Niamh Burke – I will never forget about that woman and my time in Iraq

I will never forget about that woman and my time in Iraq

By Niamh Burke

I had wanted to be a newspaper journalist for as long as I can remember. I can recall interviewing my family asking them questions about themselves and jotting down answers on my pink notepad. I kept up that enthusiasm right thorough college and on into my current job working for The Irish Times. This job is what led me to the memorable story of my time in Iraq, a place where I recall horrible events that took place.
I had been assigned to travel to Iraq to cover the unforgettable war that took place between the government and their people. I was sent to give my description on what the situation was and get views from the ordinary people. My co-editor Dave was assigned to work with me on the piece, a calm, wise man who had told stories of people all over the world to our nation in the form of a newspaper. Although he didn’t talk much, it was a comfort to have him coming with me to this war stricken country. We arrived by plane on a Tuesday night and as we wheeled our bags the short distance to our temporary accommodation, all was quiet. This calmed my nerves of being in this strange country. I was sleeping well when all of a sudden a noise hit my ears like a gun shot and I woke up. It was the noise of a roaring bomb going off in the distance, sending sound waves kilometres afar. I couldn’t close my eyes for the rest of the night for fear of what may happen. My body was in a cold sweat all through the night and all I wanted was to return home. The next morning, Dave seemed unfazed by the bombing, his experience shining through, and so we went out roaming the streets, looking for any sources of information we could. Again, the streets were quiet, even by the brightness of daylight. Buildings were crumbling with evidence of gun shot holes in the walls. The town was eerie, a place of a once living, now gone. The wind howled in our ears rising sand as it travelled, hitting us like sharp blades at speed. This town was not a place I wanted to stay in. Shivers were being sent down my spine despite the baking sun beating down on us. After hours of jotting down notes and failing to interview the few people we could find due to the language barrier, we were ready to retire for the day and scamper back to the safety of our rooms. As we were returning a woman ran over to us. “Please, please” she said in a foreign accent, “let me talk to you.” A wave of relief came over us as we had finally found our rewards from the days work. As she was talking to us about the effect of the war in this area, I felt my hands being grabbed from behind. That was the beginning of what I thought was the end.
My heart started pounding like a drum as I realised the two of us were being kidnapped in this deserted place. I screamed at the woman, asking her to help us but she only smiled. I realised that she was in on it too and nobody would save us. The two men who were kidnapping us from behind led us to an abandoned warehouse as we struggled to be freed. They only laughed at us and pushed us in through a rusty metal door, banging it shut behind us. I was awestruck at what had just happened that I couldn’t even cry. I looked at Dave and he looked at me, it felt like a really bad dream. It was only then that we realised we had company. Sitting down in the corner of the room was a small woman whose kind, tearful eyes looked up at us with curiosity. I began to ask her questions, Who was she? Where was she from? How did she get here? What was going on? But I got no reply. The rest of the day went by slowly, Dave and I sitting down and taking up the two other unoccupied corners of the damp, grey room. Both our phones were out of service so we just sat there, drained of any emotion. I caught the woman glancing at me from time to time but I said nothing.
Two more days went by as slowly as a funeral hearse. We figured out that our kidnappers were rebel fighters because of the badges on their shirts. We were given two meals daily which was a consistency of porridge like but with a distinct meaty taste, not very appetising as the three of us were not hungry anyways. At the end of the third day I began to think of home. The rolling green fields of Ireland with its cool, fresh climate and welcoming people. My family and friends, would I ever see them again if I got out of this cage? It seemed unlikely. Suddenly, the tears started rushing down my face like a waterfall, tears that I had kept in for the past few days were pouring out now. I felt a warm hand on my shoulder and found the captive woman sitting beside me and comforting me, even though we did not speak the same language. Her kind eyes looked down on me, helping me to understand she meant well and I felt at that moment that we understood each other.
The next day I began to think ahead. How would I survive another month here, possibly another year? The thought was unbearable, I would have to escape. I involved Dave and the woman in the plan in my brain and we would all try and escape when they unlocked the door to throw in our rations. I was brooding over the final details of my plan before I told Dave when I heard a loud thump followed by gun shot which got my heart rate speeding like a race car. Suddenly the meal door swung open to reveal an Irish soldier who shouted outside, captives have been located.” He instructed us to get out referring to Dave and myself. For the third time on this trip, I was left speechless so instead the soldier just ushered us out the door. Finally I came to my senses and remembered the kind woman who was a hostage with us, she must be saved. I signalled her to come also and she ran out the door with tears of joy in her eyes. We were put in an army vehicle and headed straight for the Turkey border to safety. It was in Turkey that we departed with the woman and I gave her a smile to show my appreciation for all she had done and I never saw her again. We were greeted at home to a hero’s welcome and after a few months rest, I returned to work and daily life. One thing is for certain though, I will never forget about that woman and my time in Iraq.

Niamh Burke
Junior Cert English student,
Holy Rosary College 
Co Galway

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