Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Marla Ruzicka: A True Saint for our Times--Santo Subito!

A Dismarming Presence in a Dangerous World

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page C01

It was an especially bleak moment on a frozen night in Afghanistan, just before Thanksgiving in 2001. An assortment of grizzled correspondents was crammed into a filthy hotel. That week four of our colleagues had been ambushed and killed by gunmen on the highway to Kabul, and we were all in shock. One evening several of us were lingering over coffee in the dining room, too depressed to head back to our rooms to work.

Out of nowhere, a perky blond apparition materialized at the table. She looked about 16, and she was wearing pajamas with cartoon animals under an Afghan robe. She introduced herself as Marla and started chirping about how she had just come from California to work on human rights issues.

We all stared at each other in disbelief. She seemed so young and vulnerable that we were seized with the identical, protective thought: Marla, go home.

But Marla Ruzicka stayed on, working to bring public awareness and official help to the plight of war victims in Afghanistan. Later she moved her one-woman human rights crusade to Iraq, where she was killed Saturday in a suicide bombing at age 28.

In Kabul, she flitted like a cheerful sprite through our hard-bitten war correspondents' world, alighting on our couches for the night and floating off with a backpack in the morning. She never had any money, but she had an amazing knack for organizing parties, procuring hidden vodka and making foreigners in a war-ruined Muslim capital feel at home.

Everyone stationed in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban knew her. The men fell in love with her and the women were reminded of themselves, a decade or two younger. At first, Ruzicka seemed too much of a flower child to be taken seriously. Ivan Watson of National Public Radio recalled her kick-boxing with the Afghan cook in the back yard of his house; another correspondent described her giving everyone back rubs after long days.

I remember her scribbling little thank-you notes and invitations with smiley faces on them, and yet another correspondent recalled that when she was leaving Kabul, Ruzicka came to her house early that morning with a gift and a long goodbye note. Over each letter "i" was a heart instead of a dot.

Ruzicka was far from a simpering sandalista. There was a determined agenda behind her ditsy persona, an earnest sense of purpose that enabled her to charm her way through military checkpoints and wring pledges of aid for war victims from congressional offices. While no one was paying much attention, she began systematically compiling data on casualties and damages that resulted from the U.S.-led attack on Kabul. In the spring of 2002, she led a group of Afghan families to the gates of the heavily guarded American embassy to demand compensation for the victims.

After that, we all viewed her with new respect.

"Marla had no guile. There was a complete lack of cynicism, a total selflessness in what she did," said Catherine Philp, a foreign correspondent for the Times of London and one of Ruzicka's closest friends, speaking from New Delhi. "We live in such a jaded community, and she alone seemed untouched. She was like an angel of life, but an angel with a broken wing. It made her seem so fragile that everyone wanted to help her."

After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Ruzicka shifted her efforts to Iraq. By then she had founded a Washington-based organization called the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. She shifted from handwritten notes to a barrage of e-mails to friends, journalists and congressional offices. She was still broke, but by the time she arrived in Iraq, many Kabul correspondents had also shifted to Baghdad, so she found a plethora of couches to crash on.



Blogger A superfluous man said...

Yeah, well, facts are stubborn things. Perhaps she deserves a more balanced treatment than the hagiography she's received from the MSM. I mean her political affliations are so far-left, so fringe, to give one pause...it's good there's an Internet out there for one to bypass the deception.

11:24 AM  

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