About ten years ago I was interviewed by Le Monde about freewayblogging. The reporter’s name was Yves Eudes - a quiet, good looking guy in his thirties who normally worked as a war correspondent. He'd just gotten back from his third tour in Iraq, so driving around hanging up anti-war signs with some hippie in southern California was definitely a break for him. “Okay man… we're gonna take this next exit and hit the fence behind the Bed, Bath and Beyond. If it all goes smoothly we should be in and out in about 90 seconds..."
When I was younger I traveled around Central America working as a freelance reporter. I wanted to be a war correspondent, but frankly I didn’t have the guts for it. It wasn't getting hurt or killed that I was afraid of - those things were unthinkable in my twenties. What I was afraid of was seeing something horrifying that I'd never be able to forget. After the ride-along and the formal interview, when we were just sitting and talking, I told this to Yves and asked if that had happened to him - if he'd seen anything in Iraq he'd never be able to forget. He paused for a bit and told me this story:
"I was in Nasariyah and a couple came up to me on the street asking for help. They were carrying a large gym bag - an Adidas bag - with their daughter inside. The city was in chaos, and they came up to me, I suppose, because I was a westerner and they thought I could help them. When I looked inside the bag there was a little girl, maybe two years old, with bandages around her head. There was a terrible smell and I thought to myself 'Okay, they have a dead girl...' The bandages were loose and soaked with fluid - it was a terrible wound, covering half her head. I guessed they'd gotten her to a hospital and they'd done what they could quickly and then just gave her back. It was the early days of the war and the hospitals were full. I couldn't believe it when I saw she was still alive."
At the time my little girl was two and a half years old, and for an instant I couldn't help seeing her staring up at me from inside that bag, her head wrapped in loose, yellow and blood stained bandages.
"I took them to the Americans, and there was a woman soldier there - a big woman - who said there was nothing they could do... that it had to be a military casualty or something like that. I forget exactly. I want to say she was mean, but I don't know... more like she was just following her orders. She stood like this..." he said, and folded his arms across his chest. "We went to a couple more soldiers, but it was the same. There was one young soldier who went for help, but then he came back saying he couldn't do anything. I went with them for awhile longer, but it was obvious I was useless. Eventually they just went away."
We were sitting in my garage, surrounded by the tools of my trade: cardboard, paint, overhead projector. Outside it was a beautiful day: a warm, late afternoon in sunny southern California.
"It's hard to describe what they were like, the parents... they were beyond sad, beyond scared... they were doing the only thing they could do - looking for help - and I couldn't help feeling that I'd just wasted their time. I don't know if I will ever forget their faces, or what it was like to see their little girl... but the thing I know I will never forget is the way they looked as they walked away, wandering the streets with their baby in that bag... just looking for someone who could help them."