the next morning i was on the highway north, to baghdad. i saw the open field of oil puddles, the donkey cart next to the oil pipeline, the continual military convoys, the mysteries of roadkill, piles of ruined cars, american marketing, and, gradually, trees that served as a kind of gateway into the relatively mild city of nasiriya.
the thing i love about highways, aside from their open space and the liberty they promise, is how they link together pieces that dont normally see each other. they become the lines that link the narrative. the individual pieces of the world are chained together and so the story, like a chain, surrounds life and traps it with linked together events.
i couldnt help remembering, while driving on these highways, themselves made of petroleum product, that the oil itself was just the compressed pools of millions of years of sedimentary death. black blood under the skin of the planet, we had made these incisions, like great industrial mosquitoes, and we were pumping and pumping to extract this energy that lived in the liquid death buried just underneath the sand.
and so the narrative surfaced.
the one thing was the cause and the effect of the next. the oilfield was the cause of the pipeline which was the cause of the greed which was the cause of the convoy which was the cause of the death which was the cause of the marketing which would make iraq something else, in the future, for sure. and this chain of events came to appear like a mantra, a hymn, a sort of rhythm of the time that i spent there.
here is what the story looked like;
nasiriya itself was a dusty expectation full of little surprises. melted tanks were tucked into alleys, pop-surprises for the allied forces that had rolled into town a few weeks before i got there. otherwise, it was a town like any other you'd find in nevada, morocco, or lanzhou. it was just a town, like any other.
we stopped to buy a soda from a boy named mohammed. he was proud as a pecker to be finally selling softdrinks again. it had been almost a month since he'd been able to work. his work was simple; buy some soda, buy some ice, put the ice in his cooler, stand at the side of the road, and wait until someone pulled over to buy a can.
it reminded me of when i was a boy one summer and i decided to sell lemonade. while i took this second picture of him i thought of this; the entrepreneurial spirit, the desire to make money, the means and methods of quenching summertime thirst. he seemed innocent to me. he and his friendss were damn happy to be back in business. they seemed like they were having a party, glad to be making progress, and as i took the photograph...
... bullets were fired just across the street. pap. pap... pap.
as i look at the photos now it seems strange to me that this man and his friends were smiling like this, so wholeheartedly and innocently, as i might have while selling lemonade at the age of 8, but they smiled like this while someone was shooting a gun across the street. once, in new orleans, someone shot a gun across the street and everyone dove for cover. in nasiriya, this man smiled and served me a pepsi.
so nasiriya is not, clearly not, like most towns.
there are too many guns,
and too many smiles,
in the same place.