Monday, February 23, 2009

What happened to riverbend?

Sometime after the Iraq war started I read on the BBC website about these Iraqi bloggers that were telling their experiences during the invasion. I clicked on some of the links, and read a few of the blogs mentioned in the article. There was only one that I kept going back to as the war went on and on. It became such a part of my daily routine that it is bookmarked in the same folder as yahoomail, gmail, my blog, and a few friends/family's blogs.

It was written by a very literate Iraqi girl. I can't imagine her being older than me and probably is younger. She cited Emily Dickinson once in a while and wrote with painful clarity about the descent of Iraq after the invasion. She was very well educated.

She hasn't posted now for over a year.

Her last posts were about her family's escape to Syria. In her words:

http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/
Leaving Home...

Two months ago, the suitcases were packed. My lone, large suitcase sat in my bedroom for nearly six weeks, so full of clothes and personal items, that it took me, E. and our six year old neighbor to zip it closed.

Packing that suitcase was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do. It was Mission Impossible: Your mission, R., should you choose to accept it is to go through the items you’ve accumulated over nearly three decades and decide which ones you cannot do without. The difficulty of your mission, R., is that you must contain these items in a space totaling 1 m by 0.7 m by 0.4 m. This, of course, includes the clothes you will be wearing for the next months, as well as any personal memorabilia- photos, diaries, stuffed animals, CDs and the like.

I packed and unpacked it four times. Each time I unpacked it, I swore I’d eliminate some of the items that were not absolutely necessary. Each time I packed it again, I would add more ‘stuff’ than the time before. E. finally came in a month and a half later and insisted we zip up the bag so I wouldn’t be tempted to update its contents constantly.

The decision that we would each take one suitcase was made by my father. He took one look at the box of assorted memories we were beginning to prepare and it was final: Four large identical suitcases were purchased- one for each member of the family and a fifth smaller one was dug out of a closet for the documentation we’d collectively need- graduation certificates, personal identification papers, etc.


. . . .

The last few hours in the house were a blur. It was time to go and I went from room to room saying goodbye to everything. I said goodbye to my desk- the one I’d used all through high school and college. I said goodbye to the curtains and the bed and the couch. I said goodbye to the armchair E. and I broke when we were younger. I said goodbye to the big table over which we’d gathered for meals and to do homework. I said goodbye to the ghosts of the framed pictures that once hung on the walls, because the pictures have long since been taken down and stored away- but I knew just what hung where. I said goodbye to the silly board games we inevitably fought over- the Arabic Monopoly with the missing cards and money that no one had the heart to throw away.

I knew then as I know now that these were all just items- people are so much more important. Still, a house is like a museum in that it tells a certain history. You look at a cup or stuffed toy and a chapter of memories opens up before your very eyes. It suddenly hit me that I wanted to leave so much less than I thought I did.


. . .


The Syrian border was almost equally packed, but the environment was more relaxed. People were getting out of their cars and stretching. Some of them recognized each other and waved or shared woeful stories or comments through the windows of the cars. Most importantly, we were all equal. Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds… we were all equal in front of the Syrian border personnel.

We were all refugees- rich or poor. And refugees all look the same- there’s a unique expression you’ll find on their faces- relief, mixed with sorrow, tinged with apprehension. The faces almost all look the same.

The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness… How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe twenty minutes, so firmly segregates life from death?

How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe- even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.

I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of road blocks, hummers and pictures of Muqtada and the rest…

How is it that all of this lies a short car ride away?


In her last post they are in Syria, refugees in a building with other Iraqi's. Unified by their exile.

Sometimes I click on her blog to see if anything has changed. I wonder if they are still there in Syria, if they returned to Iraq. If she died.

The internet has made the world a small place. Because with a click I can check on how my family is doing, see pictures of my nephews playing in Florida, and peek into the computers of someone a world away. But it is still an anonymous world in many ways. I don't know the girl's name that wrote as riverbend. She doesn't know me at all, but I felt like I knew her and E.

As she said, How is it that all of this lies just a mouse click away?

45 comments:

Becca said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Brian. It makes me ache for this girl and her world, and it makes me miss having friends like you and Leila, who care about things like this--and who see the real people and real suffering and real triumphs that go on all over the world, every minute.

Brian G. said...

I googled riverbend this morning and apparently her blog has been published as an award winning book. She apparently had a huge following. I felt reading it like I had a friend on the inside. It may be that the lack of comments made it seem like there weren't many readers. But apparently there were people from all around the world that read her blog.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could write like that. To bad she does not have any photos.
mike

Willy said...

I'm also worried about Riverbend. In fact - her last update is October 22, 2007. To day I googled "Does anyone what has happened with Riverbend?" and found your blog. It does not seem like anyone knows what has happened to her. I'm really worried for her.

I have her book and have read half of it... I became so angry about the how US behave in Iraq and about all the tragedies that I have stopped reading the book...

Amber S. said...

I've been checking Riverbend's blog almost daily since Oct. 22, 2007, hoping for news. I don't know anyone who is in or has served in Iraq, so Riverbend is actually closer to me than our servicemen and women over there. After reading her blog for a couple years I felt like I knew her. I'm an athiest but I think about her all the time and wish her well, I guess as close as I get to praying. I hope nothing horrible has happened to her, or what's left of her family.

Anonymous said...

i am wondering also. there must be a lot of us wondering.

Anonymous said...

I read Riverbend's book for a research paper, and am now doing a public service component for the class. I am deeply saddened that Riverbend hasn't posted and hope that she and her family are safe.
It's interesting that so many people read her blog, when I picked up the book I couldn't believe that she wasn't more famous. I really feel everyone should read her blogs in order to get a humanitarian insight on the War in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

I as well am hoping and praying that Riverbend and her family are well. I check her blog regularly for updates and have for the last 3 years or so.

Levi9909 said...

I just emailed her. Did anyone else try that?

Brian G. said...

I have tried that. I emailed her a few times while she was active and never got a response.

Levi9909 said...

this is very very sad and worrying. i remember now writing to her when she was active and not getting a reply. i assumed she must get lots of emails

Yowie9644 said...

Riverbend used to reply to e-mails. I wrote to her apologising for what my government had done to her country, her fellow Iraqis, her friends, her family, and her, and then apologised again because an apology from some nobody in a foreign land wasn't going to help any.

She thanked me for my thoughts, and said that it *did* help that other peole were concerned baout the plight of the Iraqi people.

This was back in 2006, though.

Her blog also used to be part of my daily readings. I worry about her & her family too.

Anonymous said...

I pray for her & for her family. I would like to know what happened to her.
sohelmmh@yahoo.com

sinkORswim said...

I just recently picked up her book for a summer reading assignment and it was surprisingly insightful. And today, I checked up on her blog just to find out that she hasn't been on since 2007. I really hope she's safe. The world doesn't need to lose someone with a great a talent as hers.

pinkozcat said...

I still maintain my shortcut to her blog and check it periodically but nothing ...

I wonder if she has changed her online name and started another blog. If so, I'd love to be able to read it. Her one post from Syria was really interesting and having to keep on renewing her visa was an awful situation and I ofren wonder how she is getting on.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading her updated blog for years until she stopped in 2007. But I have her blog bookmarked too and checking often. Pray she and her family are well. wish to hear from her. Yes, my emails too went unanswered.

NotAnAngel said...

I too used to read Riverbend blog, I have often wondered what happened to her after they fled to Syria. I had no idea the blog was published as a book, I shall certainly buy it, she is a very talented writer. I sent her a few emails, I never had a reply, but didn't really expect one, it must have been so difficult for her to access the Internet at any time.


Forsome reason I thought of her last night, and was surprised to find this when I Googled * What happened to Riverbend.*

Anonymous said...

Here we are at the second anniversary of her last post - and nothing.

Anonymous said...

I've wondered too. I imagine it might be a lot harder to get internet access as a refugee woman in Damascus as opposed to a private residence in Baghdad.

I hope someday she is able to write again.

Anonymous said...

23 December 2009
Cape Town, SA

I hope Riverbend and her family are safe, and that she continues to educate and stir the hearts and the minds of everyone that reads her words.
I've been a follower since 2004.

lia

Safiyyah said...

Dec 26th 2009

I also found this blog posting because I was googling Riverbend, who I only periodically check up on. I know why everyone is concerned for her physical safety, but if I really had to purely speculate and guess, I think what happened to her is at one point more tragic and less so.

I don't think she is dead. I think that she has lost her will to update others on her life. When you consider the large numbers of Iraqi women who have been forced into prostitution or other degradations (compounded by cultural and religious implications we as westerners can only begin to comprehend), is it so far of a stretch to imagine that something soul crushing (and yet not body crushing), has happened to her or her family?

Granted, she has a book which a lot of people have bought, but does that translate into the diplomatic and governmental ties which would be required in her circumstance?

I'm American, but also Muslim, so I'm going to ask around to see if I can chase any leads on this story to find out how she is. If I find out anything, even if it is the purest speculation, like someone heard gossip about a girl who made some money selling a book about her life in Iraq, I'll post it here, God willing.

Brian G. said...

Safiyyah,

If you do find anything out, I would love to know.

I wish there were a way I could help her family out. I don't have any magical contacts either, but I would do what I could. It meant a lot to me to read about them and changed my views of the war and the middle east. When she stopped writing I felt like I had lost a friend.

This post gets hundreds of hits a day. 75% of all hits to this blog are on this post, from all over the world. England, China, Australia, Israel, Iran, Senegal, France, Canada, Brazil, just to name a few countries that IP addresses of readers of this post are from. Thousands of people read her blog and still years after she stop posting are wondering what happened. Surely that is a network that could help.

dianna.rose83@gmail.com said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

Jenn said...

I also followed her for a long time and think about her from time to time. Her blog is still in my bookmarks and only today went looking for her again :(

Jenn said...

I also followed her for a long time and think about her from time to time. Her blog is still in my bookmarks and only today went looking for her again :(

Anonymous said...

I worry for her too.

I wonder if she was taken prisoner by the US or the Iraqi government and is in jail somewhere or dead. They might have taken over her blog and just made it look like she left Iraq. She did make them both look bad. She showed us what was really happening, instead of corporate media lies.

Anonymous said...

anyone try writing her book editor? Maybe she wasn't real...

wonder said...

Thursday..

March 10th 2011...

still no update from riverbend...

Richard said...

Strange. I think of her from time to time. Hers was a voice of sanity for me during some insane times. I miss her writings and I pray she is OK and will write again some day soon.

Brian G. said...

I still check her blog sometimes, but not as much as before. Amazingly many of you also are still hoping she is out there. I wish I knew that she and her family were safe.

Anonymous said...

I just picked up Riverbend's two books at the library and nearly missed getting off the bus at my house today because I was so into it. Hers was indeed a voice which needed to be heard. I served two tours in Iraq and I wish I'd known of her blog then because it would have given me and my fellow soldiers more insight into what went through the minds of Iraqis every day. I was perfectly aware that Iraqis were typically educated and that Iraqi women were treated nothing like they were in Afghanistan. It was a constant frustration to me when I came home and people asked me, "Aren't you proud to have liberated the Iraqi women? Now they don't have to wear the burqa!"

ENDLESSLY frustrating for me to have to explain again and again that Iraq is nothing like Afghanistan, that Iraq had infrastructure and lots of women in universities and working as doctors and engineers, etc. That women did not have to veil themselves until the Mujahideen gained control in the streets. It was almost as frustrating as the common belief among U.S. civilians that WE were the ones killing all the Iraqis. The U.S. started this war, so in one respect the responsibility lies at our feet. But the truth was that it was these terrible fundamentalist and criminal gangs who were terrorizing the civilians and trying to foment a civil war by blowing up the shrine in Najaf in '05. They nearly succeeded. I can't bear to tell you what atrocities groups like Islamic State in Iraq perpetrated against little children...

Another thing so many American civilians do not know is how things have turned out in Iraq. The media largely dropped the story years ago. Late in the war (far too late), we American soldiers and Marines learned to work with Iraqis on their level, and to quit worrying so much about government officials who were largely corrupt and inept, regardless of party or sect. The Iraqis themselves decided they'd had enough of Al Qaeda and Islamic State and started the Awakening Movement in cooperation with U.S. forces. Once this seismic shift among the tribes happened, the tide turned in Iraq. The terrorists had no place for protection since the Sunni civilian population no longer accepted their presence. Civilian and military casualties plummeted and U.S. forces finally made plans to leave - they are supposed to be gone by December 2011. Iraq is not okay yet and nothing makes up for so many lives lost. But it is much better than it was right when Riverbend's Blog left off.

Which leads me to wonder, like all of you, what happened to her. I hope for the best. I hope that her family was able to return and restart life in the beautiful old city of Baghdad. Iraq will always be a part of me now, after spending 27 months of my life there. In a way, her blog takes me right back - the unforgettable sound of the pre-dawn Call to Prayer ("Prayer is better than sleep. Come to prayer, come to salvation!") mixed with the sound of helicopter rotors and things going boom in the night. The heat. The dust storms. But in another way, her blog takes me to an Iraq I never knew - Iraq outside the walls of our protected U.S. military compounds, the lives of real Iraqi people.

Allah ikhaleich, Riverbend, and in sha'Allah you are doing okay, somewhere. In the meantime, I must get back to your book. Thank you so much for writing it.

Anonymous said...

The essential thing is simply this: the Feminist Press needs to tell us how it is that they have published this blog. Did they do so without any communication with the author or her family? There is no one to whom royalties can be paid? They know no more than we do?

Anonymous said...

June 27, 2012. It's incredible that people are still coming to this page after typing some version of "what happened to Riverbend?" into google. I came of age reading that blog, and I still think about it sometimes. I wonder how where she is now that Syria is in civil war... I wonder if she ever even existed at all...

the writer said...

I read her blog in 2007 and still wonder, sadly, about whatever happened to her.

the writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
semuta said...

I am now additionally concerned about her given the situation in Syria. It never ends...

Brian G. said...

Are the Iraqi refugees in Syria returning to Iraq? I have not heard any news reports on that.

Anonymous said...

21 August 2012
For those of us who have been following up her blog through the years a hunger and concern for news of her well being is understandable .

bigmo said...

My concern about the fate of Riverbend is that she must certainly had her share of enemies, Islamists, and the security services of the Iraqi, US, and UK governments.

Hopefully, she is doing fine, and keeping a low profile, until conditions in Iraq improve.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope Riverbend was no longer in Syria when the massacre started in 2010. Would be nice to know that she and her family had been able to get out to the west long before it. I imagine she's probably a successful journalist or writer in an English-speaking country by now but one who will always miss her Middle-Eastern background and the many customs she described so vividly in her blog. Good luck to her, no matter where she is today (perhaps happily married with several kids)!

Rina Løhr said...

She is back!

http://riverbendblog.blogspot.dk/

levi9909 said...

Great news. I tweeted that and got two retweets:

Jews Sans Frontieres @jewssf

Riverbend lives! but not in #Iraq or #Syria http://riverbendblog.blogspot.dk/2013_04_01_archive.html?m=1#3554538807908354245 …
3:05 PM - 10 Apr 13

Anonymous said...

Your blog suggests you are uncertain about Riverbend's age. She said in her very first blog, back in 2003 that she was then 24. So her age now is simple arithmetic.

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Anonymous said...

Having read your comments, and now stopped laughing, I must ask, are you people for real? Books have been published based upon her story, she has NOT published them, the royalties will go to the american authors. There is no evidence that this good hearted girl would ever turn to prostitution! What is wrong with you people! Oh, I just got it, you are american.