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Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 7: False hopes

By Jill CarrollStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 22, 2006

Jillian Tamaki

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It was late January the next time we moved. Hot and tired of traveling, I threw up all over myself. They didn't know that I'd always been prone to car sickness.

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"Do you need a doctor? Are you sick? We can bring you a doctor," said Abu Rasha, my No. 2 captor, who was driving. Again and again, I saw that their beliefs would allow them to deprive me of my freedom and kill Alan, yet also lead them to express sincere concern over my health and well-being as their hostage.

When we finally came to a stop I was led, stinking, into a new house – the sixth place I'd been, in the three weeks I'd been held. It wouldn't take much to prompt a move: a helicopter overhead, wild dogs barking at night, a US patrol in the vicinity. At the time, I thought the house was south of Baghdad. The US military now says it was near Abu Ghraib.

Once inside, they steered me directly into the bathroom, and I stripped off my soiled clothes.

The house was so new that the mujahideen were still building it around me. No family lived here. This was a house built by Abu Nour, my lead captor, solely for the use of the mujahideen. It was a meeting house, a bomb factory, and, for me, a jail.

In my head, I called it "the clubhouse."

Here there were no women and children to serve as buffers between me and my captors – or to witness my eventual fate.

I'd felt some measure of safety in the presence of the mujahideen families. That might have been an illusion. In any case, now it was gone.

As the weeks of my captivity accumulated, I felt physical and mental stress begin to mount.

The inactivity was claustrophobic. The psychological poking and prodding of my captors – who knew so little about Americans that they were shocked I wasn't blond – sometimes made me feel like an animal in a zoo.

Constant adrenaline crashed up against chronic fatigue. I'd lie down at night, and my eyes would feel swollen. I'd close my eyelids and it would seem as if they weren't big enough to go around my eyeballs.

Sometimes I would think about people back home and I would feel a little better. My grandparents are Catholic and they go to Mass every day. I would figure what time it was in the US and would think, "I bet they're praying for me right now. I bet they're saying, 'Let's pray for our granddaughter, Jill Carroll.' "

If it was early morning in America, I would imagine my mom, dad, and twin sister, Katie, waking up. If it was a little later I would think, "They're having their morning meeting at the Monitor. Maybe they're talking about me."

That was my only escape.

• • •

At first in the clubhouse, I was happy to sit alone in my bedroom and not be bothered.

Between moments of terror, throughout my captivity were long hours doing nothing. Here, I didn't want to look around the room too much, because I wanted to save the newness, and the interest of looking at new things as long as I could. After fear, boredom was my tormentor, my constant enemy.

I'd think, "I'm going to spend today looking at the heater. And then tomorrow, I'll sit in a different part of the room, and it'll look different." I'd stare at flies for hours.

It sounds crazy now, but then it seemed normal. If you looked at everything all at once, it became familiar and boring really fast.

I sang camp songs to myself, and songs that Mom used to sing to me. I spun fantasies of US marines rescuing me. I ruminated over old boyfriends and choices I'd made. I deeply questioned my decision to come to Iraq. I had devoted a year in Jordan to studying Arabic and working at an English-language newspaper, slowly learning my craft. For what? To spend my last days under the thumb of the bleepin' muj? If I ever got out, I decided I'd never leave the US again.

At night, I would think hard about Katie, sending her mental messages: 'I'm OK. Don't worry. Can you feel me, Katie?' In my head, I'd write letters to Dad, in North Carolina, telling him about my days. I'd imagine him hugging me and hugging me in the doorway, telling me everything was OK.

I spent a lot of time staring at my toes, and wondering if I was slowly going around the bend.

After several days at the clubhouse, the guards asked me if I wanted to watch them make dinner. Then they let me watch a little TV. Eventually, they let me pace the length of the house, about 15 steps, and help wash dishes and prepare meals. I was overjoyed with these activities after so many hours spent doing nothing.

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