Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And the days that followed...

We went through the cycle of getting the call, him leaving, and him returning 3 more times in a week before March 19, 2003 - the day America set boots on the ground in Iraq. 

When you're stationed overseas the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) people provide US programming on a limited number of channels for your television so you can understand what you're seeing and get a piece of home.  Those channels are on a system called Armed Forces Network (AFN).  When we were there, there was AFN News, AFN Europe, and AFN Pacific.  AFN News rotated (at the time) between CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.  There were planned "times" each would be on and then after the "prime" news sections were over, it went to other programming.

I curled up in front of the tv from early in the morning on March 19, 2003 knowing there were embedded journalists and wanting to give my husband the very best idea of what he was in for if our unit ever got the authorization to leave.  I watched hours of the news taking notes on where they were, how far we'd gotten, and what was going on. 

When AFN has "commercials" they aren't like US commercials for rather obvious reasons.  Instead you see bulletins of what's going on in the various communities, reminders to bring your passport, and tips on living overseas successfully.  I had a "love/hate" relationship with these "commercials".  Sometimes they were informational and helpful.  Other times they were annoying and once you'd memorized all of them you just craved when something new would come out.

Halfway through that first day of watching the tv a new commercial arrived.  It was an announcement I would later hear from my husband.  It was a list of planned protests, their dates, and their locations as well as protests already occurring and the pertinent information.  These protests weren't for Americans by Americans.  These protests were against Americans and the invasion of Iraq.

Two days later came the news.  I can't leave our tiny housing area encompassing less than 5 city blocks without checking that list.  Ever.  And if there are protests in our community, well, tough.  You're stuck.  If there are protests in the community I wanted to travel to that day, well, tough.  You're not going. 

At first I didn't understand why and then the reports began to come back.  A tourist beaten in the streets.  A soldier at a bar beaten nearly to death for being an American. 

You become torn between living your life and fear.  Sure, you can avoid the planned protests, but what about the unplanned ones?  How do you live?  How do you survive?

When I did leave our housing complex the writing on the sidewalks got worse.  My rather "American" car (a Saturn) was easy to spot among the far more common European style vehicles on the road not to mention my license plates said right on them USA.  I'd drive down the road and children and adults alike would yell insults and spit on my car.  I couldn't bear to look at them.

This change came over about a week, but it came so fast and it was so hard to adapt to.  To go from being free to being chained, from living in peace to living in fear.  And yet again...it happened in the blink of an eye.

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