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My Scholarship entry - Seeing the world through other eyes

WORLDWIDE | Tuesday, 6 March 2012 | Views [333] | Scholarship Entry

Brown, brown, brown - everything is brown. Dust swirls through the air, driven by a fierce wind, like snow in a blizzard. The buildings are built of brown bricks. The canvas of the tents is so impregnated with dust that they blend into the brown landscape. Even the few stunted eucalyptus trees are heavy with brown dust.

I’m a military physician serving with a Combat Support Hospital near Tikrit, Iraq. Summertime temperatures reach 140 degrees. Dust clogs air, machinery and lungs. It’s not the dust we’re used to at home – this is the consistency of talcum powder. It filters through every crack and blows in through the air conditioners at the hospital. Anything left sitting for more than a few minutes accumulates a thick coating of dust.

Dust storms are frequent during the summer months, and disrupt the normal flow of life here on the COB (Coalition Operating Base). No mail or newspapers can be delivered, as they come by air. No patients can be delivered by air either, which is good for us, bad for the patients. After every dust storm (sometimes as often as every day or two), the operating suite needs to be given a “terminal clean,” meaning every surface of every piece of equipment/table/floor must be wiped down and sanitized. Here, we don’t talk about sterility, we talk about being sanitary. There is no way to keep the OR sterile. Flies buzz in and out every time the doors open, and the dust creeps unchecked under and around the door.

This country has been continuously inhabited for many thousands of years. It was the “cradle of civilization.” The Biblical Garden of Eden was located near here, the prophet Jonah preached here. The Bible is full of references to Babylon, which is now Iraq. This is a land rich with history…and dust.

The old phrase, “Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust” takes on new meaning here, in light of the long history of this area. Just how many dead people does all this dust represent? Is that Adam sifting under my door? I’m just wondering…

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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