Monday 7 March 2005

My truth (La mia verità)

America, acts of great evil are being perpetrated in your name and without your knowledge.

by Giuliana Sgrena

I am still in the darkness. Last Friday was the most dramatic day of my life since I was abducted.

I had just spoken with my abductors, who for days kept telling me I would be released. So I was living in wait. They said things that I would understand only later. They talked of transfer related problems. I had learned to understand which way the wind blew from the attitude of my two "sentinels," the two fellows who watched over me every day—especially one of them, who attended to my requests, was incredibly bold. In the attempt to understand what was going on, I provocatively asked him if he was happy because I would go away or because I would stay. I was surprised and happy when, for the first time, he told me, "I only know you will go, but I don't know when."

To confirm that something new was happening, at one point they both came in the room to reassure me and joke: "Congratulations," they said, "you are leaving for Rome." To Rome, that's what they were saying.

I had a weird feeling, because that word immediately evoked liberation but also projected a void inside myself. I realized it was the most difficult moment of my abduction and that if all I had lived yet was certain, now an abyss of heavy uncertainties was widening. I changed my clothes.

They came back: "We'll escort you, but don't give signals of your presence, otherwise the Americans might intervene." That was not what wanted to hear. It was the happiest and also the most dangerous moment. If we ran into someone, meaning American troops, there would be an exchange of fire, and my captors were ready and they would have responded. I had to have my eyes covered. I was already getting used to a temporary blindness.

About what happened outside, I only knew that in Baghdad it had rained. The car ran safely in a muddy area. There was the driver and the same old abductors. I soon heard something I didn't want to hear. A helicopter flying low over the area we had stopped in. "Don't worry, now they will come look for you . . . within ten minutes they will come." They had spoken Arabic all the time, some French and much broken English. Now they spoke in this way, too.

Then they got out of the car. I stayed in that condition of immobility and blindness. My eyes were stuffed with cotton, and covered by sunglasses. I was motionless. I thought . . . what do I do? Should I start counting the passing seconds to another condition, the one of freedom? I had just started counting when I heard a friendly voice: "Giuliana, Giuliana, this is Nicola, don't worry, I've talked to Gabriele Polo, don't worry, you're free."

He took my cotton blindfold and sunglasses off. I felt relieved, not for what was going on, which I didn't understand, but for Nicola's words. He kept talking nonstop, he was uncontainable, a flood of friendly words and jokes. I finally found comfort, almost physically, a warm comfort I had long since forgotten.

The car proceeded on its way, through an underpass full of puddles, almost skidding to avoid them. We engaged in incredible laughter. It was relieving. Skidding along a road full of water in Baghdad and maybe have a bad car crash after all I had experienced would not be really explainable. Nicola Calipari sat by my side. The driver had notified the embassy and Italy twice that we were heading to the airport, which I knew was controlled by the American troops. It was less than one kilometre, they told me . . . when. . . . I remember only fire. At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier.

The driver started shouting we were Italians, "We are Italians! We are Italians . . ." Nicola Calipari dove on top of me to protect me and immediately, and I mean immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me. I must have felt physical pain, I didn't know why. But I had a sudden thought: I recalled my abductors' words. They said they were deeply committed to releasing me, but that I had to be careful because "the Americans don't want you to return." Back then, as soon as they had said that, I had judged their words to be meaningless and ideological. In that moment such words risked to take the taste of the most bitter truth away. I can't tell the rest yet.

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