Saturday, 16 August 2008

"Room Raids"

So I am beginning to experience a rather unusual manifestation of what one might consider PTSD. I say unusual because it has nothing to do with guns or mortars or violence, but rather with what I have come to call "room raids". I had just such an episode yesterday morning...

Curled up in my bed, snuggled against the delicious chill of the air conditioning I was drifting through the infinite subconscious that is dreaming when a "bang, bang, bang" punctured my sleep. In an instant I began yelling through my drowsy haze "I'm coming! I'm coming! Do NOT open the door! Just a minute! I'm coming!" knowing that in realty whoever was standing on the other side of my trailer door could not hear me through the electric snarl of the air conditioning. I began tripping around the room in a panic to properly dress myself before I knew my door would be jimmied open and a posse of tiny men would cram themselves in my room. 

I stuffed myself into a pair of cotton pants and a sweat shirt, tossed on my glasses and aggressively swung open my find no one there but the thick heat of a Baghdad morning. Chagrin dawned as I looked over at my clock: 6:05am. Far too early in the morning for the raid I was anticipating. I had been asleep for only an hour. Standing quietly next to the door for a few moments I heard the "bang, bang, bang" again. Only this time, in my semi-coherent alertness I realized that the sound I thought was knocking was really my neighbor banging the wardrobe door against our paper thin wall divider.

This is the manifestation to which I was referring... the frequent fear of the KBR employees storming into my room to find a half-dressed, sleep intoxicated female. Over the course of my some 6 weeks in Iraq I have been interrupted during my sleep hours anywhere from 1-3 times a week by a small cluster of KBR employees, typically Indian men, accompanied by a Ugandan guard, who seem to have thought up every reason under the sun to invade people's rooms.  Now I concede I am somewhat unusual as a day sleeper and most normal human beings would expect to find a room unoccupied during the day. But living in Baghdad is not normal and despite the very pronounced sign on my door that declares "DAY SLEEPER" I have been subject to these raids at an exceedingly frustrating rate.  

And let me enlighten you as to the various reasons for these escapades: "changing the air conditioning filter, cleaning the air conditioner, changing the light bulbs, inventorying the furniture, checking the smoke detector, checking the fire extinguisher." Now mind you these essential tasks are far too critical for the likes of one man, therefore 3 or 4 are sent in a squad to tackle these challenges but when the time comes to conquer the beast, invariably one man completes the task in approximately one minute while the others, including the Ugandan guard with his assault rifle protect against the forces of ....(?)  that might interrupt this mission. And meanwhile, there I sit on my bed, eyes stinging against the desert sunlight slashing through the door that has been left open. 

It is not so much the "raid" that bothers me. I understand the conditions off living in a war zone and had this occurred while I was awake, I would be only mildly inconvenienced by whatever task was momentarily interrupted. What bothers me is the feeling of violation, the feeling that my trailer is my only personal escape and that while at my most vulnerable, at the one time when you can seemingly let your guard down in Iraq, I am subjected to a gang of employees who can storm in my room at any time for ridiculous reasons, even while I'm shouting "Do Not Come In!"

Let me clarify that I am not afraid for my safety. I do not anticipate or sense anything sinister in these invasions. Rather, it is the total lack of privacy and the disregard for the sign that notifies visitors that, for a time, I have managed to escape from the challenging deployment life and find some rest. Instead I have been forced to develop a defense mechanism that has me up and running, screaming and scrambling at the slightest knocking sound. As far as PTSD goes, I'm not worried about this new adaptation. As far as letting your guard down? I guess that awake or asleep, that is simply not an option in Baghdad.

1 comment:

Bryn said...

Michelle, I love your blog! You are an excellent writer; I know it's not the easiest thing but keep 'em coming! And maybe start blockading your door with a chair. Or a table. Or get a drug-sniffing dog to guard the trailer...maybe a Bill would work.