Ciis nulla interdum senectus


The phone rang on Friday night and it was the call Maryam had been waiting for, dreading the worst. Journalist Dr Waiel S H Awwad had returned from the jaws of death.


He was still to cross the Iraq border into Kuwait and won’t speak on his satellite phone for too long. He sounded very tired and kept the conversation short  just two minutes  for fear of being tracked down,’’ says Maryam, Awwad’s wife, glancing at his photograph framed on the side-table. But he was safe.

Maryam, Dr Waiel S H Awwad’s wife, celebrates her husband’s return to safety in Kuwait. Express photo by Mustafa Quraishi Since then he has called several times. The fourth phone call of the day came at 8 pm on Sunday night. Awwad told her that she could see him on TV in less than an hour. The last time she saw him there was sometime before he went missing  10 days ago. He went missing on March 22. Though no one had been willing to confirm Awaad’s disappearance  even Al-Arabiya, his television production company, wasn’t forthcoming  Maryam knew her husband was in grave trouble’’. He had not called her up that evening  something he had never stopped doing, not even while reporting from war-torn Afghanistan.

Everytime he is out on work, we speak twice a day. He always speaks to our three girls and asks them how school is. This time when he did not call, I thought I had lost him,’’ she says. What would I do with the girls, the eldest only 14, and a two-month old baby boy who Waiel has barely spent any time with!’’

Maryam spent hours on the phone in her first-floor apartment in Anand Niketan, getting desperate all the while, till he finally called. And since then, little by little, she has got to know how he had had a narrow escape and what had happened when the Syrian journalist’s voice over the phone had been cut short while protesting that he was not an American.

First, he had entered Iraq with Americans  he was embedded with the 3rd unit of the US Marine Corps. Secondly, he was wearing a chemcial suit that was believed to be the Marine’s uniform. And his fair complexion and blue eyes’’ were added trouble, says Maryam.

Forty kilometres inside Iraq, they came to a checkpost manned by the British. They were told that a particular area ahead was safe for them to report from. When Awaad and two other crew members reached that place, they were captured by the Iraqi resistance movement,’’ she says. In the process, he lost all his belongings, including his passport, documents and his car. They were locked in a small room but some local Iraqis rescued them. They gave them clothes and masks to wear and helped them to reach the Kuwait border.’’

Maryam now just waits for the next call and for his return. Asked if she would ever let him report on another war, she is clear: I love him so much that I could never ask him to quit something he loves doing. I respect his decision and I suffer with it.

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