Sunday, March 22, 2015

Visiting Old Fronts

Mosul is a city of over a million people. It sits in northern of now Iraq on the banks of Tigris. Aptly called the Junction City, Mosul is connected to the Biblical Jonah. Supposedly, Jonah was buried there and it was enshrined by a church turned mosque that was later destroyed by ISIS. Interestingly, Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Why ISIS destroyed it I have no idea.

Mosul is also known for its arts, metalwork, education, and a good mix of other churches and mosques, Christians and Muslims, some of which and whom will not be destroyed by ISIS I hope. Mosul is a kind place. I spent a year there and the city protected me. I received a combat coin there too, in Mosul. It is not a typical army badge or the kind of military thank you hand-shake coins that were issued and said you were at the right place at the right time. It is my battalion coin that said “hey, good job” and was handed out by my commander and his command sergeant major to only the soldiers who tour their duties with the unit that was engaged in combat in that city. I don't remember how many people got one but I hoped it was everyone. I knew everyone should've have gotten one if I had gotten one. I tried to give my combat coin away later to a friend because I felt I did not deserve it, but a token like that is not easily accepted. It still bears the scars of the one who fears taking its responsibility. So I still have my combat coin and it sits quietly in the corner of a display case. Every time I look at it I am reminded that I was in combat once. What does combat mean exactly, who knows.

Guilt is a powerful thing and the only medicine I can find that works for me is the hope that I’d be a tourist one day to stand in the future Mosul’s streets and be happy. I imagined that I would see wind turbines and solar panels forming a networking of self-sustaining energy grid; the sanitation system beneath my feet would be a pipeline to fertilizer production plants on the skirt of the city; the same plants would also extract the water content to feed the drinking water demands of this proud city. There would be bustling markets and residential streets without any evident of the bullet holes that once decorated the city. The streets would be filled with pedestrians, bread shops, spice shops, tool shops and tea houses where people talked politics and religion all day. People would walk freely, women and children, and the only loud noise would no longer ring explosive fear but a new sound of prosperity. I would be a tourist then when I am old and gray and showing my grand kids where I had been and how different the city is in some future time when I am no longer traveling.

I was told once that a traveler sees and a tourist tour to see what he wishes to see. I have been a traveler all my life and I am tired. I wish someday, soon, I would rest my feet and be a tourist only to go the distant for the enjoyment of it. But why would I ever stop learning and only sees what I want to see is still a mystery to me. I don’t see myself ever becoming a tourist but my life is full of ironies. Perhaps being a tourist to a city like Mosul is important to me. Then again, Earnest Hemingway did warn once that veterans don’t go back to old fronts to tour again. He said to go tour someone else's front if I must.
 …because the change in everything and the supreme, deadly, lonely dullness, the smooth green of the fields that were once torn up with shell holes and slashed with trenches and wire, will combine against you and make you believe that the places and happenings that had been the really great events to you were only fever dreams or lies you had told to yourself. It’s like going into the empty gloom of a theater where the charwomen are scrubbing.
Well, I fought a war that did not use trenches but the city was filled with shell holes and slashed with wires. I wonder if the gloom of a theater where the charwomen are scrubbing is anything like living in a city where I had left for ten years to go to war and back now to find it not much changed with the exceptions of those changes in me. Gloom is gloom I guess.
"I was here during the war," I ventured. 
"So where many others," she said under her breath, bitterly. 

[The quotes in this blog post came from Hemingway's editorials in The Toronto Star Weekly published in the 1920s.]

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