madly in love with Iraq


In the coffee shop

There was a loud argument and a scraping noise of chairs being dragged around as I sat in the busy but usually quiet coffee shop. I looked up as everyone else in there did and saw two young women fighting over an empty space, each one claiming being there first.

The winner settled herself next to me huffing and puffing, then she lifted her big canvas bag up and placed it on the counter top. She looked at me apologetically and said “Sorry, but some people really makes one lose it”.

“No accent whatsoever” I thought to myself, but still most likely she is from our part of the world. I was almost certain; very casually dressed with too much make-up on in the middle of the day; that is definitely our trend!

My thoughts took me back to my early days here when I used to watch women putting on make-up on the train. They would take all sorts of brushes out and start powdering and painting for ages, and when they finally finish and look up, all you see is a glowing face with a touch of colour. They use all their skills to appear natural and convince others that this is all genuine. Unlike our women who spent probably more time painting only to prove their unnatural look.

Her voice ordering something brought me back to where I am and as she pulled her bag to take something out I got my proof! There was a badge of the late Sheikh Zayed’s -of U.A.E- face clipped to her bag. And before I lowered my head back, I caught a glimpse of something else which made my stomach turn; a bigger badge of Saddam in his military uniform and sunglasses staring back at me.

Without thinking I asked her “Do you think that you are doing Sheikh Zayed justice putting them together?” She was a bit taken but immediately replied “They are both my heroes, one of peace and one of war”.
“And which war you consider Saddam was a hero of?” She quickly said “All of them, all of them, if he was here today Iraq would have been in a much better state and Israel wouldn’t dare do what it is doing now”.

“Let us go back a little please” I said “What about Kuwait? Do you think it was the right move? It would have happened to your country easily if he had had the opportunity.”

“I hate Kuwaitis and they deserve what happened to them, you know what we call them back home; the Jews of the Arabian Gulf.”

“So you are justifying that war in favour of Saddam?” She looked at me and said “He is a real man do you understand that, what we have in the Gulf is a bunch of cowards hiding under their cloaks and behind the Americans and all they do is say yes and bow their heads to their masters.”

“So you are after machismo men Rambo style I mean, a lot of blood without reason right?”

She puffed again and said “Listen, maybe you think I am shallow and ignorant, but you are wrong, I do care. I haven’t slept for a week now thinking of the people in Gaza and what is happening to them, thinking of the silence of all Worlds first, second and third towards this ongoing tragedy. We need a hero I tell you this is our only solution.”

“Can’t we think of a hero like Mandela rather than Saddam?”
“No we cannot, Mandela fought his peaceful war without foreign troops invading his land and missiles striking his city. His country doesn’t represent a threat to the first World interests and there is no Israel there to protect either.”

After I left I thought a lot of the hero or the real man concept and how mine at least has changed completely. Back home the Bedouin style of men who protect and defend using their muscles and force their rules used to be my type and probably everyone else’s even if we denied it then.

This woman is no exception. All Iraqis say we need a strong man running the government at this stage, and you can tell that what they mean is strong and ruthless physically rather than anything else.

One day I was walking with a man in here and we could see from a distance a group of teenagers shouting and laughing, so he suggested that we cross to the other side.
When we did I felt upset and he could sense that and asked me whether I would have preferred him to walk through them and beat them up to prove he is manly enough to take a woman out.
I felt so ashamed of myself and since then I learned my lesson.

Here people who use their hands are considered thugs, and beating someone could lead to a serious criminal conviction.

Even women, it did not take me long to realise that people get very distracted when I gesticulate while speaking- a very Arabic habit- and some even find it offensive, so I started to sit on my hands or fold them before I start any conversation.

I had no intention of hurting anyone of course but getting rid of this habit calmed me down somehow, and I started to concentrate more on what I am saying and became a good listener as well.

Later that evening I did not feel that confident about my conversation with the woman in the coffee shop and not even with my thoughts afterwards. I’ve been judgmental again and what I do support now did not come from nothing. I practice it because I can afford to.

People of Gaza or Iraq or Lebanon have very little choice and for the brains to win over the muscles the road is still too long.