Time: 16:28 — (GMT +3)
Location: Canal Hotel
D-day: August 13, 2003
Close your eyes and imagine with me for a second. You’re in a sauna room and it’s everything you ever anticipated – just the right amount of humid, steamy but not necessarily dry such that you can feel your skin wrinkling, beads of sweat are beginning to drop as your blood vessels just begin to dilate…You can feel your pores opening as you breathe in that relaxed air that is the perfect temperature for your muscles to let go of the aches from the previous week’s painfully long hours.
That would be ideal init? Now, slowly pull your shut eyelids apart. Open your eyes from that magical and amazing sauna treatment you just visualised and let’s get a reality check. It is an extremely hot and very dry summer day in Baghdad, Iraq. A little over 39°C and that’s cause today is one of those good days. There’s no trace of rain in sight, not even a teeny tiny bit of morning dew for flowers to drink. You’re so scared of stepping outside your door for fear of it stealing the bit of cool air coming out of your room vents, air brushing your insides softly and tenderly. You literally feel you’re going to be mugged by the weather outside today, talk about a muggy weather.
It’s an almost completely soaked sheet that woke you up because while the air conditioning tries her very best, her wires are mostly tired from all the overworking. You give your body its routine stretch and as you walk over to your hotel room’s translucent window panes, you pull the blinds apart and take in the scenery around you, drawing fresh deep breaths in. The view isn’t perfect but you like it anyway.
Your being there matters. Wait a minute, as much as you wish it, this isn’t a vacation. You’re not standing in a 325 square feet fully furnished room in Canal Hotel as a result of a destination holiday fantasy. There are no champagnes and nonstop room service as you grow in body size and space. Quite the opposite, you’re standing there in that moment because you are actually in your office. Yes, you live in your office. Canal Hotel has housed the United Nation’s Headquarters in Iraq for several years before you came and you feel so privileged to be a part of that legacy. Shoot, all this daydreaming and you’ve almost forgotten that you have an important meeting in the next couple of minutes. It’s a little exercise on how you and your fellow colleagues, also not on their dream vacations, are to shape health services in Baghdad (yes, you heard me right). Your organisation’s not alone; there’s Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and several other aid agencies working across the globe in especially extreme circumstances just to give their own quota.
Alright, back to our story. This isn’t a worked up fictional character (I really wish it was) but just as you’re struggling to get out of those robes – that really consists of just a light vest and a pair of shorts, you’re mentally picking out the lightest set of clothing you have to give as much room for cooling as you possibly can. Suddenly, there’s a shaking beneath your feet, the quake gets stronger and stronger and while you’re still trying to comprehend, there’s a series of loud excruciating bangs; the heat is starting to triple and dust particles from the roof are dropping now, you try to look up and the seemingly large room is now caving in on you trapping you in, it’s getting hard to breathe, lights out and then…silence.
This and possibly much worse was the experience of United Nation’s Mission Aid workers in the Canal Hotel, Baghdad, Iraq on August 19, 2003 and the lives of 22 persons including the truck suicide bomber were forever changed. Aid workers were there on a mission and unknown to them, they were the mission. That day marked the beginning of the now recognised World Humanitarian Day officially adopted in August 2009. Now, we don’t take that for granted and we don’t think that one day is enough to begin to remotely recognise the people who put their lives out there in extreme physical, mental, financial as well as painfully extreme weather conditions just to serve humanity. But we would make do with today. 365 days of the year finds itself being blessed with individuals who will not relent until relief and support are brought to dying and war-torn nations; food and healthcare is given to the broken, the weak and the starving among us; kidnapped and victims of capture for one terrorist reason or the other are rescued and returned to their loved ones and their countries; children and women are in safe spaces, among many other incredibly disheartening happenings all over the world.
We use today, August 19, to say ‘THANK YOU’ to our everyday life heroes who don’t have extra lives like in the movies or a super ability other than their pumping hearts. That is their super power. We say THANK YOU to the response team members and front line workers in this present Covid-19 pandemic all across the world; we say THANK YOU to the relief workers, the military personnels and everyday citizens risking their lives down here in North Eastern Nigeria, Niger Delta and other parts of our country; we say THANK YOU to world shapers and influencers in Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Mali, Sudan, Cameroon…the list is inexhaustible really. We see you fighting and even losing your lives to stay the course and we hope to carry on this legacy and much more.
Be a humanitarian today in your own little way. It’s quite simple actually, it just means be a human that cares.