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Marie-Jeanne Ion: "We Were Kept in a Humans Deposit"

29 Iun 2005 - 00:00
Marie-Jeanne Ion: "We Were Kept in a Humans Deposit"

Marie-Jeanne decided to say her nightmare from the Iraqi captivity. In a "cell journal", exclusively for the Jurnalul National readers, the Prima TV journalist remembers each important moment of her 55 days lived at the limit between life and death in the Iraqi cellar. From today, you will read a series about the life, which you’re not very sure of.

"Good morning. Are you happy?"

What could be the answer for this question after a few weeks in a dark cellar, in which the air was coming from time to time through a pipe in the wall?


Why? - the guardian was asking, as naively as the one not feeling so good about speaking another language.

I will be happy when I go to Romania!

Ha, ha, ha…Soon…Sorry, sorry…ha, ha…

AMIABILITY GESTURES The guardians weren’t understanding why, each morning, when they came to get out us out to WC, they were finding us sad, discouraged. Why weren’t we able to understand their amiability gestures - the fact they sometimes gave us a cigarette, that they wanted to know whether we needed fresh water - bottle moy - or if we needed any medicine… For some time after that, in the afternoon, they used to let us listen to the radio… Some comfort!

They thought of our staying in the 4 by 2 meters cell, closed with iron bars, as some sort of military service - of course, for us. With our eyes tied and laid down all the time, our biggest problem was the lack of oxygen. And, of course, the lack of news from outside, where the people we were hearing on the radio, on those interactive shows, were free…

THEY WERE INVESTIGATING, TO SEE WHETHER WE WERE SPIES We were in that basement for seven weeks. We knew then that the kidnappers were investigating, to see whether we were spies or not. This happened because, as they said to us, a lot of secret agents disguised themselves in journalists to find out the secrets of the Iraqi resistance… For them, we were enemies - people coming from a country which sent its troops to control the situation in Iraq. Therefore, we were their prisoners - their war-prisoners.

WITH THE HEADS WRAPPED IN TAPE We knew something else, too. The moment of our moving from the first to the second location - that they will take us in a "better house". This was of course a lie to make us stay calm during the transportation. We would have been calm anyway, if I am to say the truth, because there are few problems one can cause while held in the trunk, with the head wrapped in tape and with the hands and feet tied up.

I REALIZED WE WOULD LEAVE Everything around us was like that was the end, that we would have never escaped from that place and that, one day, everything would end up with a bullet in the head. I heard a lot of things from former hostages. There was no one to have stayed in such conditions. Every time, no matter their purpose - money or political demands - the Mujahedins had been very careful about the things said by the prisoners after the release. If something like that was planned to happen… Our only hope was - paradoxically - the fact we had to have our eyes covered all the time. This meant we weren’t supposed to see our guards, to recognize them. Therefore, we will live…

CONDITIONS Sleep down or sleep high? These were the first words that the man with a young, yet authoritarian, voice said to me. High meant the upper bed, chained by the ceiling of the room. A black cap was covering my head and my face, my eyes to my nose. However, looking down, I managed to see the filthy mattresses and more pairs of feet. There were more of us in there and some of the hostages had their feet tied. I was in a humans deposit. What was to happen?

Sleep high - I answered, frightened not to be attacked by rats or invaded by bugs. It took me a lot of time to see the cellar was pretty clean. There weren’t any beings in there, except from us…

The suspended bed was pretty uncomfortable, but fear makes you look unconsciously for a way out. I found it, during my sleep. I was very tired . However, after the guardian closed the door, in the dark, I tried to throw out a feeler.

JUST OVIDIU AND ME? Does anybody speak English? Quelq’un parle francais? Espanol? No answers. I fell asleep almost in an instant, sure that the cell in which I was thrown together with Ovidiu was full of Iraqis. My last thought - we will not get out of here alive…

I woke up when someone grabbed my leg. It was Munaf, who told he had got there with Sorin.

It’s a good thing they didn’t split us. What will happen to us now?

I don’t know, they will probably check on us for a few days… - Munaf answered.

If someone told me those few days were to be 51, I would have probably had wished to die then…

AT THE LIMIT BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH The time seemed greasy there, under the ground. It was extremely hot and the smell - unbearable. It felt like boiling in your own sweat. The little air you got was heavy, so heavy the chest was hurting. The vapors of the breath of so many people were condensing when they touching the ceiling and the water drops were falling on our already sweat-wet T-shirts. Darkness, quietness, nothing to suggest the slightest hope of survival.

You go to WC three times a day - morning, noon and night! - the guardian informed me. But the time between the visits was getting longer and longer. Because it was, again, another lie. We were worse than animals - we were barely able to take care of our physiological needs. A deaf anger was getting to you slowly, covering the fear. If we die, let’s be honorable about it…

WE KNEW THERE WERE NEGOTIATIONS FOR US Waiting is the most difficult state. The human brain doesn’t have Stop and Play, it works continuously. I wonder what’s going on outside. We were sure someone negotiated for our lives. The head of the group - the one that was making the video recordings - had told us everything was OK, that he had managed to contact our embassy. And, in the underground cellar, some air-blowers appeared. They were meant to chill the atmosphere, but it was the same hot and stinky, but reconditioned air. The guardians were very proud of their work - they worked hard for our good conditions… They didn’t plan torturing us. If they wanted to do that, they could have left a light for us not to be able to sleep. The lack of oxygen was, paradoxically, a good thing in those moments. You felt dizzy and you kind of passed out. But, could the kidnappers be ideal partners for a negotiation? What if they asked for impossible things? Or, what if they wanted to make a political manifestation and came up with the idea of killing one of us? We were very frightened of that, especially at the beginning of April, on the 9th, when the fall of Baghdad is celebrated. However, nothing happened… No news is good news, the journalists say. It was the same for us.

FIRE IN INFERNO Even if the Muslims didn’t have any murder thoughts, surviving there, in the cellar, wasn’t easy. In one of the nights, the improvised installation for the air-blowers shortened. We were all asleep and Munaf was the only one to feel the smell. He started to yell and woke us up. In the 2 by 4 cell a fire started. A plastic bag fixed on the ceiling started to burn. There was no way out, the door had three huge locks, and it was sealed with a thick layer of bourette. We started to desperately scream for help, and to hit the ceiling. We knew the guardians were sleeping above us and we hoped for them to hear us. Give me a blanket, quickly!!! - it was Sorin, who had seen the source of the fire and was trying to break the wires of the air-blowers. He did it. We saw a spark. Then, in that general noise, we heard the door opening. We pulled our caps on our eyes. Even if it was a fire, even if we were this close to dying, a mistake like this - uncovering your eyes - could have meant losing your life.

Out, out!!! Quickly!!!

THE GUARDIANS SAVED US We escaped it. The guards heard our screams, and got down to rescue us. We were, probably, to good of merchandise to risk losing us. For us to recover, they even gave us banana-flavored milk. For a few moments, we thought this would make them keep us in a normal room, with air. But we got back in the cellar in less than an hour.

For your security - they explained. Sorry…

I WAS STRETCHING MY LEGS In Iraq, summer starts earlier than here. It is extremely hot at the beginning of April. The most unbearable part of the day was the late afternoon, when you felt the heat getting in the ground. The cell seemed to be on fire and everyone was waiting for the guardians to come with the dinner. Then, the door was open for almost an hour and the room was getting some air. But the night meant at least nine hours of nightmare. The ones having the actual nightmares were the happy ones. They could sleep. In the cellar’s darkness, one could hear cries and parts of prayers… I learned how to stretch my legs. There is no point now in saying who taught me… I was lying down the mattress and doing packs of exercises - 100 moves at a time. When you lie down for a long period of time, the muscles of the feet atrophy - I was told. It was pretty logical, and the respective person had stood there for a much longer period of time than I had…

WE SAW DEATH WITH OUR OWN EYES The second time we saw death with our eyes, not because of the guardians, but because of the "accommodation" conditions, it was, as I remember, at the beginning of May. In Iraq, electrical current is not permanent. For about four hours, "the state" gives electricity, and, in the next four hours, you have to use your own generator. I don’t know if this was happening here, too, but there were times when the intensity of the current was sensibly going down, and the rough air-blowing installation was stopping. After half an hour, you started to feel sick. Sorin and I were holding hands and tried avoiding passing out. We were afraid of falling asleep and dying during our sleep. We were so desperate that, once, we crawled to the door, we ripped a piece of the bourette from the downside of the door and tried to breath the air from the other side of the bars - with a little more oxygen than the one inside.

In that day, the current had been a lot less powerful than usually. For hours we sat dizzy, hoping the moment in which the guardians opened the door to bring us the food would come faster. Finally, the door opened, we heard the locks and…air!!! The guardians saw what was going on and got us outside at the surface, more dead than alive. Again…sorry… However, they weren’t the ones to blame - bad karabah! (bad electricity).

We are confident that the group that kidnapped us was a small group. This is because the guards didn’t seem to be used with the situation, they didn’t seem to be pros. There was a time in which we thought we would never get outside of the Iraqi cellar. Escaping seemed to be the only way. Our desperate plans, tomorrow…
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