Iraq Marga Ortigas Prose

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Two years.
Two years, today.

It’s nearly one in the morning, and the day gone by is already a blur.  I seem to be thinking in cut-Voice-Overs.  Too much television news.  Cut-VO, and soundbites.

A soldier plays the piano.

I can’t cry hard enough… I can’t cry hard enough…for you to hear me now…”


A reservist speaks at the podium.

“I was walking down Broad Street and I could see this avalanche just hurtling my way…”


Amazing grace…how sweet the sound…”

The sky is a calm orange.  Soft orange with light pink brushstrokes.  The water is glass; still, dark green glass shattered occasionally by bubbles and ripples as extraordinary phantom fish fly upwards through the air and back down again.

At the edges, in the distance — as far as the eye can see — dry brush.  Some sort of desert reeds.  Papyrus.  I heard someone say.  Behind, a silhouette skyline of date palms.  Like a biblical Assyrian army.  Standing at attention.  Not even Moses could part them.


Some forty American soldiers are gathered in silence.  Bathed in soft-focus yellow.  Caps in hand, guns slung on their shoulders wearily towards the cold marble floor.  In the far left corner, the cameraman is frantically waving his arms trying to get my attention.  Are we live on air, he is trying to mime.  Are we live?

I don’t know.

I am standing to the far right, in the back, my ear pressed to a satellite telephone with five people two continents away yelling over each other in my ear…are we live?  I have no idea.  I can barely make out what they are saying.

A disgruntled, discombobulated correspondent is sitting on the floor just a short distance away from me… trying to read his notes while balancing a microphone in one hand, pressing his IFB into his ear with the other, and attempting to wordlessly call me over all at the same time.  I am lost in the moment.  Trying to be lost in the moment.  I want to be lost in the silence that is at play before us — but I am not allowed its grace.

I have to pay attention.  I have to be in control — and all I want to do is allow this peace to wash over me.  To be cleansed by the soft, blessed, desert air…

The sun is setting over Baghdad and I am on a man-made island in the middle of a man-made lake in the heart of one of Saddam Hussein’s many palaces.  You can so easily forget where you are in the beauty of this moment.

Do you know how many bodies have been thrown into this water?” the local producer whispers in disgust.

I look up and remember why I am here.  Why we are all here.  Surrounded by people whose lives were turned upside down by “9-11”.  The local producer and I among them.


I let go of you like a child letting go of his kite…”


It’s nearly dark,  the ceremony is almost over.

Candles are being lit, and the flame is being passed from one soldier to another.  The sadness visible on their faces, heightened by the shadows and the fading orange backdrop.

I fight back a tear.
It is two years today, and I’ll bet none of us ever dreamt then that we would end up here.  How astounding life’s journey.

One of the men here today was in the World Trade Center when the planes struck.  He was working as a stockbroker then.  Now, he is in Iraq.  A reservist called to duty for the very same reason his life fell apart.

History.  People.  It’s all about people.
And I am here.

On the other side of this island, the ruins of Saddam’s grandeur draped in black by the dawning evening.  What must have been an imposing palace just a few months ago is now a sad witness to a small, moving memorial service by displaced New Yorkers.  God, the irony.  The poetry.

Saddam.  Saddam.

O beautiful for spacious skies…”

From dark ugliness to amber beauty.  In ruins, peace.  From pain, growth.

Two years today.
Two years today.  Broken hearts finding balm in the desert.  All things come full circle.


Above the stern row of date palms, a harvest moon begins its ascent.
Warm orange and shades of Baghdad brown.  An amber evening.
All things come full circle…
and you harvest what you sow.Two years today.
Two years today.

Marga Ortigas is a communications coach who has travelled the globe for 25 years as a broadcast journalist.

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