The Hartford Courant  

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Fallujah is a dancer behind
Just when you think the city is a ruin, that it
would be hollow if it wasn't filled with misery,
there's something else. Something appears behind
the piles of garbage and streams of sewage running
antifreeze-green through the dust of the streets.
Maybe just for an instant.

There it is, down the alley, children laughing,
kicking a soccer ball, probably one of the
thousands handed out by Marines. The children
have nothing but that ball, and that's fine. The ball
is their world, and their laughter is clean.

Then a patrol passes, and their attention shifts.
They dodge inside or freeze in place to watch these
tall men in armor. The children become hopeful
beggars, hands out for anything the armed
Americans want to give.

The stink of Fallujah can overpower. Sewage sits in
foul pools the ground refuses to soak up. Goats are
slaughtered in the street, entrails spilled into the

But look up to see domes and spires, spun in
colored tiles. The mosques rise above the city,
reaching into the high blue, beautiful where they
aren't patched with rough bricks to repair battle

And the same colors flash just behind the gate of a
house, where the women peek out on the street,
their clothing bright and festive, but not to be seen
in public.

Fallujah suffers. It's strung with a thousand vacant
lots like open sores, weeping the rubble of
invasion. The streets are hung with great cobwebs
of wires, reaching from people's homes, stretching
toward working generators and the hope for

But stop on the banks of the Euphrates River and
see the swollen orange sun sinking into the palms
and reeds, turning the water into molten glass.
People in robes sit and watch the river, bending the
millennia together until it's as much 1,000 B.C. as

Just east of the river, the market stops when
Marines walk through. The people, sweat-stained
and soaked with 120-degree bitterness, stand and
watch. Their eyes are like gun barrels firing malice.
Or maybe just mirrors reflecting distrust.

But down the next street, a 5-year-old girl looks
out at the torn world the way it's always been for
her. Her green eyes are like open doorways in a
rainstorm, welcoming without judgment.