'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Holiday in Baghdad

Rising to stretch my legs, I surveyed my fellow travelers, who had just endured a 3 a.m. flight to Baghdad. Among the Iraqis, there was a preponderance of plastic and/or leopard-print overnight bags. The men had big mustaches and weary eyes. The women were generally in their 30s, wearing colored headscarves, some of them no doubt coming back to Iraq for the first time in years. The plane smelled of sweat and perfume.

I felt weak in the knees. An Iraqi girl sized me up with a hardened glare. What did you expect? her eyes seemed to inquire, and I let my head fall.

In the beginning, Iraq had seemed like the center of the universe. On a bitterly cold New York day in 2003, I had marched with several hundred thousand others, as much out of a conviction that the war was wrong as that it was inevitable and deserved respect. Things got heavy fast. In the first weeks of battle, an old boss of mine lost his life when a Humvee flipped. Reeling from all the mixed signals, I found myself editing what felt like Very Important Pieces about the 1,000th death of a U.S. soldier, then the 2,000th. What the hell was going on over there? Over the years, good friends went in and out as correspondents; a few even served as soldiers. But with time, the conversation veered to other wars.

By 2006 and 2007, I admit I had stopped reading: So many dead dumped in ditches, countless American fuckups, too many tragedies to fathom. In the ensuing years, the endless grinding of Iraqi parliamentary democracy—failed coalitions, muddy alliances—faded into the hum of a world gone wrong. Much of what had happened was our fault, but what could be done? The once- inescapable Iraq—subject of so many urgent conversations—had at last, again, become a ghost.

Then my wife accepted a job in Baghdad, and it became inevitable—like it or not— that Iraq would come roaring back to life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Filed under: Uncategorized

Into the steam

Mihir and I — old friends reunited in Istanbul — paused in front of the Cemberlitas Hammam, which had been built in 1584 by Sinan, one of Turkey’s most celebrated architects. For nearly 500 years, the men of Istanbul had taken their ritual cleansings here, and it was our turn to join the long drip of history.

We descended the stairs, where we found a warm sitting room — a kind of lodge, really — peopled by men in various states of undress. Directed by an attendant, we took a pair of striped towels and repaired to a small changing room. Naked but for a towel, this old friend and I headed for the baths, led by a stooped old man who showed us into the main, domed room. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized

In Istanbul, getting to Ikea and back

It’s not exactly a matter of life and death — procuring a high chair for my daughter from Ikea, in Istanbul — but that was the mission I found myself on last night.

I loaded up a leather satchel — keys, wallet, phone, a letter from a dear old friend in Riyadh — and headed down the hill. We live above “music street,” the winding cobble stone parade of shops selling drums, guitars, cymbals, horns, pianos, and the dreaded vuvuzela. A hilarious cacophony during the day, Galip Dede glows faintly and echoes with mewling cats at night.

Stepping around garbage, I found the alley of rough-cut stairs that leads to the water. Traffic was thin, and I dashed across slick streets to the Karakoy stop on one of the city’s main tram lines.

On the platform, affectionate couples nuzzled in the humidity and a ferry drew a long horn as it motored off into the Bosphorus chop. My wife was in Baghdad; encountering Joe Biden yesterday, she said the vice president’s teeth were blindingly white.

The tram trundled down the steel rails and I found a seat by a mute woman poking lazily into her smart phone. I took out the letter from my friend: Six hand-written sheets, sending sympathy for my dad, who died a few months ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Death, Istanbul, Turkey

Into the sea

We all find our own place.

We awoke at dawn — the whole family — and met at the beach. My uncle Jeff carried my dad’s ashes, and I had a pair of shears. Everyone else carried cut flowers, and we waded into the cool waters off St. Augustine.

The sun was only just breaking, and shades of red sat low on the horizon. Leaving the others behind, Jeff and I pushed deeper, the water up to our chests.

We gave each other a nod. I cut the sack, Jeff submerged the bag, and my dad swirled into the Atlantic Ocean.  I grabbed Jeff’s shoulder and pulled him back. A few paces behind, my mom called out. We all held hands.

Three gulls streaked low over the horizon. The sun burned higher in the morning sky, and we stood in the sea. Waves rolled in and the flowers we’d thrown sank into the deep.

Bye, dad.

At last, you — and all of us — have maybe come closer to being  free of all this.

Filed under: Cancer, Death, ,

We're moving from Saudi to Turkey

Hagia Sofia

My new neighbor: Istanbul's Hagia Sofia. (Image by qyphon via Flickr)

Dear readers,

I’m sorry about my infrequent posting lately. Below are two reasons why, and by way of continuing apology, a link to my latest piece — a feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine about being alone in a room in Saudi Arabia with a young woman who wants to attend an ivy league university.

1. As I wrote with some emotion last month, my beloved dad Al Deuel passed away April 13 after a brief battle with cancer. We are all still crushed. And among other things, his passing came just days after my wife and I left Riyadh, which we no longer call home.

2. Instead, Kelly McEvers and I are most likely moving to Istanbul, where I will be based as she looks to rotate into Iraq as National Public Radio’s new Baghdad correspondent.

So over the next weeks and months, my focus will begin shifting from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf, to Turkey, Iraq, and the greater Middle East. If you have any advice, questions, or avenues of research you’d like Kelly or I to pursue, please don’t be shy.

For now, here’s a sample of that BAM piece about interviewing young women in Saudi for undergraduate admission to Brown — and also an appeal for your continued patience. Everything’s different now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Iraq, Islam, Kelly McEvers, Middle East, NPR, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , , ,

A visit to Faisal Shahzad's Pakistan village

The gate is locked at terror suspect Faisal Shahzad's family home in Pakistan. (Screen grab courtesy of The New York Times.)

A major shout-out for friend and colleague Adam B. Ellick, who submits another one of his knockout videos for The New York Times. Ellick is one of a new kind of journalist: a so-called “one-man-band,” who can parachute into a difficult place and assemble both front-page print stories AND three- to ten-minute video reports.

His latest dispatch is from the ancestral Pakistan village of terror suspect Faisal Shahzad. Check out the video — and see how Ellick’s reporting compares to other print pieces you’re reading now. Video’s pretty good, huh?

Previously: Ellick contributed an moving and challenging video primer on the spread of extremism in Pakistan’s Swat valley.

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Faisal Shahzad, Islam, Pakistan, Religion, Taliban, Terrorism, World, , , ,

Sweet grief

Tribeca 2008

I'd like to be a part of it. (Image by jenschapter3 via Flickr)

Last night, I encountered old friends who didn’t know and — recounting the story of my dad’s recent death — turned an otherwise lovely gathering into my own personal weep-fest. I managed to get out the door before it got really messy, but en route home, I found myself walking down the middle of a Tribeca street, sobbing, attempting to eat a cupcake. Crying while eating: It’s so right now!

* With thanks to Penelope Cray for the new title.

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family

A strange fellowship: Veterans of the cancer ward

Washington Monument, Washington D.C., United S...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in our nation’s capital for a few days, reuniting with family, among them my Aunt Mary, with whom I shared many hard and final hours in the hospital with my dad. Seeing her again is like coming across a fellow soldier; we both have the same 1,000-yard stare, the same ease with tears, the same shaky need to talk.

This battle analogy is a bit much, I know. But I must admit: It is only in the last 24 hours or so that I have slowly gained the perspective to know how crazy I’ve been, how dark and short and unfocused and unhinged. To all the people I’ve been difficult for — especially my dear, patient, also-grieving wife — please accept my apologies. This is so damn hard. Who could possibly be good at this?

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family, , , ,

Thirteen days since my dad died

Miami Beach and Port of Miami Skyline

(Image by joiseyshowaa via Flickr.)

The Miami sun that’s been shining for two weeks has given way to rain. Friends and family have been mostly dispatched to airports. The house is quiet and slowly approaching clean and for the first time in days I’m not having beer for breakfast. It’s small, it’s tentative: A new, unfamiliar era is upon us, and I grant you that I am at once scared and ready and grateful and very tired. This is the way I live.

Follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family, , ,

A tale of two Arabian cities

Yemenis sit in the old city of Sanaa as the mi...

The old city of Sana'a is like a fairy tale -- unless you start knocking on doors. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

It’s March 2010 and the clang of metal rings out down a dusty street in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Soldiers in blue camouflage hold oiled assault rifles, standing among a gathering crowd. One of the city’s dispensaries for cooking gas has just received a shipment. There’s a shortage of fuel all around the city, which is groaning under the twin strains of governmental dysfunction and an influx of refugees from the north. A jet streaks high above us, presumably en route to the border with Saudi Arabia, where the Yemeni military is targeting anti-government Houthi rebels and alleged cells of al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Some in the West have begun to call Yemen a failed state, but at least they’re calling it something.

I have come to Sana’a with my wife – who is on assignment for American public radio – from our base in Riyadh, a historical friend to its southern neighbor. People say that Yemenis built Saudi Arabia – and it’s true that big companies of Yemeni origin, such as the massive Bin Laden Group, were responsible for a lot of the early contracts to build roads and infrastructure in the Kingdom.

But warm relations between the two countries soured in 1990 and 1991, when Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978 and at that point presiding over a united north and south Yemen, joined Cuba in voting against a United Nations resolution authorizing force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Saudi Arabia was outraged by the decision and began deporting Yemeni guest workers. Nearly a million were eventually removed. The absence of dollar infusions from Saudi’s booming oil economy – and the loss of millions in US and European support, likewise rescinded in response to that UN vote – didn’t help things for Yemen, which faced dwindling petroleum revenues that are expected to slow to a stop soon.

Coming from the comparative wealth and restrictions of Riyadh, I am eager to see Sana’a, which I’ve read is poorer in cash and resources, but richer in less quantifiable terms. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Israel, Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, War, World, Yemen, , , , , , ,