madly in love with Iraq


Ali's Birthday

Poor brother, my heart tightens every time I speak to him over the phone; not that he complains or shares any of his problems with me, but rather for saying nothing…
The more silent he is the more worried I get.

I still make relentless efforts to draw a nice picture of home and think of the bad situation as temporary sometimes, and hopeful in another. And out of pure selfishness I avoid asking details about their daily life. In contrast, and out of pure self denial my brother never conveys any of their hardships, and if he does; he puts it so gently like a pat on the shoulder “Have faith my little sister, everything will be fine”.

I called on his birthday last week; he came first on the phone, very unusual of him, but no one seemed in the mood of talking, I sang happy Birthday to him and finished by asking him for a wish!

“I wish I never grew up” he said “It is against nature that I lived a better life than my kids. They don’t know how to cycle, swim or even swing. When I manage to take them out, I tell them about imaginary places and events that took place on this spot or that. I could see their jaws drop in disbelief, and my youngest insists that I repeat those fairy tales at bedtime!”

Jokingly and to lighten the conversation up I said “Ali do you still remember your birthday parties? They were so special, like festivals, you were such a spoilt brat. I still remember how you used to beat me up afterwards for opening your presents while you were busy playing with your pals.”

On the eve of Ali’s birthday there was a massive attack on a near by Embassy that I thought was abandoned, but apparently it is functioning in full-scale according to a well-informed friend of mine!

My family has no choice but to sleep on the roof at night as the house has turned to a Turkish bath already, and when the shooting started they hurried down carrying the children as the streets around us were filled with police, militias, and army no one knows firing at all directions. Few hours later our house was raided for the third time in the last six weeks.

Then my nephew took the phone and started to give me details about what for him was an adventure and a real life play station!

“Untie, you know two days ago my friend H and his family had to leave their house which is about 10 minutes walk from ours, after being threatened through megaphones to abandon the whole area.” He started to give me directions to their place, but I couldn’t tell where; the new landmarks are new to me.

“Untie you know our headmaster and quite a few students are from…..(city in Iraq) and I found out that all people from that city are bad and stupid, I really hate them and I am happy this is my last year in school”.

So we are finally there, sectarianism has reached not only our area but our own door step! We are not Baghdadis anymore; Baghdad became too small to contain us all, and the new generation already confirming this as a fact.

I’ve been asking my mother the same question for the last ten years and that is whether my choice of leaving Iraq was right or wrong. She never answered me and when I press harder she would say “There is no way I can say to you that you are not welcomed to come back. It is your house and you have every right to be here.”

I feel now that I am in the same position, I fear for them terribly but I cannot bring myself to ask them to leave.

If they leave there will be no coming back. I am selfish I now, I want them to hang in there and wait for me…..

I hang up the phone and called a neighbour to get more details, just to find out that only the grandparents were there! They left all of them.
The woman said “We started to hate this place, we don’t know it anymore, when we go out I see no familiar faces, if I look up I see only shutters and rubbish, so I bend down and get back quickly. We are leaving as well by the end of the month, pray for us.”

I quickly left my house after those distressing telephone calls and went for a walk.
I looked at the shops, cafes and buses and wondered whether I love this place or at least feel connected to it somehow, and there I saw it; a new shop which I’ve never seen before!

It is named after the city I originally come from… Najaf...
Could this be a sign that I am going home soon? Or is it another proof that people are still settling and giving up on Iraq?
When I came back, I stood outside my house and said to it “You are just a station in my life, I appreciate having you but I don’t love you, call me ungrateful, a traitor, and say that I used you, but it is out of my control my first love will always win.”