June 12, 2010

Lonely Silent Screams in the Dark...

I have already written about Raouf, my relative...the way he was tortured, the way he faced what he thought to be an imminent death, I even posted pictures of his body, and called it the New Map of Iraq.

It's been several years since the "incident". Calling torture an incident is shameful but forgive me, as words are eluding me...since the ordeal, since the survival, since the humiliation, since the pain, since the silent screams...since...it's been 3 years, but it is still very much alive in his veins, in his body, in his mind, in his waking days and in his nightmarish nights...

I need to recapitulate, go over the events, like he does on a daily basis. Raouf lived in a small house, with a garden on the outskirts of Baghdad...inside his own home he'd wear his boxers and would enjoy sipping a little beer every now and then...he was and is apolitical. Raouf is a dreamer, an idealist, he's into music, poetry, literature, tending his garden, looking after his cats, listening to birds chirping...Raouf was into life until...until you visited him with Death.

I met Raouf a couple of times since his torture...he's not the same man, no man can remain the same...he smiles, he laughs, he still tries to recapture shadows of his previous self, but he is failing...he said so himself. He said - "I have failed"...

His broken bones have healed so did his other physical wounds...except maybe for a wrist and a knee that still go limp...reminding him, daily, every hour, every minute, of your liberation.

I must confess, at this point - I avoid speaking to any of my relatives in Baghdad unless absolutely necessary. Speaking to them reminds me of my powerlessness, my impotence, it reminds me of your ugly faces, of the sectarian Shiites fucked up dirty turbans, of their rings shining in the sun's light, a scorching sun, where during the day - life is a furnace and at night it is a hell -- still with no electricity and no coolers and no AC, it reminds me of your ugly comments, your stinking minds that look like stinking shitty unwashed asses, it reminds me of you and your so-called good will actions, making profit out of our pain, making yourself a name, ego tripping on our blood and tragedy...

My God! speaking to them reminds me of so many things --of bombs exploding, of people being kidnapped, of the silencer gun that gets you without a sound and you fall straight in the same spot where you had put one foot forward, a step forward of hope, of another day, just to make a living, just to survive...

It reminds me of so many things I can't even enumerate..it reminds me of me...of my own exile, of my own guilt maybe...the guilt of the survivor.

But beyond the guilt is the shame. Not my shame but yours. I feel it daily. I feel it daily enough to spit it, expectorate it, like some bothersome cough mucus. Oddly enough, I feel ashamed for you. I have even taken up your shame because you are too flattened out to feel anything...and it feels like a fucking cross on my shoulders...and there is no good Samaritan in sight.

So I avoid talking to them. They are in hell and I am in the purgatory. A hell you have created, a purgatory I am stationed in until...until...until...no one knows.

Mother said to me - you really ought to call Raouf, he's not well, I just spoke to him...
- Later maybe...
- No, now Layla, now! She said in an imperious voice that threw me back to when she was younger and full of vigor. Call now -- as if our life depended on it...

I am reluctant. I don't want to hear the voice from Baghdad. I am trying hard to heal my own wounds, my own scars...I change the band aids nightly...only to have them re-open again...

Cowardice on my part. I don't know what to do with so much human misery, with so much tragedy, with so much grief. Every time I call, I hear another story about so and so developing tumors out of the blue, of so and so getting killed, of so and so disappearing...maybe I am a coward after all.

So, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

- Hello Layla so good to hear you.

For a moment, I felt all was fine...the good old familiar days are back.

- Raouf, how are you, am sorry I have not been in touch...
- Layla darling, I always ask of your news. You're here even if you don't call...

So much affection even during a willful absence --I felt small.

- How are you Raouf, how have you been ?
- I am fine, the garden is blossoming you should see it...the cats are fine...the family is expanding, she had 4 more kittens...
- Mom told me you’re not feeling well...
- It's nothing, it will pass...
- Please tell me, what's going on ?

Pause.

- Raouf ?
- Yes am here...it's just, you know...I can't get over it Layla. I tried, I tried very hard, I can't. I see their faces daily, they visit me at night...I am in a prison, Layla, a real prison...
- Raouf, I told you you need professional help, listen, I heard they have this new center for torture victims in Baghdad...
- Layla, stop it. Are you mocking me ?!
- Of course not Raouf, what makes you say that ?!
- What psychological help are you talking about?! this is just publicity for them, for their own clan and sect...
- But there must be something, someone to help you, you can't go on this way, it's been over...

He interrupts.

- There is no one to help me and even if I do manage to get some help, and I do need help, do you think I will ever heal ? Everyday I venture out, I hear about someone being killed by a bomb or a gunman, every street is a death row, every move is danger, for God's sake, they are now using helicopters to abduct people from their homes – government and militia vans and cars are out of fashion, they use helicopters..they land near where you live, grab you, put you in the helicopter and you disappear in some prison and everyday I hear stories of those who are tortured in prison, some never make it out alive...so what help do you want me to seek ? You want to help me? Get me out of here...this is how you can help me...everything reminds me, everything...

Here he was and here I was and for both us, everything reminded us of what it was, of what it is now...
- Give me security first, he added before we hung up…

Security, security, security...maybe security will quell those nightly screams in the dark, maybe security will alleviate the loneliness of the experience...maybe security is knowing that you may remain alive today, tomorrow, in a couple of days...security means you can envisage next week, a fortnight, maybe a month...security means you can start healing because in your mind you may still have a future to look forward to...security.

Of course Raouf is right, how can anyone heal if at all, when everything reminds you of the torturer's face? when every heard explosion, bullet, gun, helicopter, patrol, remind you of that body, that body that has become an open field of sadism, amusement, denigration, humiliation....that body that represents your integrity, that body that is broken into daily, where its frontiers and borders need no passport, no visa, no secret code and no password, when your body no longer belongs to you, when your body is a political tool, a weapon -- the air base, the military camp, the militia's training grounds....that body that is still trying to make it another day, to survive another day...

How can Raouf leave the hell of his mind, when he still lives in it ?

Isn't that Aushwitz ? isn't that a Holocaust ? Except their holocaust ended and ours began ever since...

It is not possible to heal. It is like taking your sick gold fish, putting band aids on it, and throwing it back in the same water where it got sick in the first place...
The story of Iraq is the story of band aids over open wounds, a gold fish thrown back in the same stale, stagnant, putrid pond...

And here was Raouf in his lonely screams, in his silent screams, and everyone around expects him to get over it...get over the fact that he was tortured to near death because he was wearing boxers and was holding a can of beer, in his own house.

And here is Raouf wanting to leave that stagnant, putrid pond and here I am missing it, wanting to go home...

What home? He has no home and I have no home...we are both fugitives...we are both in the obscurity, in the loneliness, in the scream of exile...he happens to be inside, I happen to be outside...but we are both stuck, stuck in the experience of "liberation".

Today is Saturday, the weekend for you. You will probably give this post 2mn, nod your heads and go on about your daily activities...life goes on you say to yourselves. Yes your life goes on unhampered by the consequences of your crimes and your silence about them. You will be hitting the mall, or some park, visit your family, friends, you may go fishing, go clubbing, dining, dancing...whatever you have in mind, you will most likely do it, because you can afford to do it...you will not get kidnapped, abducted, shot at, or end up like a piece of vegetable, sodomized till paralysis in some secret dungeon of Freedom and Democracy.

Oh! but you will whine and complain all the same, whine and complain away your pettiness, your trivialities, your futility, your shallowness, your hollowness, your apathy and indifference...these are part of your daily regiment, your daily diet...

And people like Raouf, thousands of them, people like myself will stay in that eternal night, screaming our guts away in silence...

After I hung up with Raouf, I put on my running shoes and grabbed my music player and headed to the door. I had to have some air, I was choking, I was suffocating with reality.

It was well past sunset, I took my familiar route, and walked briskly...very briskly, and my legs started to run...I ran and ran, like a woman on the fringes of madness, I ran past the familiar anonymous houses that have become so much part of my d├ęcor, past the empty plots where garbage is piled up, passed several hard cement brick walls...the Summer movement blasting in my ears...

In the past, I would have slowed down a little...right where the scent of Jasmin would be emanating, from behind one of those gated walled houses... I would slow down and inhale the Summer fragrance...not that evening though. I did get a whiff of it, but it smelled of Summer Death.