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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Flashed in Fallouja

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | March 13th, 2007 | Comments No Comments

Back when it was just another angry Iraqi city and months before it became the major flashpoint in US/Iraqi relations, I toured Fallouja.

I was investigating war damage at a water treatment plant there, several weeks after “mission accomplished,” when a man exposed himself to me. He had been brushing close against me as I walked along the narrow sidewalks that separate the water treatment ponds, the folds of his shoulder-to-ankle robe commingling uncomfortably with my long skirt in the 115 degree heat. I pulled my purse in front of me, defensively elbowing space between us.
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Later, while we were listening to the water district manager’s searing account of her staff’s heroic efforts to keep the water flowing during the first onslaught of war, this strange man squatted unobtrusively in a doorway, caught my eye and lifted his dishdasha, displaying how Allah had been very, uh, generous to him.

I was shocked! And awed.

Talk about weapons of mass distraction! What’s a white girl in a war zone to do? Being flashed in Fallouja isn’t covered in the human rights’ handbook.

I knew from his quietly creepy behavior that he was violating standards. But, do I speak up and risk offending my hosts? Besides, the town was pretty edgy. Later that afternoon, I would be warned that Falloujans had vowed “to kill an American a day” in retaliation for the troops’ gunfire exchange with locals who had taken refuge in a school. Schools are revered in Iraq, and blanketing one with bullets had further ignited this rebellious community.

But, I was always taught that bullies bank on us staying politely silent.

“That man exposed himself to me!” I pointed to the man as stiffly as he had to me.

Our male translator looked at me, confused. This gentle man, whose religious practice kept him from even touching a member of the opposite gender, repeated something in Arabic to the water treatment workers gathered around us. Meanwhile, in the confusion, the exhibitionist had lowered his dishdasha and skulked out.

Well, I had no idea I would cause such a stir! Workers ran after the man, mortified that his aberrant behavior might reflect on them. They made such a fuss with their apologies, I began to feel guilty.

“It was no big deal,” I offered, rolling my eyes. “Really, it was no big deal,” I lied.

I guess one of the men understood English, because he burst out laughing, breaking the tension.

We lose so much in war, and humor is right there with truth and humanity among the first casualties. Standing there in battle-scarred Fallouja, a stranger and I started the rebuilding by bonding over a worn pun.

I learned that when we rebuild our humor, what really gets exposed is our humanity.

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Category: , Iraq, Middle East
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