madly in love with Iraq


No one loves Iraq anymore

This time last year, I was preparing to go home. Just thinking of it now fills me with joy.

Once I paid for the ticket, I started to have sleepless nights and became very anxious. The saddest part though is feeling afraid. I tried hard to dismiss this mood, it is home after all, but how could anyone?

The taxi-driver who drove me from the airport was called Saddam!! Not a very encouraging start I thought. He asked me to sit next to him in order not to raise any suspicions on route! He literally interrogated me all the way, and I could hear my heart throbbing with fear. Could this be my end? In the hands of the Mujahideen? Oh God let me at least see my family first, why did I choose to come alone?

All the worries of the journey disappeared, once I sat a foot in our house.

There were a lot of new etiquettes I had to learn about. It looks like every year is worse than the one before. New regulations in the house were introduced; all revolved around the electricity, water supply and fuel. How to take a shower, when to do the washing, when to cook, when to go out etc.. And still, even with all my mothers’ contingency plans we couldn’t win!

Our kitchen smelt differently, with all the new primitive cooking and water heating gadgets. Only a few days before I left, I managed to grab the old smell, or at least got used to the new one!
Till this day when I cook in here, I use the old methods of my mother and grandmother just to get the magical smell! It somehow makes me feel more confident in my cooking and part of it is probably to torture myself.

The first day I took a long walk with my brother. The main road looked like a market; stalls of all kinds, the noise of the electricity generators was deafening, people walking in masses just to make use of the last rays before the sun sets. I was trying to cross a barrier of barbed wires when I got my skirt trapped in between, and later torn to break loose. I felt so embarrassed, why am I being so clumsy? Why am I behaving like a tourist?

It does hurt me when I feel that I don’t know anymore, the new dialect, the new wit, the new short-cuts and the new agony. When I tried to share with others, I looked like a hypocrite; When I suggested something; it sounded so silly; and I could see the ‘What do you know’ in everyone’s eyes.

My friends came to see me; all looked weary in spite of the efforts they made to look nice and elegant, all covered in hijab. All have surrendered to their new fate. I kept on bringing the past up. I was searching for any glow in their eyes; I could see none. I felt so alone. And yet, who am I to speak, what did I expect?

Two of my closest friends insisted on taking me to Buratha Mosque (attacked by suicide bombers yesterday), ‘I have to drink water from the well in there!’ they said. ‘Why is that?’ ‘To get married of course’ one of them answered back.
We went, and I did drink the water; for a different reason though. I prayed selfishly to whoever is up there to bring me back home and make it a safe place for my sake.
Now it looks like I was a bad omen.

The down town of Baghdad city looked so different to the lively place it used to be. The market parallel to the river was nearly empty. The few goldsmith shops had armed guards outside their doors. The fabric and carpet merchants were more relaxed and I could see their features soften up a bit when speaking nicely to them. But I cannot forget the worried looks they all had.

My city is battered, dirty, full of concrete blocks, no- through roads, closed bridges, chaotic and unsafe. The people I know looked haggard and helpless. I tried to find any traces from the past, I searched all corners; I opened my drawers and looked through my old books and diaries. I stayed awake all night, not to waste any precious moment, I struggled to leave an optimistic impression on my friends and relatives…but in vain.

All the people I met wanted to leave and never come back.

This electric palm tree just few meters from our house captured my heart, maybe because it was full of lights in a very dark city, maybe because the natural palm trees looked so sad to me. I just don’t know.

When my time was up, I behaved like a child who doesn’t want to know, I made a big fuss over silly things, I provoked a fight with my mother, and when everyone was silent trying to absorb my fury. I finally cried.


Too personal

My first job in London was quite an experience.

I worked with an Iraqi business man who reminded me of Saddam all the time.
I hated being there, but I had no choice. I badly needed an experience to add to my c.v.
Still I did learn something in the end.

On my first day he told me that he gave me the job only because he knows my family back home, and that he thinks we have quite a few intelligent members! I was like ‘ha?’.. What is he talking about? And who the hell he thinks himself to make this judgement?

He used to pay ‘peanuts’, yet by the end of the first month he advised me to transfer my millions to Switzerland and not to deposit them in here! I thought this man is definitely a certified mental case.

His office was like a salon, a gathering of Iraqis of all kind, business men, losers, bu…..ters giving advices to each other, gossiping, and the usual if someone is new in town, 'Where are they from? Which family? Which tribe? Do they have assets? What are they going to do and of course each will add their own version of praise or criticism.

People I've never seen before, when coming in, immediately start to ask me where I live and how much this man was paying me, and often go on asking very personal questions. All fine, I am quite used to this, I do come from a curious society where this is the norm.

My work was mainly dealing with clients’ applications, something I have never done before. I used to conduct these meetings the Iraqi way, a lot of passion involved, or in another words going through unnecessary details and asking for further clarifications. Most of the people thought I am the boss’s daughter because I was so specific in my requests.
After a short while, I started to compare myself to a colleague of mine who used to do the same job but in a very different manner. He was easy going, usually accepts all applications without demanding proofs and goes home relaxed far from the stressed being I gradually became!

By then I started going to College and had made a few friends. Some of them became very close to me, and I used to hang out with them during the weekends, we even went on trips together. That is when I discovered the difference. These are my friends and yet I know very little about them. They accepted me very easily, even being a reserved person did not raise any curiosity. Still, when I needed help they were there for me.

I could easily spend hours talking to someone without even brushing on any personal matter. I discovered that this is the best way, because the conversation becomes more meaningful; we could touch on many exciting and interesting things. Wider ranges of stimulating subjects are there outside our inner circle.

Once I went with a friend to her doctor as an interpreter, she had done few tests, and was going to check the results. The minute we went in, the doctor told her bluntly that she had breast cancer. She did not need my help to understand this international term.. The woman was shocked and I was too. On our way back she was crying and shouting not because of the cancer but of how cruel this man was.

Most people here turn their own miseries to something fruitful. If someone was raped and murdered, the family usually start campaigning or form a society against rape in their area. If someone is terminally ill they do join groups with the same problem and turn the whole issue to something positive by just being with others in the same situation.

Too personal, too emotional too suspicious, and too proud to admit failure are our main traits as Iraqis.

Our first impression on strangers is that they are liars, opportunists till they prove otherwise! In here it is completely the other way round.

I fought hard to relieve myself from this negativity. I had an armchair I used to call ‘my confession place’. I forced myself daily to sit on it for at least 15 minutes and run my daily movie; what have I done, how did I react, what did I say, and usually whip myself hard.

I am often torn between feeling sorry for Iraqis back home and feeling angry at them.
It is just like when you give excuses to your loved ones whatever they do to you.
We say “Love and speak, hate and speak”.

A lifetime was spent behind slogans, Imperialism, collaborators, colonialism, Arabism, we never thought of what is beyond that.

All we actually do is giving up our own interests to spite others.

When we cannot fight the enemy we start fighting each other. We have to blame someone, anyone but our own selves.

We don’t have a high expectation, that is why you still hear people saying ‘Oh at least under Saddam we could go out relatively safe because we knew our borderlines and our limits’.

The Americans ruined our country, fine, but we let them, the terrorists are everywhere killing us, fine, but some of us housed them.

I bet even the fight over forming a government has become a personal issue between the members rather than a dispute over differences in views or opinions.

Instead of this empty pride we could have easily admitted defeat and moved on, like many others did before us. It is an unfair world, there is one great power that wants to control and apply its own order.

This is a reality we have to accept and deal with for the time being instead of banging our heads on the wall.

If the Americans leave we will be fine, For sure we will…...