madly in love with Iraq


In the gala

He is a newsagent up the road, an old Iraqi man with thick spectacles on. He keeps on feeding me with the latest, sometimes when I am in a bad mood I cross to the other side of the road; on other times it seems inevitable to have a chat.
Never ever I heard positive or uplifting information from him. Not that I hold the poor man responsible, but I feel so relieved when I manage to escape him in the morning.
His latest statement for the third week in a row is “We are doomed to accept either Americans or Iranians influence in Iraq” it is all about interests he said, we have to weigh which one is less damaging!
My heart sinks every time he stresses on this subject, and I try hard to visualise other options. Over our dead bodies I thought, but do we really have more bodies on offer?

He was the first face I met with when I entered SOAS last Saturday, to attend the gala night of the Iraqi documentary film festival in London.

I was surprised by the number of attendees. The entrance was packed, and I could only finish saying hello to someone to find another. My friend was with me; in her hijab she felt out of place and kept on pulling my shirt to attract my attention to the reception area, I finally looked behind and saw stacks of wine bottles ready to be served!
She was upset, and I was happy! Not because of the wine of course, but of what it indicates; wine meant open-minded Iraqis would be around.

It started with an introduction by Maysoon Pachachi (Iraqi director); a mixture of pain, hope and appreciation to the films makers and their efforts.

We watched two short documentaries about the daily struggle of ordinary Iraqis in the middle of chaos and lack of basic services. Some of the shots were hilarious; others make you wonder how much more those people can take.

This was followed by the main film “The song of the missing men”, which was basically a long journey from the marshes in the south of Iraq up to Zakhu in the far north just before the borders with Turkey.
It was a demonstration of different religions, sects, cultures and yet all had one dream; peace and security.

All three films did not show any blood.

But the blood effect had a strong presence. The abused nature in the south left fishermen and farmers helpless with nothing to do. The harshness of the daily life in urban and rural areas was beyond belief.

The saddest scenes for me were in Nasiriyah.
The site of “Ur” the birth place of Abraham, where the ziggurat was built by the Sumerian nearly 3000 years BC, looked totally deserted apart from groups of foreign troops in their military uniforms taking photos!

Nasiriyah; the main source of Iraqi singers and poets has abandoned its role. The religious fanatics took over and banned this culture. They showed a man singing passionately in the fields. For me it sounded like a cry for help.

I remembered how sad and concerned we felt when we used to watch what was happening in Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan; I remembered how we used to ridicule the idea of becoming another Lebanon. What we thought will never happen to us, is not only happening, but tragically it is worse than anything we would have imagined.

I did not recognise my own country, it could have been filmed anywhere, but I certainly recognised the people and felt their perseverance and strong will.

By the end of the night, many people gathered outside exchanging ideas and fears.
I looked at the young people who were probably dragged to the place, they seemed oblivious to what was going on, and have already switched their IPODS on. The ones who are a bit older were discussing what they have just watched; trying to comprehend and put a face to the Iraq they left in a very young age.
My generation have confused visions of a relatively nice childhood, and then a life time spent inside Iraq and out cherishing these memories and dreaming of having them back once more.

I decided to join the old people, the only hopeful and focused ones. I hugged a doctor who arrived recently after being released from his kidnappers; he did not say anything but his old and yet very strong hands gave me all the reassurances I needed.

Finally on my way back to the car, I was trying to remember the lyrics of the song the man was singing in the fields, when I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around to see the newsagent smiling at me, “Did you see my sister? They filmed her while she was praying”. I smiled back, “And by the way, haven’t I said it before? Americans or Iranians the choice is ours!”

I just left him and swore not to go near his shop again.