Marie-Jeanne Ion, the Prima TV journalist held hostage in Iraq together with two colleagues and their Iraqi-American guide, 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. The series about the life, which youâre not very sure of, continues.
"Are you married? What are you doing in Iraq? Your country sent troops hereâ¦ Are you in good relations with your parents? Whatâs your education? How many foreign languages do you speak?
These are the questions of the third interview. It was the second day after the arrival. I had been taken out of the basement into a room upstairs. They put me with my back towards the room, and the black cap was covering my eyes.
Ouch, ouchâ¦deaf sounds and some strange Arabian words. The sounds were coming from somewhere in the other end of the room. It was Munaf and there were some other persons in there.
Answer the questions quickly. You have to say the truth, otherwise they beat me up and put me under electrical shocksâ¦
To shock him - a torture method used during Saddamâs ruling, in his prisonsâ¦
Let me see your tongue! Do you take drugs? Show me your arms! Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol?
Munaf was translating the questions asked by Hagi.
We will use you to ask for the withdrawal of your troops from Iraq! - was the conclusion of the discussion with the one who communicated me he was a real Mujahedin, a real Muslim.
I am a faithful person like you! Allah is great! Donât kill us! I could have said anything to him, I believeâ¦
How do I contact your authorities? Speak quickly!
Say the phone number!
I donât know it by heart. It is in my phone.
In the agenda?
No, it is not saved. But in my bag, the one you took, there is a piece of paper on which it is written "the Baghdad Embassy". The number is thereâ¦
MR. TRANSLATOR, TRUSTY PERSON
This was the first and the last time when Munaf had been used as a translator in the second location. The following meetings with Hagi, this was how they called their boss, had been "mediated" by another person, who spoke English and who, judging by his tone, seemed to be a trusty person. He was Mr. Translator, a man who I actually begged to come with us in the car when we left, because it seemed trusty.
WE WERE NUMBERS, NOT PEOPLE
The interview - a very short one - ended, and the guards took me back in the cellar. The following three days were very agonizing and there were a lot of answerless questions. Whatâs going to happen? Will the kidnappers manage to contact the embassy? Will we ever get out of here alive? - the question that kept coming in my mind like an obsessionâ¦ Ovidiu was in a silent pain. He couldnât bare the heat and couldnât eat much. Sorin was frightened; he used to sleep a lotâ¦ to escape, at least in his dreamsâ¦ I was very sickâ¦
Any gesture of the guards that came to feed us and take us out to WC was important. Ovidiu had handcuffs on his hands. He seemed, physically, the most powerful of us and the guards probably took him as a possible threatâ¦
And there was one more thing - we werenât people anymore, we were numbersâ¦ Down there, our new names were 8, 11, 3 and 99.
Thamania, yalla, toilette! Thamania, quickly! That were the times in which I understood the agony of a dog "taken out for a walk" two times a dayâ¦ It took a lot of tears, and prayers, and even an intervention from Hagi himself, for the guards to change their habits and come for three timesâ¦ But this happened a lot later, after a few weeks.
THE PROOF WE WERE ALIVE
The 5th of April. A nice sunshiny day. It turned out to be the first actual day for us. Sometime before noon, the door opened and I felt someoneâs hand on my shoulder. The guardian pushed me towards the exit. I went up in the interview room and a man in there said: "I have a message for you." He handed me a piece of paper written with a pen, in English. It was the text I had to read into a voice recorder. It was for the embassy and I had to say the date, that we were treated badly and that we werenât fine at allâ¦ It was clear anyway - someone asked for a proof we were alive!
WE DECIDED TO SURVIVE
Why am I here? I want to go home! - I told crying to the man who had handed me the message.
I donât know, Iâm just a bodyguardâ¦ I am sorryâ¦ When I see you, I think about my wife, my sistersâ¦
Strange, but the man seemed to be sympathetic, he seemed to show some mercy and he wasnât so pleased about his jobâ¦
I got down in the cellar again and everyone wanted to know what had happened. I told them. It is OK! Our folks donât give up on us! We will get out of here, it is just a matter of days! - Sorin told me with a lot of confidence.
The negotiations have started, it is a good sign!
We all decided to live. From that moment, that was our job. We had to do everything to stay alive. We had hopes!
Unfortunately, hope doesnât last forever. From time to time, it needs to be reasonedâ¦ Other 5 days passed without any news. We were desperate again. We tried to get something from the guards every morning.
Todayâ¦ come Hagi?
I am not knowâ¦ Inshallah! - the answer came inevitably. They probably knew but they werenât allowed to sayâ¦
A TERRIFYING DAY
The 9th of April, the celebration of the Baghdad fallâ¦ A terrifying day. I believe I never prayed to God as I did that day. We were very frightened at the thought the kidnappers would make a political manifestation. Our group was a big one - 4 people. One of us could have easily be sacrificedâ¦ We thought that, if we died there, it would have been great for us to be killed with a gun and not with a knife. An easier way to die... But the respective day passed like all the others, in darknessâ¦ We had passed another obstacle.
The 11th of April. Another normal day. I started to get over the smell of sweat and urine. The pillow that smelled like must was also something I got used to. The guards had brought us the breakfast - tea and bread with cheese - samun and giben. They used to give us eggs at the beginning, but some of us felt very sick and we thought of some serious disease - maybe Salmonella. So, we didnât want to touch them anymore. They had to change the menuâ¦
There was nothing to announce a first-degree meeting. It was Monday and we knew, from othersâ experience, Hagi used to come on Fridays. For the Iraqis, Friday is like our Sunday. They donât work, they go to the ceremony at the Mosque from 12 to 2 in the afternoon, and then they go to sleep. The streets donât have so many people, and the checkpoints are fewer. There are no car bombs exploding either - or they are very few in this period. The Muslims respect their traditions. So it was very simple for Hagi to come from Baghdad to us... But Mondays were his middle of the week - no chance for him to appear. However, the door opened before noon. Someone was taken out and brought to the interview room. Did Hagi come? One hour later, I got the answer to that question, when number 6 had been brought back and the guards tapped my shoulder. Yala! (Come on!) I got in the living room once again. Hagi was there, with the English translator. They gave me a cigarette and I realized I had some chips in my hand.
HE HAD SPOKEN TO THE AMBASSADOR
How do you feel?
They knew I had been sick. I told them I was alright. I told them I was glad and I thanked them for calling me.
Would you like to ask us anything? Quickly, âcause we are in a hurry!
Yes, I want to know our statusâ¦ - I knew he had spoken us about our troopsâ withdrawal in exchange for us, but I hoped it would eventually get to moneyâ¦ I didnât know, at that time, that there could be some other requests. When I got back in the country, I found out about themâ¦.
Everything is OK. I have spoken to your ambassador.
So, are the negotiations OK? - I asked, hoping he would say the magic word.
It is incredible to see how the mechanisms of the brain start to work when youâre facing a situation your life depends on. 1,000 questions come into your head, and they are meant to obtain not only answers, but also answers to certify your thoughts.
Donât you need a recorded tape, a video tape to show we are alive?
No, because the negotiations are going smoothlyâ¦
Hagi left in a hurry. I couldnât believe we had spoken on a regular tone. He even told he considered me an educated and polite woman and that he would treat me with respectâ¦ In spite of being "accommodated" in the basement and forced to wear the black cap on my eyes. Whatever, a normal conversationâ¦
The guards brought me back in the five-star prison - as they used to call it. Once again, I told the things I had discussed upstairs. Other hypothesis, hopes, days an nights without airâ¦ But the guards started to come three times a day - a good sign!"