July 13, 2007
State of Despair
Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

I went to Iraq in 2003, soon after the invasion, and spent six weeks there on my own filming stories for Australian TV. For half the time I followed an Iraqi exile who was returning for the first time in 25 years. It was one of the most interesting and stimulating times of my life and I got to see a country at a major turning point in its history.

In that post invasion "honeymoon period" Iraq's future was a tumult of conflicting possibilities. In awe of this beautiful, complex and richly historic desert paradise I naively hoped for the best. It didn't take long for things to seriously unravel and Iraq became too dangerous for me to return to.

I kept thinking about how ordinary people in Iraq would get by day to day in such a hellish environment. How do they do simple things, like buy tomatoes? How do the kids get to school, if at all? What is it like to live in a place where violence, death and hatred have permeated everyone's lives?

In 2005 and 2006 I did a series of stories on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, talking to both the Iraqis who were detained and tortured, and U.S. soldiers who witnessed or carried out some of the abuse. The Iraqis I met were in Jordan and Syria, and it was then I got a sense of the scale of the exiled Iraqi community. Returning to Jordan and doing a portrait of the Iraqi community in exile seemed like a good way to find out more about what was happening on the ground in Iraq.

I met up with Alia Hamzeh, my Jordanian fixer and translator I had worked with on the Abu Ghraib story, and we set about tracking down Iraqis to interview. It was hard to convince some of them to talk. The fear and threats that had come with them across the border were too hard to shake, and the trauma these people are living with is inconceivable to someone like me.

It was a very bleak experience, and there was no real sign of hope. It was depressing to hear officials say that the only real future for these people will come with a political "solution" in Iraq. It is unimaginable right now.

The only uplifting moment was when I followed a couple of the kids –- asking them to show me how they get by and entertain themselves. They pulled out all the toys they'd found in the garbage and repaired, games they had made up to entertain themselves, and were keen to impress me with their inventiveness. Their resilience was so inspiring, but it was also bittersweet as their life in Jordan is seriously limited. I only hope they find a better place to be able to deal with the terrible things they've known in their short lives.

From Olivia Rousset, SBS Reporter
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