Huda Ahmed is a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad Iraq. During the course of the Iraq war she has assisted in covering and translating a wide variety of breaking news and feature stories for McClatchy Newspapers and the Washington Post. She was on the front lines of the bloody siege of Najaf, on the ground in Baghdad during the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and on the streets during Iraq's historic elections. She is the recipient of the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship, sponsored by the International Women's Media Foundation, and will also be the recipient -- along with 5 of her colleagues at McClatchy's Baghdad bureau -- of the IWMF's 2007 Courage in Journalism Award.
Ahmed is one of hundreds of courageous Iraqi men and women who put their lives at risk every day. Western media outlets -- TV, newspaper, radio and internet -- rely on these local employees -- drivers, cooks, security personnel, translators and reporters like Ahmed -- to cover the war in Iraq. She shares some of her experiences as a working journalist in Baghdad with the Huffington Post.
California -- I have just arrived at the campus of Stanford University, CA on the West Coast. I feel so lucky to be here and to participate in a 3-week fellowship called The Stanford International Summer Fellows at CDDRL (Center for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law). It's been a dream of mine to participate.
Once I arrived at the dorm of Stanford University, CA, I got the instructions with the key to my room. After checking in and getting settled, I went to sleep early for the first time in my life at 11 p.m. but as usual I woke up every hour to check my watch and figure out where I was. The next day I woke up at 7 a.m. to my cell phone ringing. I was not expecting a call but when I looked at the number I knew it was a U.S. number. I thanked God and made a sigh of relief -- all in a matter of seconds. I answered the phone and it was my Iraqi friend in Boston who thought I was still on the East Coast. She was so happy to tell me the good news about our Iraqi national soccer team scoring their first goal against the national Saudi Arabia team in the second half of the game.
She was so excited and while I was happy to listen to her talking I was worried about my minutes because it is a pre-paid phone like hers. But regardless she began talking: "Hey Huda, how are you... Listen we are all here. All the Iraqi group sitting together in the same Iraqi restaurant we went before. The guys got the key from the restaurant owner to allow us watch the game today. If only you could watch us now. When our team scored we went crazy and we were shouting and screaming. We did not know what to do. We went wild and the people passing by the restaurant staring at us and wondering what was wrong. My God the score came after we did not have any drop of blood because we were tense and eating our finger nails watching and praying to God they will win and keep our nets clean. I will let you know what the final result will be. We missed you here so much and wish you were with us to watch it. All our friends, Mohammad, Faras, Shahla, Anwar and me (this group represents diverse of Iraqis) were jumping every time the Iraqi players come close to the Saudi area or took a shot at the goal. Our hearts would bounce very fast."
"I wish I was with you too. But I'm so happy that you are watching the game together. Call me if we win. Okay enjoy it." I hung up, sadly, sitting alone in my room. I wanted so much to be with them. I began to laugh imagining how they looked like while watching the game. My thoughts went immediately to my country and how the people there are trying to do their best to watch the game despite the lack of electricity and the time difference.
Later that day, my friend forgot to call me and tell me the final result. I guessed that we might have lost and that was why she did not call back. I was worried, so I called her. She answered with a very happy tone like she won a big prize: "We won Huda .... Oh my God. I did not believe it when the referee announced the end of the match! You should have been here and see what we did! We went crazy and we did not know what to do. Mabrook (congratulations) upon all the Iraqis and Iraq. I'm sorry that I did not call you. I forgot in the mid of the happiness!"
Then she passed the phone to another friend to congratulate each one: "Marhaba (Hello) Huda... did you hear that? We won at last! Allah (swearing in the name of God) our players were heroes. After 30 years of losing. Despite of everything, they won!!!"
I exchanged the congratulations with everyone in the group. We were crying on the phone. We could not share this short happiness with our family and friends. When I hang up, I was overwhelmed with joy and worry. I was concerned about what would happen when the Iraqis hear the news. I was worried of any bombing that might kill innocent people celebrating for their short time, forgetting for a moment their misery. Joy has become rare in their lives and when they try to express it, they get bombed. The same day, I received congratulations from my international colleagues including Americans about our victory in the game. I was so happy when they came forward and told me, as if I had forgotten it myself for a moment. I was wondering what they were congratulating me for, but in seconds, I remembered and I was so happy.
Thank God the day passed without any incidents and the Iraqis had the chance to celebrate safely. The Iraqi government imposed a curfew on the vehicles and allowed the pedestrians to walk to streets and celebrate in their own way. And when I say Iraqis, it means all of them, as equals. Few days later, I was watching CNN morning news. The pictures were from Baghdad showing the Iraqi national team coming down from the plane at Baghdad International Airport which was surrounded with officials, media and fans. The other picture was showing Iraqis of Baghdad waiting to salute the team in the heavily fortified Green Zone in the presence of the American Humvees. It seems the Iraqi government had provided free buses to the public who live around and outside the Green Zone area to welcome the team safely. It was a good initiative from the local government but I wish they could have thought the same for the people in other fundamental issues. And learn from the people. The Iraqis unite only in something that symbolizes their country. At least they didn't forget that and divide themselves over which of the soccer players was Sunni or Shiite or Kurd or Christian or other ethnics.