Iraq - After almost twenty years of wars and
sanctions, the streets of Baghdad are no longer
sparkling but are still busy, teeming with
are lined with buildings in all states of
repair and disrepair. Former banks, credit
unions, and large stores display only vacant
dusty windows and silently anchor smaller
merchants that continue to sell those goods
that can be made in Iraq or easily imported.
vendors, furniture stores, and barber shops,
are nestled together amid electronics and
food stores in mid-block. Their shelves, while
full, seem to offer only the same selections
over again and again.
of means still drive Mercedes and BMWs down
the crowded avenues, vying with the taxis
driven by many of those who were once middle-class.
I stop to buy some nuts and popcorn from a
street vendor. He politely fills my bags and
takes, what I consider too little, 500 Iraqi
Dinars - only 22 cents
many neon signs in Arabic above the stores
include one easily recognizable: the PS2 Store.
I stop in front of this arcade and can almost
feel the excitement of the dozens of people
lining up to play PlayStation 2 games. I am
continually surprised by what I find on the
streets of Iraq.
isn't surprising is passing by St. Raphael,
a Catholic church that conducts a mass in
English on Sunday evenings. The country has
over 1 million Christians, and visitors from
throughout the world.
to the Church is a hospital run by a Catholic
order. The grounds are simple but well-kept
and manicured. A beggar goes by on his hands.
Even in the midst of their own poverty, people
hand him money
current malaise stems from the change in climate
after a period of social investment from 1975-85
that made Iraq one of the most modern countries
in the world. Iraq had tremendous surpluses
due to its earlier nationalization of oil.
changes in neighboring Iran left Iraq struggling
to fend off a possible religious revolution
with the full support (and expensive military
equipment) of the United States. Iraq began
a long series of wars with Iran and generated
a costly deficit. Now it is a country struggling
to support even a base-level economy for its
22 million inhabitants.
this what America could come to? Could American
streets become this derelict and diminished?
the 1990s, Americans were proud to see national
budget deficits pared down while the country
experienced an economic boom.
Today, budget surpluses are a thing of the
past, the U.S. economy is on a spiraling downward
and the single-minded focus of the current
administration is on war.
does America, the richest country in the world,
find itself in such a situation? Are our leaders
incompetent and misguided, or is it, as many
Iraqis would say, "the will of God"?
It must be the former since the God that I
pray to is a creator, not a destroyer.
night is still young as I walk back to my
modest hotel. I sigh over the craziness that
has brought me here, then say a silent prayer
for another day that is ending without war.
Peace - Charlie