CityNews journalist Avery Haines spent two weeks volunteering at a medical clinic near the front lines in Mosul and reporting on the fight against ISIS.
For some reason I only cried twice in two weeks. Once was after trying to comfort a man whose leg had been crushed by an airstrike. I was holding up his mangled limb so a volunteer doctor could work on it. My other hand gripped his hand tightly, in the hopes it would distract him from his excruciating pain. In between moans, he pulled his hand away to show me a photo on his cellphone. I stared at that picture for so long and so hard; my brain simply could not register what my eyes were seeing: an elderly man lying in the middle of a dusty road.
I think I remember crowds of people, not in a circle, but lining the street on either side of him. I know he was there all alone, lying on his stomach, his wrists bound behind his back. His ankles, too, were tied with the same dirty white bandages. He looked like a contortionist. How could he possibly get his head into that position? “My father, my father,” the man on the stretcher told me, stabbing at the picture with his finger. I took the phone from him and looked up close, still holding his bloodied leg with my other hand.
His father’s head had been severed at the neck. It was placed in the middle of his back. His hair, flopped over his forehead, wasn’t long enough to hide an expression on his face that I remember seeing, but one I thankfully can’t recall. I was grateful, too, that I didn’t have the language to ask what ISIS “crime” his father had committed to deserve a public beheading.
The only other time I cried was earlier on that same day, when I sat in the home of a 35-year-old father of four, listening for hours to his story of what it was like to spend two years and eight months under ISIS occupation.