s
hospital and then on to the nearby water treatment plant where
some of our folks have set up two tents. One is a 4-person one
for women and another 6-8 person tent for men. This is close
to the same hospital, only 5 minutes or so by foot, and the idea
is that some of the IPTers will be able to actually stay there
and walk over to the hospital.

As we walked into the hospital the image
that met us was rows of empty hospital beds made up with white
sheets and ready to receive the soon-to-come “war casualties.”

On the Pediatric Cancer unit there not
a single bed occupied. It was quiet and lifeless. Beds that should
have been filled with children needing chemothereapy were emptly.
This is because all of the mothers, except for Adra and her 5
year old son Atarid, had taken their children home yesterday.
They were afraid they wouldn’t be able to get to their other
children due to the impending bombings. Atarid had been transfered
to the neonatal unit. Adra who has a 4 year old and 1 1/2 boy
at home could not bring herself to take Atarid out of the hospital.
“He will die if he doesn’t get the medicines” she told
us. And how long will the treatment take that he needs? I asked
her. “Until he dies,” she told us.

Mothers in the states can understand
what mothers suffer the world over, we said. She agreed to have
us take her picture with Adra. And I will include it with this
letter. Facinated by the camera which played back the photos,
Adra became animated and distracted, and for the first time he
was a captivated audience taking pictures himself of ourselves
and his mother!

I must go, my time is up. I know you
are all praying for us.

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