In 2008, two writers, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen, traveled to Jordan, to interview Iraqi civilians who had moved as refugees to Jordan, to hear their stories. They interviewed 35 ordinary Iraqi citizens, now living in Jordan, and recorded their stories of how the American occupation of Iraq had affected their lives. US invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days. But contrary to initial assumption, this invasion was neither brief, nor clean. The two writers returned to America with stories they had heard and recorded from a good cross-section of many people and they created the play, Aftermath.
US occupation of Iraq was long and extremely chaotic. Americans stayed in Iraq long enough for people to forget the pain of living under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people, under the US occupation, experienced total chaos, roadside bombings, Shia and Sunni violence, unannounced raids by Iraqi police, Blacwater militia, being locked up in Abu Ghraib on trumped up charges, having their IDs confiscated then being released into hostile environment and more. New pain and suffering was being seared into their hearts and mind. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, if they learned to keep their mouths shut, their lives remained unaffected and many ordinary people, lived ordinary lives. But under US occupation, no one was safe from having their life turned upside down, at the blink of an eye. A family was driving to the hospital for their new 2 month old baby to be vaccinated. An unexpected US bomb destroyed the woman’s mother, sister, her baby, and her husband, as she remained alive and struggled to make sense of the disaster. Another family was raided at 1 am by Blackwater soldiers who woke up and suddenly shot their 16 year old. The mother passed out. She cries out in the play, in pain, as to whose law ruled that her child be shot, who ordered such a shooting of the love of her life, what was the crime, where was the evidence, where was the trial, what kind of law determined such a heinous act on a child? A doctor talks about why he became a dermatologist because he did not much like the sight of blood. But as the US began bombardment, bodies began to come in and there was blood everywhere. In ordinary circumstance, they would try to save an injured leg or arm, but under these circumstances where there were fewer doctors, they could not afford that luxury and they had to amputate injured limbs and then move on to newer patients.
There were these stories and more shared in a way that pulled on the heart strings and touched the soul. The stories were layered so that the play took the audience through the journey in time, from Saddam’s regime, to a period immediately after the US invasion, to a more deeper time into the invasion. The nightmare of life in Iraq became very real. It was beautifully acted and directed and in the end left the audience with a sense that people everywhere are the same, desire the same small comforts, aspire for the same small conveniences to make life better. No one dreams that their life will be completely altered in no time and their sense of all control will vanish and they will suddenly start living a nightmare with no end, like Van Gogh’s painting with paths leading to nowhere.