Saving the orphans
Jun 4th 2009
From The Economist print edition
BLESSED with courage, humanity, a Lebanese background and the support of a British newspaper, Hala Jaber had the credentials to spell out the true ugliness of “collateral damage” in the Iraqi war. When the Sunday Times, among other newspapers, established a fund to help injured civilians, Ms Jaber and her photographer husband Steve set out to find stories that would pierce hearts and empty wallets. It was an all too easy commission.
In one hospital, a young boy, with both his arms missing, was the sole survivor when an American missile crashed into his family’s farmhouse. “Will I get my arms back?” he asks Ms Jaber. “What about my hands?” Nearby a weeping grandmother sits beside a little girl wrapped in bandages. Another American missile had hit the car in which her parents and their seven children were fleeing danger in Baghdad. They were all killed except for the little girl and her baby sister, who had been thrown through the window by her burning mother.
Such horrors could be too strong meat. Ms Jaber places them in the framework of a narrative about her own childlessness. Living in Britain, she had tried hard to conceive and had undergone several IVF cycles. After ten years she gave up and returned to reporting from the Middle East. The Iraqi orphans reawoke her maternal longing and, for the first time, she thought seriously of adoption. When those hopes received an awful setback, she dealt with her unhappiness and guilt by plunging ever deeper into journalism, covering the insurgency and the brutal civil fighting that followed the invasion.
She felt “seized with a sense of mission, a duty to bear witness to the havoc wreaked by war on the lives of the innocents.” In fulfilling this mission she was brave, foolhardy even, travelling more or less unescorted to areas where most correspondents feared to go in convoy. Deservedly, she won several prestigious awards. She met outstanding people, above all Marla, a blonde Californian, who single-handedly outfaced the authorities as she strove to save children, until she herself was killed by a car bomb. And some of her stories are almost funny. Just before Fallujah was blitzed by the Americans, she was allowed to “embed” herself with the insurgents only by promising to cook their evening meal (it was Ramadan). She struggled with “the ultimate kitchen nightmare” to produce an inventive dinner. But drama descended into farce when she discovered that her period had started, for which she had none of the necessary supplies. She fled back to Baghdad, her embarrassment saving her from probable death in the bombardment.
Ms Jaber’s self-examination is sometimes irritating but her theme is devastating. She recounts few happy endings, even for the children who were helped by charities. The little girl dies in an American field hospital which had to improvise its paediatric equipment. The armless boy was plucked out of his plundered hospital and sent to Britain for generous treatment and education. But years later Ms Jaber finds him back in Baghdad, his exams unfinished and without the prosthetics which he found too heavy. He had leave to stay in Britain and had learnt to do a lot with his toes. But not everything; and his uncle, who was prepared to care for him, had been refused a visa by mean-spirited British officialdom.
The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans
By Hala Jaber
Riverhead Books; 282 pages; $25.95. Macmillan; £16.99
《经济学人》（The Economist ( http://www.economist.com ))