Man, I don't see how this guy could have pulled this one offf
Iraqi man hid 22 years in a wall
Hussein foe holed up in secret compartment
By Daniel Williams
THE WASHINGTON POST
SHAMMAR, Iraq — For 22 years, Jawad Amer Sayed was a dead man.
HE WAS on the run from Saddam Hussein’s police in 1981, and instead of fleeing into exile, he decided to stay at home and hide.
Inside a false wall he built between two rooms.
For as long as it would take.
It took 22 years.
But on April 10, the day after Hussein fell from power, Sayed emerged from his hideaway to the amazement of relatives and friends. Only his mother, younger brother and two sisters knew from the beginning what had happened to him. An aunt learned later by mistake but had kept quiet.
Everybody else thought he was dead.
Sometimes, so did he.
“Most of the time, it was very, very quiet. I think only death could be so quiet,” he said while holding court with visitors and admirers one recent day.
It seems like everybody in Iraq knows Sayed’s story. It reached Baghdad by way of the relative of a television reporter who interviewed him. Newspapers ran with the tale. Iraqis argued about his feat over coffee and tea. Young people questioned whether anyone could — or would want to — hide for so long. They’d rather die, some said. Older people expressed less skepticism — they wondered why more Iraqis didn’t think of doing what he had done.
Sayed said he went outside his homemade tomb only twice — to rebuild and repair the chamber.
“The last time I saw him, he was taller than me,” said Kamel Khalef, a neighbor who stands about 5 feet 8. Sayed embraced Khalef and came up only to his nose.
Sayed’s face is all cheekbone and beard. He lost his teeth, and stores them in a matchbox.
“They fell one by one. I kept them to remember the time I spent. Look at this molar. This one was 1990,” he said.
It is a testament to the fear instilled by Hussein that Sayed came up with a solution that condemned himself to solitary confinement.
He said he was a follower of the Dawa party, a Shiite Muslim group that battled Hussein for decades and has recently, like Sayed himself, emerged into the light of day. Secret police arrested two of his friends and they were executed. “I saw their names on a list of the executed. I thought up this idea. I built the wall in one night,” he said.
A PERSONALIZED LIVING SPACE
Before going in, he buried Dawa books and pamphlets beneath the floor of another room. After emerging at the end of his imprisonment, he dug them out, too.
Sayed lives about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad in a village of flat-roofed farmhouses scattered among date palms, sand and marshes. The chamber where he says he spent almost all his adult life — he is 49 — measures a yard wide by about seven feet long. To enter, he must negotiate a trap door barely wide enough for a slender person to squeeze through.
Inside, Sayed fashioned a terraced living space from dirt he excavated when digging a well — it is located at one end of the compartment. At the other, there’s a toilet, placed somewhat higher. In between, he built a dirt platform to sit on. The lowest point is the space where he could stand and even bathe. A vent lets in air from the roof and a pipe drains water outside.
A peephole no bigger than a finger’s diameter was Sayed’s window on the world. All he could see was the inner courtyard of his farmhouse and now not even that is visible. A date palm grew up to obscure the view. “I witnessed my brother’s wedding from here,” he said. “I didn’t dare go out to celebrate.”
On one wall, he hung the necessities of his monastic life: a light bulb, for when there was electricity, a kerosene lamp, for when there was not; paintbrushes of various sizes to dust himself off; a toothbrush, which has not been useful for some time; an electric hot plate where he prepared rice and beans; and a small shelf that holds a Koran and a book of Dawa politics.
His mother fed him fruit and vegetables through the trap door. He washed his gray cotton robe himself. He continued wearing it after his exit — it has a faded, patchy look.
In the early years, police twice came looking for him, he said. Once, a policeman entered the adjoining room at night when everyone was asleep, rummaging about the bed that was placed over the trap door. Sayed’s mother, Aziza Masikh Dahash, awoke and screamed, and a neighbor rushed over firing a shotgun. The officer fled.
Sayed’s mother also headed off two construction projects she feared would bring down the tomb around her son’s head. She once threw herself in front of a backhoe a neighbor was using to build a cesspool near the hidden compartment. “They thought I was crazy,” she said.
In-laws were not let in on the secret. In Iraqi society, only blood relatives are fully trusted with deep family secrets. Once, a 13-year-old cousin of Sayed’s wandered into the house, rolled around under the bed and discovered the trap door. He crawled in, spied Sayed and ran to tell his mother, who guessed that it was her nephew and swore the boy to silence. She never told even her sister, Sayed’s mother, of the discovery.
In 1998, one of Sayed’s sisters began to suffer delusional mental illness and talk about him and his wall. They sent her to live with relatives, lest she accidentally spill the story.
‘I enjoy sleeping outside now. Looking at the stars. But, sometimes, I like to go into the wall. It is my second home. Maybe it is my first. I will leave it like it is.’
— JAWAD AMER SAYED
When asked how he could stand being alone, Sayed answered that he was not. Allah was in there with him, he said. “The Koran teaches that Allah is the companion of anyone who believes,” he said. He has practically memorized the Muslim holy book. When a recent visitor tried to recite some verses, Sayed quickly corrected him.
He passed the time practicing calligraphy and kept abreast of current events via a small battery-operated radio. Arabic-language reports from the British Broadcasting Corporation were his favorite source of information.
During the U.S.-led war, he heard the bombing — his home is near an air base and ammunition depot. The dirt road from the main highway is now littered with abandoned antiaircraft guns.
When he emerged from behind the wall, he put on old sunglasses his mother had kept. He had trouble walking. Visitors have come from miles around, including strangers who want to hear his tale. He jots down the name of each visitor in a guest book. His mother tells one and all how his emergence was like “giving birth a second time.”
Sayed wants to work — he studied management in Baghdad before going into hiding. He’s thinking of marriage. “It depends on my health,” he said. “I enjoy sleeping outside now. Looking at the stars. But, sometimes, I like to go into the wall. It is my second home. Maybe it is my first. I will leave it like it is.”
© 2003 The Washington Post Company