“Stop! Stop!” I shouted at my driver.
“It is very dangerous to stop.”
“I don’t care. Stop the car, please.”
We were driving along a high road that looked out over a vast green valley, a landscape most people don’t picture when they think of Iraq. But it wasn’t the beautiful view, green with life that caught my attention. Near the rusting remnants of a blown out pick-up truck, not far from piles of concert ruble and square slabs in the Tal Afar district that were once the walls of houses, I saw a group of teenage boys playing soccer in the grass. They were laughing, playing, joyful amongst the looming echoes of death, bloodshed and bombs. We passed them in the car.
“Go back! We need to go back.”
“But sir, it is not safe for you to stop.”
“Go back please!”
He shook his head, not agreeing with me, but he turned the car around. “I'll not take more than three minutes, I promise!”
We parked near the blown out car. I called out to get the boys' attention. They looked over, a little scared at first. I held up the camera and pointed to it. “Pictures! I want to take some pictures.” My signals were clear enough even though they didn’t understand my words. Using my best pointing and hand waving I got them to come over.
I took one of the older boy in the group with the soccer ball in front the destroyed pick-up. Then I waved them off with an OK sign and they resumed their game. Watching them play restored a sense of faith in me. That inside us, inside people is a resilience for joy that can’t be extinguished. It can be stifled, pushed down. It can feel as though it’s been blotted out. But after a little bit of time, people can find joy in life again; we can play amid the rubble. Even when danger still lurks nearby, we will play nonetheless. Terror only works for so long, until the mind normalizes it and what bubbles to the surface are those other emotions that were waiting on the bench for their turn to enter the game.