I spend a frustrating day buying a car while the regime collapses and I’m stuck far away.
Yesterday was such a nervous, busy, crazy day for me. For all the reporters here. Talking to people still in Kuwait and Jordan, everyone was freaking out that they’re missing the big show. The situation was changing so dramatically hour by hour. I was getting and making phone calls all day: what have you heard about the border? What have you heard about the road? Etc. Over the course of the day, it became clear that Jordan was a better place to be than Kuwait. I have a friend who was getting ready to fly from Jordan to come here to join me on the trip north. Every hour it changed and finally in the evening she said, forget Kuwait, I’m going from Jordan. Tonight. After weeks and weeks of hoping to get to Baghdad, all my friends in Jordan just went for it. Around midnight last night, they drove to the border in a massive convoy of 50 or more cars. The border on the Jordan side is still closed, the border on the Iraqi side was finally abandoned yesterday. So, they hope to make it all the way to Baghdad. It’s a 10 hour or more drive. They could be there soon.
It’s a bit maddening, since I left Jordan for here because Kuwait seemed the obvious better choice. But Kuwait still has problems. I can get up to Basra, I’m told, with no problem. But going north of there is a bit scary. So, I won’t for now. I’m going up to Basra today. But only as a foray. I plan to come back to Kuwait tonight, gear up tomorrow, and then make the drive up to Baghdad on the weekend, if I can. Things are changing so quickly, I think I have to be in Iraq to gauge how safe the journey would be. Ideally, I’d tag along with some army convoy going the whole way.
I found that yesterday was so incredibly frustrating. Seeing all the news in Baghdad and feeling trapped so far away. But at around midnight, I started thinking that I have to remind myself I’m not a daily news reporter. I don’t need to be there for everything. I’m playing a longer game’dhoping to understand the Middle East, the Arabs, the Israelis, and tell longer stories. I don’t like this time-based reporting. I find it just aggravating and nervous-making. I like to mull things over more. I like to sleep more. I don’t like it. I was complaining to a good friend’dwho was feeling the same kind of misery that we’re so far from the conflict’dand she said to realize I’m learning a lot about myself. It sounds kind of small, to me, to say that, but it’s true. I have learned a lot about what I want to be doing. I keep thinking that when I get back to Brooklyn and have some sleep, I’ll know so much more about what I want to do with my life. So, thanks war.
I spent yesterday frantically trying to buy a car. If I take a rented one into Iraq, I have no insurance, so my employer is on the hook for $30,000 if it gets destroyed. The solution we worked out was for me to buy a car, or really a 4 wheel drive truck, for about $9,000, and then hope it survives the drive to Baghdad where I can sell it. It took all day just to find one. And then hours to process the paperwork and at the last minute, we found out that the Kuwaiti ministry of transportation had just closed and I couldn’t buy it. I’m hoping to grab it this morning. I spend so much time dealing with gear and logistics. It sucks. Everyone does. But a lot of the other reporters have done this longer than me, so they know what to get and just get it. I keep finding out new wrinkles, new things I need.
I feel like this diary has become so whiny, and so small. Just complaining about the life of the reporter. That upsets me because I’m actually having lots of huge thoughts about the Arab world and the future of the region and I just never sit down and write those things. I guess that’s part of why I’m realizing I don’t like this time-based reporting’dwhere you hurl yourself at the story without taking time to analyze things and get to know people. I can’t wait’dwill it be a day, a week, a month?’dwhen I can just be based in Baghdad and spend a few days on each story. Not rushing here and there.
I was in Um Qasr, the southern Iraqi port town, the day before yesterday and it felt so good to actually report on things. To actually get to know some Iraqis in person and spend time with them. It made me understand the whole’dwhy aren’t they cheering for us thing. I’m actually too tired and stressed and rushed to explain it in detail, unfortunately. But it’s just kind of obvious when you’re there. This was a huge surprise to me. I really thought everyone would be so thrilled at the war. It makes me think this stuff happening in Baghdad’dall the cheering’dis for the end of Saddam but not for the US. This guy I interviewed yesterday was clear that he hates the war and he hates Saddam. I asked wouldn’t he be happy when Saddam dies. Of course he will, he said. So, won’t he thank America? No. He’dll thank god. He said that all Iraqis believe that saddam has been an employee of the US for years, doing business for them. So, they blame the US for everything Saddam did. And they think America is getting rid of him just to get at the oil and because he outlived their usefulness. Things are so grim in Um Qasr’dwhich has been under coalition control for almost three weeks’dit makes me very nervous about the future. I really was such a war optimist, and I think I was wrong. The war was worse than I expected. And the gratitude (even when it finally appeared after weeks of nothing) isn’t truly gratitude for the US. Truly? It isn’t gratitude at all. It’s possible to be glad the dictator is gone without loving the people who got rid of him. CNN is on in the background and the reporter was in Baghdad saying ‘dIf there is any doubt that these people support the war, they made their views clear.’d And then showed people screaming, no more Saddam happily. But that’s not saying they support the war. That’s saying they’re glad Saddam is gone. It’s not the same thing at all. I think the US is in for some incredibly hard times. And judging by what I saw in Um Qasr’dno water, no food, sick, untreated people, coalition troops staying in secure camps away from contact with Iraqis’dI don’t know how well it’s going to go. Of course, the US guys in charge of reconstructing Iraq haven’t even begun their work. It might be a while and maybe they’dll do a good job and everything will turn out right. But so far, everything I expected has not happened. And there’s every sign that the resentment towards America will only grow. Especially since we gave such promise and expectation and people will live in a situation actually worse than what they had under Saddam for a while. I feel really nervous about it. I assumed’dwe all did’that we’dll just move to Baghdad after all this and do lots of great reporting. Which we might. But it could be dangerous and scary for a while.
My plan now is to drive up to Basra today and come back tonight. Spend tomorrow gearing up and on Saturday, if I can find some others to convoy with, drive up to Baghdad. But I’ll only do it if it’s not terrifying. I’m hungry to get there, but I really don’t want to die for this.