Easing into Democracy
EAGLE-VAIL – Late this month Iraqis will vote on a new government. After decades of totalitarianism under Saddam Hussein the concept of freedom is foreign enough that the Iraqis are somewhat ambivalent about it, says Dana Brosig, a former Battle Mountain High School student who served with the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding Baghdad. “They’re not quite sure about the election,” says Brosig, 24, who now lives in Davenport, Iowa. “They don’t comprehend what it really means.”She says she felt some of the Iraqis that worked with Americans in the Green Zone began to understand what freedom was.”Working with us they experienced the freedom we have,” she says, adding that they began to do something that they never did during Saddam’s regime – express their opinions.But a sea change may be at hand, as the concept of freedom begins to take root. A statement by one Iraqi she worked with has stuck with her.”He said ‘When I see you, and hear you and watch you work, it gives me hope for my country’,” she says.She may have gotten a glimpse into the future of Iraq during a side trip to visit a friend in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.Her experience in that very modern, westernized and progressive Arab Islamic country gave her a glimpse, of what Iraq will be like once it is redeveloped and terrorism subsides, she says. It encouraged her, she says. And Iraq is already beginning to become more progressive. Life in Baghdad is returning to normal, she says.
“The economy is booming, there are new shops everywhere. Everyone has a cell phone and there are satellite dishes everywhere,” she says. Electricity from the refurbished electric generating plants is now available at any time. Water and sewer plants are beginning to operate at full capacity. There are even street signs popping up advertising everything from guitar and piano lessons to Chinese restaurants, Brosig says.Gaining respectMuslim men and women don’t often work together, Brosig says. They’re often segregated into gender-specific work groups with a group of male engineers on one project and females on another, she says. “I don’t think they looked down on females,” she says. “A lot of females were very well educated. They just weren’t supposed to talk to someone of the opposite sex unless they were related.”She didn’t feel that same constraint working with Iraqi men.”I think I gained a lot of respect there, because I held people accountable,” she says. “I think the Iraqis wanted to impress me, so I had an advantage.”Ultimate melting pot
Baghdad’s Green Zone, where Brosig worked, contains up to 8,000 people and the headquarters of Iraq’s interim, Brosig says. Inside this safe zone also are Iraqis and workers from many other nations. For instance, several hundred Nepalese Gurkha soldiers guard the entrances to the zone.Brosig calls the zone “the ultimate melting pot.””You have people from every nation there,” she says. She also liked what she called a “classless society” in the zone. Everyone from the lowest soldier to the highest ranking officers shared the same dining halls, gyms and other facilities.”Everyone was on the same playing field,” says Brosig, whose father, Kurt, who runs a masonry company in Edwards. “It was one mass of people trying to help Iraq. “Many people working there have the same passions and dreams,” she says. “They are stepping outside their comfort zones and doing something exciting and making a difference in the world.”She quickly discovered how the intensity of the zone created lasting bonds.”Sometimes the only people you see all day are your co-workers,” she says. “Offices are tight and hours are long so you learn that you have to deal with people because they aren’t going anywhere and you can’t go anywhere. “You also go through a lot with your co-workers and they really are the only people that can understand what you are going through.”
What’s Baghdad like?Baghdad is a huge, sprawling city in the desert of about 5 million people. Unlike many large American cities, it doesn’t have a high-rise downtown center, Brosig says. Most of the buildings are only a few stories tall. The largest buildings are within the Green Zone. But Baghdad has something in common with the Vail Valley – there are lots of roundabouts, she says.Baghdad also has extreme weather. In the summer it can be as hot at 130 degrees and in winter it can freeze, but only briefly. She said she doesn’t mind the heat of Baghdad. She far prefers it to the cold of the Midwest in winter.Surprisingly, returning to the U.S. created more anxiety for Brosig than being in Baghdad did. It may have been culture shock.”I felt uneasy here,” she says. “I hadn’t been on an interstate highway in six months. It was so fast. Here I was alone and there I had been with other people all the time.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.comVail, Colorado