Birthday in Baghdad
"What a Day to be Thirteen"
by Ramzi Kysia
March 24, 2003
BAGHDAD (March 23) -- Amal Shamuri is the fifth child in a family of eight, living in a small apartment off Baghdad's Karrada shopping district.
Irrepressible and precocious, Amal joked last January that she wouldn't mind a war if George Bush would only bomb her school.
Amal cuts her cake
Today was a different story. Today, Amal celebrated her thirteenth birthday on the fourth day of American air strikes on Baghdad with plumes of black smoke surrounding the city and darkening the sky, reportedly from oil set afire by Iraqi forces defending the capitol.
Her family and friends gathered with members of the Iraq Peace Team in a small garden near the Tigris river to mark the occasion. They blew balloons and soap bubbles, strung party streamers, played tag, and ate barbequed chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and chocolate cake. True to form, the kids ate the cake first, before serving the rest of the meal to the adults present.
Amal Shemuri on her 13th birthday.
Cruise missiles exploding to the south and east occasionally interrupted the party, one powerful enough to rattle tableware and partygoers alike. The explosions only temporarily silenced the festivities; but with moments the garden once again erupted to squeals of laughter and boisterous childhood games, played beneath rising plumes of air-borne debris and smoke in the distance.
"Life is more powerful than death," said Shane Claiborne, age 27, from Philadelphia. "How can George Bush bomb these kids?," he asked.
Lisa Ndejuru, age 32, from Montreal, quietly remarked, "What a day to be thirteen."
Amal's mother, Kareema, sat silently to one side, watching her kids play. Her husband died in a car accident eight years ago, leaving her to raise eight children by herself. To her credit, none of them beg in the streets, and all save the oldest remain in school. Amal herself dreams of becoming a lawyer one day.
Shane Claiborne of the Iraq Peace Team blows bubbles for the kids
When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Amal - whose name means "hope" in Arabic - smiled and simply replied, "All I want is peace."
Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American peace activist and writer. He is currently in Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness' (www.vitw.org) Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org), a group of international peaceworkers pledging to remain in Iraq through a US bombing and invasion, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org