Recently one of our kids told me that if I ever wrote an autobiography I should call it “Fertilizing the Middle East: WMD’s and International Incidents of Diarrhea,” or something like that. I must have more stories of loose bowels in inappropriate places and with the greatest possible amount of embarrassment than anyone in the world. Here’s the funniest of all time!
I went to Iraq in May of 2001. Three months before 9/11. Saddam Hussein hosted a Muslim-Christian dialog conference in Baghdad and I was invited to attend. There were about 50 Westerners total (mostly Christians) and the other 4950 were Iraqis and other Arabs (mostly Muslim, but some from Christian backgrounds).
It was amazing. There were Chaldeans, Assyrians, Melchites, Greek and Roman Catholic, Maronites, Armenians, Orthodox, Sabians (followers of John the Baptist), Shi’ite, Sunni and Druze. A few mainline Protestants and an Evangelical or two.
The second day there was set aside to travel south and visit the ancient ruins of Babylon (about an hour south of Baghdad) and then on to the childhood home of Abram (later Abraham). A day no one would want to miss. But I woke up that morning with the worse diarrhea humanly possible. I won’t go into great detail, let’s just say that I couldn’t walk from point A to point B without an explosion. So I did what any clear-headed person would do in that situation – I ate some bread and cheese and got on the bus to the south of Iraq.
There were actually three large busses full of folks. The Patriarch of the Assyrian church was in the bus behind mine. As well as the Arch-Bishop of the Chaldean church, a few Catholic and Orthodox Bishops from the region, several prominent Muslim clerics and a handful of key leaders from Lebanon (where we were living at the time). It was sort of a “Who’s Who in the Middle Eastern Religious World.” (And me).
Our bus was in the front.
The landscape south of Baghdad is sort of like the top of your dining room table. A desert without dunes. A pancake of sand. Flat. Bare. Empty.
And then it hit. Not slowly or gently. Not like “Uh oh, I think I might need to pull over at the rest area and use the facilities,” but like NOW! I ran to the front of the bus and told the driver I needed “to go.” He wisely and slowly replied that there were no facilities on the bus or anywhere near. I managed to convince him in my Lebanese Arabic that these were details that didn’t matter – actually I think he took one look at my face and he yanked the bus to the shoulder, almost skidding to a stop and I jumped out.
Remember there were two busses behind us? Well they pulled over right behind us, surely wondering what bad thing had happened to our bus.
I ran West. Shot out of the bus door like a rocket with a little extra fuel. But there was no place to run TO. Nothing out there. A pancake table-top flat desert. No trees. No bushes. But I spotted a small plant about 50 yards out and I headed for that. I just made it. Dropped my drawers, mooned the busses and let it rip. WMD.
Red-faced, I slowly walked back to my bus. My friends were howling with laughter. One recorded the whole thing on video. Others took pictures. The Catholic Archbishop of Iraq came up to me and offered Imodium. Others just looked down with a sympathetic “You poor lad” sort of face. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
And….that’s it. Nothing redeeming here (as far as I can tell). No one met Jesus that day. No great breakthroughs. No deeper meaning. I was just sick the rest of the day. While they were walking around Babylon and visiting our great Patriarch’s house in Ur, I sat curled up in a ball holding my stomach trying my hardest not to explode. That’s what I was doing in Iraq three months before 9/11.