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“Against our deepest wishes, we become suddenly, inexplicably, committed to a path we have avoided, a line of thought we’d had no interest in.” – Zachary Lazar

Last year I wrote a post titled: “Five Years between T-Walls” where I talked about some of the psychological problems I faced working in Iraq, one of them is the battling destiny vs. choice dilemma.

After that post, some people emailed me back and asked if I was ok. Others wondered why I even stayed that long working in Iraq. Why did I sacrifice that many years of my life? Why did I miss all those special moments and holidays away from my family?

I wasn’t there for my grandmother’s funeral.  I arrived in Chicago two days before my sister’s wedding. I wasn’t stateside when my first nephew was born. Two romantic relationships fizzled out. And, I flew back to Iraq the day my father was going through his cancer surgery. And many more milestones slipped by in my absence.

Why did I do all that? Did I love working in Iraq that much? Or did I love making money that much?

In this post, I try to answer these questions briefly. I will leave the long answer for, possibly, a future book.

When I read books that cover the past fourteen years of the American history in Iraq, I feel I’m part of those books. I understand it. I live it.

And, not like the way a physics teacher understands physics. But maybe the way a chemistry teacher lives through chemical reactions, or better yet, a boxer in a boxing match. I live in those pages of the American history in Iraq.

I was paid, (and paid well) to be part of historyfrom the first day of the American invasion of Iraq until President Trump’s travel ban…from the absurdity of it to the idealism of it all. In this sequestered life in Iraq, I feel at home. I feel I’m somebody. It gave me a sense of identity. I’m on the frontlines of American foreign policy.

When I ponder my option to go back to my normal life in the U.S., I get confused. I face uncertainty. I face another type of loss: prestige, status, income, identity… being somebody. Maybe it’s a version of “Into Thin Air”, mine is ”Into the Uncertainty”.

What will I do that is bigger and better than now? Be a business analyst? A consultant? A manager? A programmer? A falafel shop and maybe call it the T-Wall Kitchen?

t-wall-kitchenphoto credit: Diego Montoya

Five years ago, I was designing a few programming processes that would go into a new health care system for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. I was sitting on the sixth floor of one of the high-rise buildings in downtown Chicago. I could turn my chair and face Millennium Park. But I didn’t feel the purposefulness. I didn’t feel the satisfaction.

Some escapades in Iraq make me feel high like the satisfaction of climbing Mount Everest. I connect governments.

If I go back to the US, then I must go back to something even bigger than what I have now. I can’t move backward. My heart wouldn’t let me.

This is the toughest decision I have to make, to go home…to go from being somebody to being nobody. It will never be the same.

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