Dark Days and Shiny Shoes

by Shane Claiborne

in Baghdad

Dissident Voice

March 26, 2003


(March 25, 2003) I have grown especially close to one of the "shoeshine boys", a homeless boy (about 10 years old), named Mussef. The first day I met him, he was begging me for money to eat. When I stubbornly said "no" to his relentless attempts on my wallet, he turned away and muttered, "Son-of-bitch-mother-fucker". I whipped my head around in shock, as he took off running. Not the best first impression. Day after day, we have grown on each other. We go for walks, turn somersaults, and yell at the airplanes "SALAAM" (PEACE!!!). Now everyday when I walk outside he runs at full speed, jumps into my arms, and kisses me on the cheek. And I have the shiniest shoes in Baghdad. One day Mussef joined our group on a walk into the center of town, carrying pictures of Iraqi children and families suffering from the war and sanctions. Press and journalists took pictures and talked to us as we stood in one of Baghdad's busiest intersections, and Mussef begin to internalize what was happening. His shining face became bleak. Nothing I could do made him smile. As the group went home, and the cameras left, we continued to sit. He motioned with his hand the falling of bombs, and made the sound explosions, as tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he turned, and latched onto my neck. He began to weep; his body shook as he gasped for each breath of air. I began to cry. Somehow I was glad all the cameras were gone. We wept as friends, as brothers, not as a peacemaker and victim. Afterwards I took him to eat, banquet style (tipping everyone extravagantly so my guest would be welcome). Every five minutes he would ask me, "Are you okay?" I would nod, and ask, "Are you okay?" And he would nod. To be honest I think we were both scared out of our minds but we each wanted to assure that the other did not start weeping again.


Next to the Peace Encampment is the Lebanon Embassy, where several Embassy families live. One day they invited us, only to find out we were having tea with the ambassador! He was very interested in what is being done in the US to voice opposition to the war. I told him that most of my friends were in jail in the US as they interrupted the war, and quoted: "In an age of injustice, the place for a just person is in jail." We laughed. I am so proud of the outcry happening around the world. Everybody back at home in Philly is in jail, 107 people were arrested. Over 500 were arrested in San Francisco, and 1000 in Chicago. Our beautiful 3-year-old, Alexa, held a sign at the demonstrations reading "Toddlers for Peace." You all are so beautiful and feed us hope.


One of the Iraqi reporters came to interview us at the Peace Encampment. Upon noticing he had a gun on his belt, we asked what kind of "reporter" he was! He said, I am for the daily newspaper here in Baghdad, but during these times we have to be prepared for anything. I said, "Well, I hope we answer all your questions correctly." And we all got a good giggle.


Immediately after the first fleet of aircraft flew overhead, I saw a flock of geese in V-formation, reminding me that Creation is at war. After the first bombs were dropped, I could hear the desperate howling of dogs in the alley behind us. As I write this, I can hear the thunder of bombs dropping, shaking the earth. I can smell the smoke in the air, partly from the bombed ruins, and partly from the oil fires set by the Iraqi army to cloud the vision of invading aircrafts. What was a beautiful city has turned into a dull grey. The sun has disappeared. But the singing of the birds and the barking of the dogs is constant, relentless in fact, with every thud from a bomb they only grow louder I can hear the bombs falling as I write this, I find myself curling up like a little child a night in a lightning storm. Every time I see a flash of light, I begin to count "One thousand one, one thousand two," to see how far away it is. Now when I count I rarely get past the first, "One thous..." Hold us Jesus. Hold the children of Iraq.


Most of us here in Baghdad are spending our days visiting hospitals and bomb sites (homes and neighborhoods hit by missiles) , and trying to tell these stories to the press, to the Church, and to the world. Here are a few stories along the way:


We have constant calls from reporters. Much of the media is sensational and melodramatic, very discouraging. So I have decided to spend most of my time with people -- in the hospitals, neighborhoods, and streets, and to rely on people I trust to spread the story of this war like you! I did have a live interview on CBS this morning where they asked what I thought about America, and within the first minute they hung up on me. Hmm. They have been very interested in the dramatic fact that we could face a prison sentence if we are convicted of treason so they have been asking if we are "traitors".


I had a chance to visit one of the first targets of the war. She was four years old. That's exactly how the doctor introduced me to Doha, a little girl who was hit in the back by fragments of a missile, and is now paralyzed. "This is the first target of the US war," the doctor said with tears in his eyes. He explained that within the first 10 minutes of the first bombing, Doha and her family of seven all arrived at the hospital because a US missile hit their home.


We have been visiting four hospitals daily. Last week, the hospitals began to clear room for civilians injured by the war. Many of the regular patients were sent home, and many of them will die. One doctor explained, "Because of the past 12 years of sanctions, we have no medicine for pain, or for cancer." As he said this he showed us a small closet about 10 feet by 10 feet that held all the medical supplies for the entire hospital, with 300 patients. He continued, "Many of the patients would rather die at home with their families, and many of them are scared this hospital will be bombed, again" (as it was in 1991). Within days, many of the beds have been filled by families hit by bombs. One doctor told us that their hospital alone had brought in 108 people in three hours, and he had not slept in two days. Hundreds of people are being injured and killed, and it has only been three days. The hospitals are filled with entire families whose homes have been hit by. I hope the world can see their faces. One 17 year old boy with a big smile was hit while playing in the street with his brother. One little 8 year old was trying to run out of the house and the wall fell on her. A one year old baby just died yesterday. A 63 year old man was shopping for his family and missile fragments flew into his chest. He kept groaning, "God save us from this aggression, God save us, God save us."


A mother cried as sat next to her daughter whose body was completely scarred and swollen from the bombs. Her daughter cried out, "Why are they killing us? What have we done?" The mother sobbed harder as she whispered that she could not tell her daughter that her sister had died from the bomb. One father held up the x-ray of his son's body, which we could see was filled with pieces of metal. And holding his son's hand, he told us: "I want the world to see my son. I want America to see his face. Maybe then they will stop this madness. What crime has he done? We did not attack the US, why do they attack our children?" I will never forget the desperation of another father who looked into my eyes and pleaded: "Is this liberation? Is this democracy? We are brothers and sisters to the American people. Ask them why they are killing our children. Tell them this is invasion not democracy. Tell them if this is liberation we do not want it."


"Liberate us from this war of liberation." --one of the doctors in the Al Kindi hospital


I wish everyone could see the face of the manager of the children's hospital as he showed us the hundreds of death certificates he signed each month, for children that should not be dead.


"Violence is for those who have stopped using their imagination."

   --Vice President of the Al Keenda hospital March 24, 2003


Shane Claiborne is a community development activist from Philadelphia, PA.  He is currently in Baghdad with the Voices in the Wilderness' Iraq Peace Team, a group of international peaceworkers remaining in Iraq through the war, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West (www.iraqpeaceteam.org). The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at info@vitw.org




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