FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Baghdad on the Hudson

Ironically a few days ago in the afternoon I was with my friend Raissa buying a supply of batteries and flashlights to take with me to Baghdad. We parted at the Astor Place subway where Raissa got on the #6 train to make her way to Queens, and I walked the few blocks home. The weather was oppressively hot and humid, just a feather touch of a breeze if you stood still under a tree. It was a “normal” afternoon in New York city. Less than half an hour later the power went down, and the now already infamous “Black Out 2003” began to unfold.

From one moment to the next the traffic lights went out and cars, buses and trucks began to back up. People were stranded in elevators or caught (like Raissa) in darkened subways. Thousands of people suddenly faced the dilemma of getting home from, or to, their workplaces. And there was no air conditioning, not even a fan, to bring relief from the relentless heat.

I had an early dinner invitation with friends Sabra, Joe and their children a few blocks away, and I paused as I walked by a man sitting on a stoop with a battery-operated radio to listen to the news. We heard that a great part of the northeastern US and parts of Canada as well had lost power. The radio announcer reassured us that this was almost certainly NOT a terrorist attack. At my friends’ home, I watched Joe pack up his toothbrush and set out on foot to his workplace about an hour walk across town. Unable to get through by phone, he feared the evening staff at the adult residence where he works would not be able to get in, and so he was preparing to spend the night there.

Later Sabra walked me home with her youngest one-year old in the stroller. It was about 7:30pm. Many stores and restaurants had already closed down as they had no lights, the cash registers didn’t work and there was no air-conditioning or refrigeration. We thought of the countless people in the city especially the elderly and the very young who live in high story buildings dependent on elevators and A/C units. Then we thought about the countless people of Iraq and how they have lived under similar and yet much worse circumstances for almost 5 months now!

In our area of town the mood outside that evening could be described as festive. Together with everyone else we sat on our stoops “hanging out” as folks walked by. Some were playing instruments like a trombone or harmonica as they walked along, and the Hells Angels set off an occasional firecracker down the block. Inside we had candles stationed here and there to provide illumination in the dark halls, fearing folks might fall in the stairwells.

It was after midnight as I lay on my bed sweating and listening to reports on my own battery-operated radio, when my attention was caught by an announcer’s comment. “People are getting weary now,” she said, people are weary.” I couldn’t help counting the hours since the blackout began not even seven!

I thought back to endless nights in Baghdad when we were in the pitch dark with bombs exploding all around us. I remembered too vividly parents with small children in their arms desperately groping in dark stairwells trying to make their way down to the basement to escape the bombs! The words, “people are getting weary,” are not easy for me to hear when I think of the unspeakable hardships that the Iraqis have had to endure and are still having to suffer.

The terror of three weeks of bombing, violence, death and destruction. Unable to locate loved ones. Are they alive or dead? The foreign occupation of their beloved country. Tanks and machine guns pointed at them. Orders shouted at them in English. Raids on their homes, people being detained, handcuffed, arrested, searched. Men and women and children. No one is spared. Five months and electricity is still only sporadic. No traffic lights, no refrigeration. The temperature at 130 degrees and not even a fan to bring relief. No potable drinking water and people with gastrointestinal infections are beginning to crowd the hospitals. Parents so fearful for their children.

Last night I was walking around the neighborhood with a friend at about 9:00 or 9:30pm when suddenly the lights came on in our part of town, on of the last areas to have energy restored. There was cheering and a palpable feeling of relief from everyone around us. This morning on the radio we are already speaking about the “black out babies” and the courage of the people in New York city in surmounting this crisis. I heard president Bush on the radio say he feels that this black out is a “wake up call” to reassess and upgrade our power system so that this will never happen again.

I too believe that we would do well to look at this event as a wake up call. Here in New York city many of us had an almost 24 hour period of time where our TVs and computers were cut off, our lives were interrupted and where our attention was caught. How valuable an experience this could be for us as a country if it would make us aware that we are connected with other people around the world and therefore subject at times to the same hardships, sacrifices and deprivations. More importantly however at this time in history, it is critical that we recognize our responsibility for the tragic situation in Iraq and acknowledge the horrific consequences of the war we waged against them. Though we might insist that life for us goes on as usual, tragically the war continues. And deep within ourselves we sense that something is wrong. Something is very wrong. It can be very good when we let our lives be “interrupted.”

CATHY BREEN, who lives in New York City, recently returned from Iraq after living there during the war and the first 10 days of occupation.)

 

More articles by:

Cathy Breen is a member of the New York Catholic Worker community and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail