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Remembering Allan: a tribute to Jill Carroll's interpreter

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 6, 2006


He had kept a famous music store open in Baghdad until last summer, when conditions made purveying Western CDs too dangerous.

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Still needing to support his young and growing family, Allan Enwiya turned full time to interpreting for American reporters, a job that he had dabbled in since 2004. And it was while doing that job with journalist Jill Carroll on a Saturday morning in January that Allan became a victim of an abduction on a Baghdad street, where he was shot and killed.

Allan was one of 82 journalists and media assistants who have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war, according to the international organization Reporters Without Borders. Of that number, 25 were media assistants killed, like Allan, while doing their job.

Often their stories, even their names, are not told. But Allan's story is representative of why Iraqis are willing to take such risks by working with foreigners.

For some it's the chance to break into journalism, to be a part of telling their country's history. But for the majority - and Allan was one of these - it is a means for turning a prized talent, facility with English, into a job and a way to support a family in a difficult economy.

With Allan's death, another small chip of the cosmopolitan and partially Westernized mosaic that was prewar Baghdad was lost. As one Baghdadi blogger who had known the famous "DJ Allan" wrote shortly after the news of the abduction spread, for "those Westernized Iraqis who craved foreign music, [Allan] had very few rivals... He had just about everything from Abba to Marilyn Manson."

Yet as much as he loved music and as comfortable as he felt with Americans and other Westerners, what motivated the young Iraqi Christian with a degree in electrical engineering was his family: his parents, to whom he was an only son, but especially to his wife, a 5-year-old daughter, Mary Ann, and a toddler son, Martin. "For them," he sometimes said, "I'll do what it takes."

Omar Fekeiki, an Iraqi who had known Allan since the late 1990s, was a college student when he first walked into Allan's music shop. "Allan needed to provide for his family, and what he was good at was the English language," he says.

Now a special correspondent in Baghdad for The Washington Post, Mr. Fekeiki says, "For some of us, it's the chance to be a journalist that brings us in, but Allan wasn't like that. Like the doctors and pharmacists and engineers you see doing this job," he adds, "he used his skill to have a job and make a living."

A correspondent's perspective

I worked with Allan while on a stint in Iraq in December, just before the national elections. During those weeks, I came to know an easygoing young man who took his job seriously, but who liked to gossip, always good-naturedly, about Iraqi politicians or international stars. He dressed nattily - crisp jeans and a sport shirt or T-shirt that looked more Western than Iraqi. And while he was interested enough in the politics of what then was an Iraq deep in campaign mode, he saved his passion for his young family.

I had known other interpreters during my stints in Iraq who seemed to use the job to escape their families and those duties, but clearly for Allan, the job - as interesting as it was to him - was a means to an end. He was not a daredevil, not even really a newshound. Which somehow makes his death all the more tragic.

"His family was his top priority, and his kids were his life," says Carolyne Hanna, a cousin now living in Chicago who played with a young Allan until her family left Iraq in 1982. "Sure, he did it for the money, but it was also something he liked that he was good at."

The Allan I knew less well was the young man who had run the music shop, Allan Melody, in Baghdad's once-chic A'arasat neighborhood. That Allan had turned to family in the States to send him the latest music so he could be up to date. "He'd send me a list, and I'd send him 20 CDs at a time," says Ms. Hanna.

Allan shuttered the shop after receiving death threats and having an unexploded hand grenade tossed through the front window. But he kept the dream of being a music producer.