Thursday, February 03, 2005

CALL HIM HASSAN

Call him Hassan, and her Yasim, for I don’t know their name, and more’s the pity for me. They ran a small shop behind the Division Headquarters, not much more than a camping trailer with a small refrigerated display case, a sewing machine, cheap cigarettes, and the usual souvenir items. And, most importantly from my point of view, phone cards to keep my cell phone alive.



Did I mention that I had the opportunity to meet one of the nicest, best-looking, most generally all-around wonderful guys this past Monday?

Yep. My replacement has arrived. And he brought along the replacement crew for the rest of the office. Things are a tad crowded at the ol’ home place, since we shoe-spooned them into our trailers until we leave, but you know, I haven’t heard any complaints. Sleeping double on a cot is not as bad as you might think…

Tried to call the War Bride to let her know the good news, and that it was beginning to look like I might actually be leaving this place I’ve come to know and loathe so well, but
I ran out of time on my phone card.

You know, it was being out of time on my phone card that led to my first meeting Hassan and Yasim. I hadn’t been able to find any on post, and Mumbles took me over to the little trailer that they work out of, and sure enough they had some phone cards. Hassan was working away over the sewing machine when I walked in, but greeted me with a smile and a reasonably accurate version of “hello”. His work area was pretty small, but he’d made room on it for a picture of his daughter, a little girl with big brown eyes guaranteed to steal any Daddy’s heart. Yasim had a pleasant smile and obviously enjoyed her customers. I liked them both almost immediately.

Probably hadn’t mentioned it before, since it was beginning to assume the characteristics of an urban legend, but Mumbles, our resident master of the under-the-table dope deal had somehow convinced the Engineers that we needed an office to work out of. Of course, he was probably able to make a pretty convincing case since we’ve been working out of the MP supply room and an appropriated trailer for the past six months. Now, I should explain that there is such a thing as FOO funds, an acronym for what I don’t know, but you can use it to obtain things for the office, daily operation, and what not. Plus, you have to spend it in country (no mail orders allowed!) so we help the Iraqi economy. We needed someone to put the flooring down in our new building, and didn’t have any contacts, so we asked Hassan if he might know someone. Yasim did most of the talking, and before long we had a crew to help with the building. Mumbles bought a couple of cartons of cigarettes of dubious pedigree, and I bought a coke and some munchies more to help their business than anything. I suspect there are a great many Iraqis like Hassan and Yasim – good, decent people just trying to make an honest living.

So the past couple of days have been busy, with our eager and oh, so-earnest replacements busily carting stuff out of the ol’ home place to the shiny new digs. Not everything is completely ready there, like the plumbing isn’t hooked up and there are no blast barriers around it, but hey, this is war. Ya gotta tough it out – especially when you’re getting about twice as much room, real live interview rooms, and twice the computer hookups.

Having a natural and commendable phobia against heavy manual labor, I found it necessary to depart the scene of such frenzied activity before some insensitive clod invited me to help. This coincided nicely with my need for some more phone cards, so I walked over to Hassan and Yasim’s little shop to see if they had any cards in.

For some reason, they had the trunk of their car stuffed with their sad little pile of merchandise, and I was worried that maybe they were moving to a different location. That seemed to be a reasonable hypothesis when I walked through the door and noticed the refrigerated display case dark, and the shelves just about bare. Not even the ever present sewing machine was there, the one that supported their family with alterations for soldiers, and especially the fire department here who pretty much had adopted them. Hassan wasn’t there, only Yasim and a dignified, solemn looking older gentleman who smiled nervously at me. Yasim was crying, and talking to a fireman.

I could understand Yasim being sad about moving away from great customers like myself, but somehow I doubted that was enough to provoke tears. I didn’t like the feeling I was getting. Not at all.

I followed the fireman out the door and touched his shoulder, and noticed the sadness in his eyes when he turned. Hassan was gunned down on the streets of Baghdad about a week or so ago, Yasim had been with him, and when he recognized what was coming he covered her with his body and took the bullets meant for both of them. Yasim said that no one would help her, until finally an ambulance arrived too late.

Hassan died for the unspeakable crime of trying to support his family as best he could.

We all die. Some of us will have more days recorded on our tombstones than others, but that doesn’t really say anything about the life lived in those days, does it? And against a backdrop of eternity, maybe it doesn’t matter if someone lived to be 80, and another man dies at 33. But it does matter – Lord, it matters so much – how a man lived those days, and how he met his end. Hassan lived an honest life graced by a pleasant spirit, and died defending his wife. That has to count for something, or everything counts for nothing.

I don’t know what Yasim will do now, or how she’ll support her little family. The terrorists – hell, they’re not terrorists, they’re just plain cowardly criminals – have accomplished their goal of intimidating a single mother, and she won’t work here anymore. The fireman told me that they were taking up a collection for her, and were going to come by in their truck to present it to her when she clears everything out this Saturday.

Hassan’s story reflects the hope, the tragedy, and the loss of the nation of Iraq. And I nearly made it out of here without tears.

Call him Hassan.

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