The Souls of Mosul


The little girl is crying, tears streaming down her dirty cheek, streaking her cheeks. Her dark eyes are wide open, staring at the man in the mask who holds her arm and gently but firmly tries to apply a jab to her shoulder.

But she doesn't scream, doesn't sob.
She makes no sound, not the slightest.
Very few children in this hospital tent make any sounds. Most of them are too weak anyway, they have to be supported and held by the volunteers who have been there all morning, taking care of the children despite the merciless heat.
The others... silent panic, silent screams.
In the ruins of the house fight, they have learned to be silent.

Sounds mean attention.
Attention means death.

There are many of them. So many.
They are trucked in.
Truckloads of utter, human suffering are unloaded in bulk.
All are bedraggled, starved and dehydrated.
Many are sick, some injured. Cuts, abrasions, bruises, open eczema and gunshot wounds.
Some are already dead as they are handed down from the trucks.
For some IS snipers, shooting children is a sport. Preferably in the stomach, because this death is particularly slow, painful and cruel.

The helpers do not cry.
They do not speak.
With glances they exchange.
A barely perceptible shake of the head, another dead child. Bravely, you try to bear all this and make it out with yourself.

Gadban is one of them.

His steel-blue eyes shine from his face, furrowed by grief and pain, yet somehow they radiate a kind of calm and imperturbability that gives support.
Fixing the children's gazes. 
Takes away their fear, at least for a little moment.
Caressing their souls in the here and now.

He is not paid, even the water and his food he brings himself. The medicines are organized somehow. The bandages, the disinfectant, the cheap cigarettes for himself.
Everything is rare barter goods, for which dining tables, blankets, last belongings are given away. Nobody thanks him. Who should?
There is no one left to look.

I have a little boy on my lap who plays with my camera. With his dirty fingers he smears around on my lens. It doesn't matter, I let him... I can't take any more photos anyway. I don't want to take any more photos.

Instead, I humbly observe what true devotion means. Mercy, humanity.
In its purest, its most unconditional form.

As we begin the long drive back to Erbil in the early evening, we sit in silence in the car. Dana, my friend and fixer, rarely at a loss for words or crude jokes, turns off the radio, much to the chagrin of our driver. He squints his eyes.

"What a fucking mess," he mumbles, more to himself than to us, looking out the passenger window. Scorched earth and bombed villages pass us by.

He hands me a Kleenex in the back as I try to stifle my sobs.
Fuck it, I just start crying.

What a fucking mess, indeed.

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