ICQ 2003/1

Portraits of Iraq

Text by Maura Stephens, photographs by George Sapio


War was a not-so-remote possibility in late January when my husband, playwright and photographer George Sapio, and I were given the opportunity of a lifetime -- to visit Iraq on a peace and humanitarian mission. As this magazine goes to press the U.S. invasion has begun. But we jumped at the chance to visit this country, which had been dominating the news for months, and to speak directly to its people, gaining some insight into their lives. On the delegation with us would be 10 other Americans from various parts of the country.

Just days before we set out, George and I put out a call to friends and colleagues in Ithaca for medicines, vitamins, health care items, and photos and cards that we could take to the people of Iraq. Within 96 hours we had accumulated 116 pounds of donations, all from private individuals on campus and in the Ithaca area -- way more, it would turn out, than our fellow travelers had collected in their home cities of New York, Dallas, Washington, and the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Arriving in Baghdad after a 44-hour journey, we were not sure what to expect. We were amazed to find that during our stay every single person welcomed us and treated us with kindness, generosity, and gratitude for our willingness to be in Iraq at this time. There was not a single instance of hostility or anger.

George and I were captivated by the little girl at front as she played by herself in the rubble-strewn Baghdad street in front of her family home. Her father came out to check on her, and George asked if he could take the little girl's photo. The father smiled and said yes, and went to get his other children for a group pose. They then invited us in for conversation and tea and to meet the women of the house. He works as a carpenter, making about US $4 a month, and supports the three children, his two wives, and his elderly mother.Next


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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 25 April, 2003