A letter from Alan Pogue

Dear Bert,

Could you send me the name of this boy? I was not taking notes while photographing. Mahasen told me the boy died three days after we were there and she spent some time with the family. ...

Photo by Alan Pogue (August 2000).

The drive to Mosul was unrelenting dessert due to the four year drought that Iraq is going through. I had heard about how green the north was but I did not see it. The only relief was that the temperature was only in the low hundreds rather than the one hundred and twenty eight that we experienced in Basrah. Mosul is equidistant from Turkey and Syria and so benefits from a great deal of trade. The rolling hills outside of Mosul are covered with sheep herded by Bedoins, Kurds, and other Iraqis. I could see how impossible it would be to bomb the outskirts of Mosul without killing sheep herders and their animals, which has happened recently.

The Tigris river runs through Mosul [and] is lined with small restaurants and a park. On the Friday evening I arrived the municipal electricity was off but the restaurants had their own generators so the river side was full and very festive. Families filled the large city park spreading their blankets on the ground for picnics. Being without electricity and [with] the religious holiday it seemed the whole town had taken this inconvenience as a good time to go to the park.

The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come had other sights in store for me. I met Zahrah Atala's bright eyes in her dimly lit room. She rarely leaves it because her legs were burned off by a kitchen stove that exploded igniting her dress. [Lack of electricity has forced many Iraqis to cook using kerosene lamps.] Lacking a sophisticated burn center all the doctors could do for her was amputate her legs. The economic sanctions on Iraq made her life even more miserable. After the imposition of sanctions most Iraqi women had to start selling their jewelery, furniture, then their appliances. Zahrah sold her only valuable possession, her wheelchair.

Photo by Alan Pogue (August 2000).

She was very happy to have a visitor and asked her brother Hassan to make some tea. Hassan's smile is brighter than the Iraqi sun and his barrel chest testifies to the hard work he does as a farmer. Hassan, with his wife Najama and sister Rayah, did more than make tea. They picked dates from the date palm and pears from their tree, milk and yogurt from the family cow, flat bread from the kitchen, and finally Turkish coffee. From the hard packed dirt floor where I sat I could see the only valuable appliance the Atala family owned, a foot treadle sewing machine used by Rayah.

As a favor for the American photographer, Rayah, Najama and her oldest daughter went back out in the afternoon sun and demonstrated how they planted corn: Rayah made a hole with a small spade, Najamah drops the seed corn, then the daughter closes the hole. They move closely together down the plowed furrows until I have enough pictures then we all return to the shade. The boys pose with the sheep. Rayah shows me the bee hives which have been given to her by the Iraqi Womens Federation so that honey production can complement her small income. Their wealth of hospitality is complete. No one mentions that I am a citizen of the country that has caused them so much pain. They would be happy to receive a few pictures and I promise to send them by way of the Womens Federation.

Like Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I have seen the past, the present, and the possible future. I have seen the promise, the pain, and the tragedy yet to come if nothing is altered. Unlike Scrooge I have seen Tiny Tim die, not once, but a hundred times in the hospitals and homes of Iraq. The certain knowlege that thousands of Tiny Tims and Tinas have died, are dying and will soon die weighs on me. All that I ask is that when U.S. government officials call for the bombing of Iraq and the continuation of sanctions is that you think of the Atala family: Zahrah in her bed, Hassan tilling the field, Rayah at her sewing machine, Najama and her daughter planting corn, the boys tending the sheep. Scrooge woke up and realized that he could make a difference. He could and would save Tiny Tim. It is time we all woke up.

With love and respect for all,

Alan Pogue



Posted on 5 September 2000.

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