Unseen Iraq

Unseen Iraq: Winter Bus Trip, Interrupted

(Andrea Bruce)
By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It isn't always sunny and hot in Baghdad. Summer ends. Seasons change. The sky darkens earlier. December arrives, and so does an afternoon storm. Rain turns to hail and then to rain again. It collects on the streets and pushes into homes, garages and street-corner shops. Cars stop everywhere, stuck. One driver waits on the side of the road, smoking in his car, windows up.

Two shuttle buses speed halfway through a puddle under an overpass and stall. The drainage grates are overmatched, and the puddle keeps growing. Bus engines sit silent for five minutes before the passengers realize it isn't getting better. In 30 minutes, the water rises four feet, seeping inside.

Stranded travelers stick their heads out windows; some men climb to the roofs. But most people walk down the bus steps, into the waist-high murky water, and head for dry land.

Three tearful women form a chain, holding hands high in the air, abayas floating and twisting around their waists. Thin young men laugh at each other, slipping as they race to reach the sidewalk first. Two men hold briefcases high, shielding their eyes from the rain that continues to fall. Plastic bags are suddenly in demand for shoes, purses and newly bought goods from the market.

Another passenger, one of the last to leave the buses, wades through the water holding a pistol. He hides the gun behind his velour lapels when he reaches the sidewalk, stomping the water from his shoes. He is traveling alone.

The soaked commuters continue toward higher ground, looking thrilled and terrified. The wind is cold. Traffic isn't moving. Cellphone networks are jammed. December is here. The sky is still full of rain.

Washington Post photographer Andrea Bruce is documenting the lives of people in Iraq in a feature, Unseen Iraq, appearing regularly in the World pages. For a photo gallery and previous columns, http://visit blog.washpost.com/unseen-iraq.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company