Today, the revered Shiite mosque in Samarra was bombed, destroying its minarets. It's the same mosque that was bombed in February 2006 that set off the wave of Sunni vs. Shiite sectarianism and put Iraq on the brink of civil war.
Shortly after it happened, the Iraqi government announced an immediate curfew in Baghdad, banning all vehicle traffic in the Iraqi capital until further notice as of 3pm Baghdad time. That's all fine and dandy, except I was in the Green Zone when this curfew was announced, attempting to land a huge interview that was supposed to happen at 12:45pm. But my interview subject was late. I'm sitting in a waiting room watching CNN, drinking several bottles of water, watching the clock. 1300. 1315. 1330. At this point, I had to make a choice: cancel the interview and hope I can reschedule to get back to the hotel before the curfew starts, or stick around and hope the interview happens and risk getting stuck in the Green Zone for several days, without my laptop or so much as a toothbrush. Being the risk-taker, i rolled the dice and chose the latter. And it paid off -- big-time. At 1:45, my source appeared. The interview was a huge "get." But as he's speaking, I'm looking at my watch. 1400. 1415. 1420. Finally at 1420 (2:20pm) I decided to cash my winning hand and politely ended the interview. Not only that, but I had to pee like a racehorse.
After thanking interview subject profusely, me and my military "minder" had to practically sprint to the car so they could drop me off at the exit. The driver dropped me off at an exit I don't normally use. And as I was walking down an unusual stairwell, I hear a voice yell in English, "HEY YOU, COME HERE." I look up and a U.S. soldier is pointing at me and motioning for me to follow him. I go up and show him all my military-issued identification cards and US passport, explaining that I'm just trying to leave. "You can't walk across this area. You're coming with me." Ok now it's about 2:40pm and I'm crapping my pants while this 18-year-old punk private lectures me about walking by his post and for talking on my cellphone. He takes me into a nearby tent and there's a sergeant sitting on a stool with his feet up on a desk. The private starts to explain why he's detained me and the sergeant looks at him like he's a retard. The sergeant barely glances up at me and waves his hand at me, motioning that I can leave. Idiot.
So I get to the exit. Hundreds of Iraqis who work in the Green Zone were also trying to leave the base at the same time. I got out, walked into the street and NO DRIVER. I could not find my drivers anywhere. Here I am, standing on the streets of Baghdad, surrounded by people who may or may not be friendly, dressed in western clothes. Now I'm crapping my pants. So I walked back into the checkpoint, behind the tall cement blast walls and found a quiet corner away from everybody where I could use my cell phone and speak English.
So I called my security detail. No answer. I called one of the drivers. No answer. Finally got a hold of a second driver. "WHERE THE FRACK ARE YOU!" I yelled to the poor guy. It turns out two of my Iraqi staffers had gone home to beat the curfew. "I coming now!" he said. I stayed behind the blast walls, sitting with a group of women chatting amongst each other, all carrying plastic bags full of food. A minute later my guy calls. "I outside! I outside!" I RAN to the car, jumped in and we sped off down the highway.
We got back at the media compound with two minutes to spare before the curfew. I spent the next 10 hours writing several stories for the website and newspaper, pumped up with adrenaline rush that comes from breaking news and landing exclusives. On days like today, I remember why I got into journalism. At the end of the day, it all came together.
Whenever I'm stressed or freaking out that things are going wrong, I always fall back on a motto I live by: "Things always work out. They always do..."