Marla Ruzicka Reflects on Working Towards Peace
[From an e-mail journal excerpt, April 8, 2004] I'll be
home soon. Many of you may be concerned about my safety.
I got a warning that I need to get out for a little while.
So back to homeI will be coming to try to make a home
in Washington DC, sort of. Fellow travelers chuckle at my
large black suitcase. I tell them it is not my bag it is
The last two years from Kabul to Baghdad, my time has been
made up of rich experiences and intimate experiences with
families harmed as a result of US military actions. Their
tragedies are my responsibilities. I am young, and new at
this and developing ways to cope, but in honesty I have
tried red wine a little too much for medicine, deprived
myself of sleep and felt extremely inadequate. My life has
been brightened with mentors who have covered wars from
Vietnam and Central America with humanity and care. They
still cry. These have been my teachers, I guess at an age
when many of my peers are in graduate school. In Washington
I have learned from the ultimate givers, who have crafted
a recipe of hope for a better world and advocacy into political
language that has made tangible change. Yet in all of this
traveling I have felt a little off base, a little lonely.
So I am going to work on establishing a floor. So I ask
you all to remember me and that I'll be in your neck of
the woods soon, and please spend time with me.
Three months in Iraq and this trip is coming to an end.
I wanted to travel south tomorrow where the worst of the
war was fought. No go. Not safe when foreigners are being
shot every day off this country's highways. I want to be
with the families there, but must wait til my return. I
admit I am so claustrophobic - I can't even walk to the
store 100 yards from my home to buy my favorite thing in
the world, watermelon. I am at the mercy of my driver showing
up on time. All day long just another bomb goes off in Baghdad.
I have the luxury to jump on the next NGO plane and say
goodbye for a while. My heroes, Faiz who I work with will
stay and build a better Iraq by helping the families. I
am being selfish in this e-mail because it should be more
about those who resist the security and refuse to be complicit
and work everyday for peace and reconciliation. And, I am
guilty because the last thirty minutes I have been reading
about Thailand where I will go for two weeks, and learn
how to be a better person by taking a course in Thai massage
(something that is quite needed in places like Tora Bora
and Baghdad) and raw food cooking- who is up for Chef Marla
when I get back? You don't have to worry about fires because
it is RAW!
I was swimming the other day at the Hotel Babylon, where
I have taught the 60-year-old men who frequent the place
about the use of lanes. Each lap I dedicated to a beautiful
person in my life. The lifeguard thought I was choking because
I would laugh in the water- like a gasp. I want to take
a time out and say all of you make my life really pleasant.
Just as I go to the pool to escape stress, I have become
friends with other Iraqis who do the same. They tell me
stories of the past and what they dream of for the future.
When I returned in November, all of my "habibis"
clapped and said Marla, we missed you. We share a bomb with
the calmness and chlorine of the water (I cut four inches
off my hair from it and my skin has scales) as outside we
hear the bangs of a Baghdad night.
(The last week I was warned not to go there because the
pool is surrounded by glass windows- quite easy for a car
bomb to go off on the main road outside. But I could not
resist. I have been going everyday. I asked my friend the
only Rabbi in Baghdad why it was that he still came- he
said Marla we must go on with normal life- They have taken
measures at the pool- they took out some of the glass windows
to minimize the effect in case a boom does go off)
Another reason my time to take the desert road, is the
changing of the guard with the military from the Army to
Marines. All of my POCS and the dudes who call me Maam
Marla will switch. This is stressful. Due to the kindness
of a few people who will be happily getting out of here
today with me, we have succeeded in securing "sympathy
payments" to dozens of Iraqi families. One of my biggest
gifts this time has been a friendship I have made with someone
in the military. The other day he told me that I was the
one to show the compassion because I have the relationship
with the families. I will miss my jogs along the Tigris
with him, as one crisp February morning with him, for the
first time in a year I saw how beautiful Baghdad has the
potential to be when the sun rises.
The USAID project where ten million dollars has been allocated
for communities and families harmed as a result of military
actions is underway and I am pleased. When I come back in
May I will get to see how the families are benefiting.
From the end of the war till now, the families we work
with are grateful for our advocacy, but they don't understand
advocacy they have needs. Each is a story and its own tragedy.
One year on they are all reconstructing differently. Unlike
last April and May, where I felt helpless we are getting
results. The sense of inadequacy I felt then still wakes
me in the night. Now, I know that we celebrate getting medical
care or money for a victim but it is a bittersweet victory
because of something awful they went through. It is not
justice, but a little bit of healing. Wouldn't it just be
easy to be against war, I mean who is for it- like being
against the environment?
What questions do you have so I can better write you? I
can tell you stories of what it is like to shake the gentle
plastic hand of Said. His prosthetic is a scar and reminder
of the Iran Iraq war, his service there. Sadly in this war
he lost more than an arm. In total 43 members of his family,
including his wife and all his children were taken from
him. As we took him to collect his sympathy payment he held
up the photos of his kin- proof of their existence. He signed
the paper and got the money. We walked out of the US Convention
Center (the place in Baghdad where the US operates the sort
of Embassy). On the wall a poster promoting child health
with a beautiful Iraqi baby boy was plastered on the stairwell.
Siad, cried to me, BABY BABY. He was frozen.
Then there is Bedour's father, Kaddem, who after getting
$5,000 for the 14 members he lost, reserved an enormous
amount of patience on compensation Thursday after traveling
all the way up from Nasiririaya. His brother who had traveled
the road a week before to collect the payment was severely
injured in a car wreck along with Hassaim who was also collecting
money for his son who can't walk. We had to carry him in
to collect his sympathy. As we passed the first security
checkpoint in the car, looking at the soldiers he said:
"Just as I will remember the face of that ugly bearded
man Saddam and how much terror I had when I had to look
at his picture all over the country everyday, I will remember
my wife burning. I trying with all I could to put the fire
out." Then he spoke of the honor that is lost when
one must bury his parents. All he has is the lovely Bedour,
which in Arabic translates into full moon. We got her plastic
] her hand was shrinking from burn damage.
He says she is "50 /50." A little shy but returned
to school on Monday. Kaddem then said, "For each day
that I continue to live, and on the day that I die, I will
never forget what you did for our family, for my Bedour.
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