Featured Column
Week of 3.6.2006
The forgotten
           Zahraa had heard the Muezzin, the ancient summon to prayer. She placed her segment of carpet on the ground near her bed and knelt. She prayed and when done rolled up her piece of carpeting, placed it at the foot of her bed and stared out of the only window in her home, which consisted of one ten foot square chamber with a dirt floor. The building containing her room was only half there, due to a rocket explosion which had destroyed the northern 14 rooms of the apartment complex. Some said that the rocket came from the Americans. Others blamed the local militants. The rocket’s origination mattered little to Zahraa. What did matter was that she had a place in which to live. Her single room contained only her small bed, a cardboard box containing all of her clothes, less the ones she was wearing, her prayer carpet and a floor lamp, rescued from the rubble following the rocket explosion.
          Thoughts raced through her mind as she stood with her hands leaning on the window sill and looked out at the pitted, dirt road behind her single room.
          Three years ago she had a husband, Mhtar ab Gaswr Albo. He died as he was carrying groceries from the local market to their home in the mostly Shi’ite populated Sadr City district of Baghdad. As he turned the corner off the main boulevard a car bomb exploded, killing 4 American soldiers standing next to their armored vehicle. Hundreds of pieces of metal flew through the air, ripping Mhtar to shreds, leaving little of him to identify. Zahraa was left to raise her five year old daughter by herself. She had never had a job and existed through the generosity of her in-laws, who provided her with enough money each month to purchase the minimum amount of food stuffs to survive.
          Last year as she was walking with her daughter Maryam on the outskirts of Sadr City, to visit her in-laws, she noticed a group of young men standing beneath the awning of a former vegetable market. As she passed the group of six men she heard one of them yell, “Run, run, run.” She remembers the sounds of their feet beating against the rutted pathway beyond the shattered store. She turned to see the last of the men disappear in an alley way. Just as she turned back she felt a tremendous heat wave and heard a deafening explosion. Her daughter’s hand was ripped from her by the force. Dust and particles of the nearby building filled the air. She screamed for Maryam over and over. She was blinded by the grime in the air. She screamed again and again for her small daughter. As the dust settled she looked everywhere for her beloved Maryam. Her tears washed through the film of dust under her eyes as she scrambled, searched and screamed for help in finding her daughter.
          Volunteers from the neighborhood aided her, checking her for wounds, bandaging the gash on her right leg. She begged them to find her daughter. Three American Marines were found – dead. Seven neighborhood residents died in the bombing, attributed to local youths, probably the ones she saw standing under the awning.
          Zahraa continued screaming, begging her rescuers to find her daughter. Twenty minutes later the terrifying, horrific news came to her. They had found Maryam inside the vacant store. The force of the explosion had blown her through the front window of the store, killing her immediately.
          Zahraa pleaded with her rescuers to bring her baby to her. She cradled Maryam in her arms and laid on the shattered sidewalk for an hour, until her dead baby was removed from her arms and prepared for burial.
          Zahraa stood at her window and pictured her husband in her mind. The tears came again when she thought of the days when the two of them would push the pram containing Maryam down the street to the small, neighborhood park. Those were the best days of her life. Now her husband and daughter were gone and she was alone.
          She spent her days wandering through the parts of town she thought safe from bombings. She asked women if she could help clean their houses – asking only a small fee. She offered to watch small children for only pennies a day. She ironed and scrubbed walls and floors. She would do almost anything to get enough to live on. The offerings from her in-laws brought her only enough to purchase the most meager of meals.
          Some nights she would awaken to the sounds of car bombs and rockets exploding. She would wonder if she had descended to a perdition, a bottomless pit of misery. She would offer her prayers five times a day to ease her burden of sorrow. “God, please permit me to awaken in the morning and find my husband and baby here, with me. Return them to my arms, please.”
          Zahraa left the window and sat on the edge of her bed and held her face in her two hands. She sobbed as she thought of her solitude, her loneliness, her heart ache. “Why must there be explosions and rockets and the shootings? Why must the young men of our town kill the innocents? Why must there be soldiers on the street corners, watching us? Why must the Shi’ites and Sunnis murder each other by the score each day? Will the killing ever stop?”
          The lives of her and her neighbors could end at any moment. With each passing week the news of the deaths grew. “Does God punish us by having us live in this hell day after day?”
Zahraa heard the Muessin sound again. She unrolled her section of carpet, placed it on the ground and kneeled as she had a thousand times before.
          She offered a simple prayer. “God, let the world find peace. Help men stop the killing. Protect the children. Have we not had enough killing?”
          Following her prayers, Zahraa raised herself, rolled her carpet, placed it at the foot her bed and walked to her lone window.
          She thought of her young daughter, her loving husband and then heard the terrifying thunder of another car bomb.
The agony of Iraqi life
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger