Courtney Kealy. Back in Baghdad.

I never greeted my male Iraqi colleagues with hugs before- always wary of keeping the appropriate distance between a man and a woman, trying to not inadvertently send the wrong signals.

But when I arrived back after eleven months away – this after four years of covering Iraq, it was hugs and kisses all around.

At the airport. Upon arrival to our armed compound in the Red Zone.

It was a feeling of homecoming. Despite all the times of anxiety and drudgery I had spent here, I still miss this dusty landscape.

Painfully, I had to offer my condolences to a colleague yet again. This time one of our drivers – and now a talented fledging cameraman – had lost his brother in a bombing a month ago. His face clouded over with grief for a second when I told him how sorry I was. The dark cloud extinguished the bright smile that he always has ready before we moved onto lighter topics.

I have missed these people, my colleagues, like I do my family.

There was the General (it’s still too dangerous to use names) who greeted me with our inside joke, “Hello darkness my old friend.” before we burst into raucous laughter.

It had been his first song request in 2006 when I arrived back in Baghdad and showed him my new iPod filled with music to keep the bureau soothed in those dark days. We had ballroom danced around the newsroom to Simon and Garfunkel (of course at an appropriate arms length distance) to the Sounds of Silence as he told me of the youthful lost love that it reminded him of.

Maybe my loyalty was burnished so deep because as their country almost slid into an abyss of bloodletting these colleagues whose country my country had invaded, watched and guarded over me. They took care of me and other fellow journalists while we tried to tell the world a story of war and its consequences that so many people had already turned away from.

Often it was just us and them, trying to get people to see and listen to what Iraqis gruelingly endured with grace and dignity on a daily basis – that is if they had remained in the country and had not fled.

It’s still tense now during the elections, violence could easily break out and three bombings already blasted through the capital here yesterday.

But my, who knew it would feel so good to be back in Baghdad?

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