Iraq has a very young population with lots of children. Here is a waif in a Northern village... Many children may have developmental, emotional or physical afflictions.
In the same Iraqi town there was a school, and we were waiting in the large courtyard. An old man served us tea off an ancient brass tray. He had a haggard and lined face, and was clad in the typical long Arab-fashioned dress.
With him was a child, dressed in similar clothes, but he the child was burned... What I mean to say is, that he had old healed burn scars on his trunk and arms. I saw them under at the edge of his clothing.
I saw the wrinkled flesh, like scorched cheese, under the lines of his smock as he turned and helped the old man. Perhaps it was his grandfather. ...There are also old burns on the child’s face.
There are a lot of accidental burns in the children here. Heating during the damp winter is often via open flame from compressed fuel tanks. These are also used for cooking.
School was over, but the child was not playing outside with the other kids. He followed the old man, helping him, and distributing the brown heavily sugared tea in tiny etched glass tumblers.
I saw the old man as a comfort for the child. Keeping the youngster engaged and busy, maybe shielding him from more pain...In my mind I picture the child as an outcast, somewhat disfigured, but seeking company. Perhaps he is somewhat shy or shunned ir teased by his schoolmates? Or maybe I am projecting my feelings onto him....(At the time I thought that I should not do that...But perhaps that projection is what gives us empathy.)
I always approach these disfigured children after a short while, and kneel down to shake their hands and communicate with them.
There is always a clamor of kids around us, and I feel that by engaging these special children openly - in a positve way, and with no hesitation - it shows their classmates that they are normal human being too...Or maybe I am doing wrong and should just leave them...
I don't know.
I went to a wedding reception few years ago with my parents as a guest... I knew no one there, and was just tagging along with the folks because I happened to be in town. It was after another (blogless) deployment...Everyone was dressed up, food and drinks and ice sculptures etc.
It was in a fancy hotel complex in Dallas...
At the reception there was a small dark eyed girl sitting quietly. Her dark hair fell over a pair of round glasses that were set far out on her nose. She was perched on a plush couch outside the banquet room, in the hotel's lobby.
She had some form of congenital dwarfism, and was not playing with the children of the other wedding guests. I debated for a long time with myself. It was a time when I was without love, and having lost it, I felt very alone. I sat next to her, but not too close...I wanted to let her know I felt something for her, but did not want her to feel awkward...I did it very casually, as if I was tired. Just making it the most natural thing to do...
At the time, I felt that she was the only one that I had anything in common with there. I talked to her about the weather etc. She never spoke, just smiled back with a small distorted mouth - that seemed too full of teeth.
I didn't want to patronize her. I just didn't want her to feel alone... I know that what I was doing was trying not to feel alone myself... Perhaps I was seeking solace in my own actions...I felt guilty for using her unspeaking company then...
Seems like awhile ago now...I didn't want to do that with the child in Iraq.
(Blog composed from notes made in Nov.2008 in Northern Iraq)