Tonight, as Saturday in North America moves toward its close, the people of Iraq--most of them, insha'allah--will be preparing to vote. It will be a long night for us, but an even longer day for them, crowded with acts of courage and violence, despair and inspiration--everything we've come to expect in a land that, for some of us, has become more familiar than we could have guessed, or in many cases, wished. There's nothing we can do now, of course, save offer our thoughts to those Iraqis who choose to vote, and anxiously await the course of democracy.
We bloggers intend, or at least hope, that our words are read by as wide an audience as possible. Today, though, I write with but a few people in mind - friends, acquaintances, strangers I met in Iraq during my all-too-brief travels through the country. People whose faces and voices will forever remain with me, who today form the living fulcrum upon which the events of the morrow will turn. People for whom, 10,000 miles away, I offer my prayers.
Like bulky, bearded Esam, whose irrepressible charm disguised the despair most Iraqis feel about their brutal society: recently, I posted a letter from him describing life in a Baghdad bereft of electricity, where nights are broken by the roar of American jets and distant explosions. I pray, too, for Ahmed, perhaps the most easy-going Iraqi I met, who broke my heart last week when he sent me a terse text-message reading "I am OK...not OK...miss you." Perhaps their new democracy will bring, along with accountable government and an independent judiciary, some electricity and heat.
I offer prayers for Zena, the Baghdad housewife who struggles to raise three small daughters in a city where kidnapping children is as common as car bombs. The internet cafe where we met is closed, a victim of the insurgency's targeting of foreigners. She spends her days now in hours-long queues, waiting to fill her car with gas. She is tired, worried, distraught. May the new democracy bring her additional supplies of fuel, along with law and order to the streets.
And Rand, the Christian woman who also worked at the internet cafe. She left the cafe to work for Iraqna, the cellphone company, which provides her the amazing opportunity to travel to Egypt and Syria. Back home in Baghdad, however, the church she used to attend was bombed by Zarqawi. Her Christian friends have begun to fear for their lives. May the new democracy bring the capture of the terror master and his malignant ilk--as well as comfort to the Christians of Iraq.
And Naseer, brilliant, tormented, forever perched on the edge of melancholy and despair. His insights into the Iraqi soul had a profound impact on my own views of his nation. Recently, in a Frontpage essay he expressed a steely resolve to vote and--as he put it--"resist" the paramilitary fascists. He above all the Iraqis I met bears the emotional scars of Saddam and a thirst for justice. May democracy bring an end to the "insurgency" and peace to my dear, tortured friend.
Nor can I forget Nour, my beautiful Basran comrade, guide and protector. For me, she embodied the indominable but endangered spirit of women in a land that treats females as second-class creatures. Her faith that moderate Islam and democracy represent the best hope for her country caused me to re-evaluate my notions of religion and politics. My prayers are never far from her. And by Allah's good grace, she seems to be doing well: an e-mail from her today tells me she is busy working with international journalists covering the elections. May He continue to bring her good fortune, democracy and the freedom she so desperately desires and deserves.
There are others. Mohammad--a good-natured bear of man whose fondest wish was to design books for children; Ahmad, handsome, cosmopolitan, plagued by rumors that he spied for Saddam's secret police; Qasim, the silver-haired, silver-tongued, crypto-Baathist impresario of the Hewar Gallery; Dhia, who took me through the Sunni Triangle at peril to his life; Samir, who rescued me at a religious festival when Zarqawi killed over a hundred people with suicide bombs. May democracy bring them what they never had under the shadow of Saddam, and what the paramilitaries would once again deny them: a future.
Some Iraqis will not vote out of fear, resentment or apathy. Many will not because they are forever beyond the ballot box or the terrorist. They number in the thousands, these men and women, transformed in a flash from living beings to figures on a casualty sheet too long to comprehend. And so I pray for one, an Iraqi woman who worked for the CPA, whom I know only from a faded photograph in a makeshift memorial--although I saw the wreckage caused by the sucide attack that killed her. May democracy bring meaning to her life; may Hadeel not have died in vain.
There are more, many more, enough to tax a reader's patience, and so I will close. But not before I offer a final prayer--for our troops, standing guard over the first stumbling steps of the Iraqi infant America has helped bring into the world. May tomorrow's elections and the democracy it promises bring them something, too: a journey home.