Friday, June 16, 2017

Arabic Lentil Soup

It is 11:30 p.m, the blue, pink, and green lid plastic containers have been packed since 11:00, but we are waiting for the soup to cool. Kate, the 22 year old volunteer chef and college student from Scotland, hasn't had a day off in a string of 11. Together with the volunteer Syrian chef, and many other volunteers, we've made soup for 900 people. Pots larger-than-I-knew existed, don't cool fast.

Doh, one of the young Dutch women capable of running the world, pulls us aside and instructs us on tonight's delivery. I will have area 5, Tony will lead area 3. We couldn't do this without our team of Iraqis, Syrians, and Afghan young men and women, and teenagers.

Doh explains our assignment while we sit on a bench. When she finishes, it's difficult to stand up. Amir sits down next to us. He is a 31 year old single man, and to understand his heavily accented English requires total concentration.

At first we talk about light things. About his sister whom we met yesterday. When we ask where he was born, he doesn't understand the word "born." When I dramatize with hand motions, his mother's stomach, he understands.

"Baghdad. My entire life I live in Baghdad."

One must tread slowly when discussing Baghdad.

He allows us to tread slowly, even encourages us to ask questions. We learn he served in the Iraqi army and worked with the Americans. When he learns we are Americans, he puts his arm around me. He likes Americans.

It was us, the Americans in 2003 who invaded Iraq on the erroneous assumption there were weapons of mass destruction. Since that time, Bush, Rumsfield, Rice, Powell, have all publicly agreed there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Before tonight, that we had invaded Iraq was merely a fact, before I was sitting on a bench, waiting for the soup to cool, with Amir.

"Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was good. But everything else was bad. There are so many women and children. Very few men because they died."

At 1:00 a.m., the beautiful American Lebanese coordinator from Boston who speaks Arabic makes the decision to start pouring hot soup into the orange-lid containers. Will it melt the plastic? It doesn't, but the expansion from heat makes the lids difficult to fit. I work them with my fingers until it seals.

Close to 1:45 a.m we are ready to start moving the Ramadan breakfast meal to the people. Amir is part of my team. Tony has returned from section three and joins us for the last delivery of the early morning dark. Amir hangs close and starts to call Tony and me Mama and Papa.

When we finish, as we walk back, Amir shows me photos in his Iraqi uniform. He is a different man. So thin now. When I notice, he explains he has trouble sleeping and eating. So many worries.

At 3:00 a.m Tony and I gratefully drop into bed. I have yet to process, the events, the conversations, the sorrows. But somehow in the night, I do, because when I awake, the first words to Tony are, "I'm heartsick."

"About what?"

"That we invaded Iraq," and the tears begin to flow--all because the Arabic lentil soup needed to cool.

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