HOMETOWN: Nasiriyah, Iraq
EAST OF NASIRIYAH, Iraq _The teacher sees his young students in the streets, looking at the shattered windows and destroyed buildings, and he tries to comfort them.
"How are you?" the teacher asks.
The children say they are afraid.
"Don't be afraid," he says. "Sit in your home. Don't go in the road."
Mohammad, who asks that his full name not be used because he fears retribution from supporters of Saddam Hussein, has been a teacher for seven years in Nasiriyah. He works with children at the elementary school level, mostly 6- and 7-year-olds.
On this recent day, the schools have been closed for more than two weeks; Nasiriyah is now controlled by U.S. forces.
Mohammad stands outside a U.S. Army hospital, wearing sandals, blue dress pants and a blue dress shirt. He has brought his father here for treatment.
"My father hasn't eaten for two days," Mohammad says.
He points to his head. "I think it's shock from the bombings," he says. "Now, he's very sick. Too much explosions. Too much bombs."
Mohammad stands in the doorway, hoping to hear some news about what is wrong with his father. He waits with two brothers, a cousin and a neighbor.
Mohammad says the people in his town don't have electricity or running water, and their food supply is low.
"We take water from the river and then put it over a fire," Mohammad says. "We need fresh tomatoes and meat."
Mohammad and 12 of his relatives live together in a home in Nasiriyah. He has three children.
"The little children are crying all night," Mohammad says. "They are afraid, all the time. They don't go out of the house. They are afraid some bomb will kill them."
A bomb or perhaps a missile landed outside his neighbor's house. The neighbor went outside to check on the damage and another landed on the house, destroying it. The neighbor was unharmed.
Mohammad couldn't sleep for three days because of ringing in his ears.
"We have war with Iran for eight years," Mohammad says. "I don't see any bomb in my area. It was away from me. After that, we have war with Kuwait. I don't see any weapons in my neighborhood. In this war, I see weapons."
He doesn't see any Iraqi soldiers in the streets of his city anymore, just American soldiers in Humvees.
The fighting has subsided in his city, but the fears are constant. He says he has heard about an explosive that drops from a bomb and hits the ground, sounding like a crying baby.
"When you go to see what's the matter, it explodes," he says. U.S. military officials say they aren't familiar with such a bomb.
"I don't know what will happen in Iraq," Mohammad says. "I hope it's finished. We need to go back to working and teaching and need to live life."
Mohammad's brother, who asks not to be identified, says he is happy to see the American troops.
"Of course, we are happy that America come here," he says. "We want good future. We don't know what will happen. We don't know what America will do. We don't know what tomorrow will bring in this country."
A doctor comes outside to talk to the family. "Your father is going to be staying overnight," he says.
OK, Mohammad says.
"We will try to get his energy up as much as possible, giving him fluids," the doctor says. "Then, you'll pick him up tomorrow."
For a change, the word sounds hopeful to Mohammad.
"It's up to God," he says.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES+MOHAMMAD