Friday, November 20, 2009


Since 2003, there was an implicit accord between us, my generation of Iraqi youth, that what they had told us about our history in school is not accurate. After 2003 we started to be exposed to some new theories and facts about our country, about our history, about our identity.
I can say that the most of the “new facts” about us were coming from ignorant extremist. An Iraqi would know suddenly that his neighbor since ages must be his enemy, a fact based on religious purposes, but that neighbor may seem nice and respective. Hate would be postponed and replaced by some suspicious waiting.

“The Jewish Market Quarter” by Jamal Abdul-Razaq Al Bedri is not a novel, like the cover says, but is an autobiography of the writer who was born in Samarra early in this century in a Muslim family. He told us about his mother friend “Sit (=Teacher) Najeya” who is also their neighbor. Every time she visited them she would bring candies to the children who liked her very much. Sit Najeya and her family suddenly said one day that they would leave to Baghdad. They went in 1951 and never came back. They went to Israel because they were Jewish.

The book didn’t tell us about the cause of the leaving but it is clear from other references: “Al Farhood” and the governmental new law of withdrawing the Iraqi nationality from all the Jews.
Maybe the book was described as a novel because of its lovable non-systematic narration, something more close to a novel than to an autobiography. The book tells us many things that were really a revelation for me like the origin of the name “Samarra”. They told us in our schools that it is the abbreviation of “Surra Man Ra’aa (= who saw it became happy)” and that it was built by an Abbasid Khalifa. But the writer goes more deep in history and stated that the Abbasid Khalifa who is said to built Samarra to make it as his capital didn’t built it actually from nothing. There was already there an old city inhabitant mainly by Christians and Jews. He move to it, made it larger, and made it as his ruling capital. The book told us also that Shem, son of Noah was born in that same place and from his name came the name of the city since in Arabic he is called “Sam”.

I felt that what he says is strange, I googled the origin of the name of Samarra and found that it is ancient in origin, and came from the Aramaic language, and there are many theories about its meaning and root.

The writer told us also about the founding of an original Torah by German group of excavation in Samarra in the 1930s, a version which belongs to 2000 years ago.
The writer told us that he is a Sunni Muslim, but at the same time, his city of origin, contains the graves of two of the Imams of the 12 imams of Shia. His childhood had been spent around those big monuments and his prayers and Quran reading was done under their domes (Those are the same domes that were exploded in 2006).
The writer got some interest in the history of Jewish people and he told us that he believes what Hertzel said in his book “the Jewish State” in that the Jewish people are like salt and the world cannot live without them, is true.
The book is written with love, here is a translation of some part of it:

“….and there is nothing strange about that since the holy Quran tells us in three quarters of its suras (=chapters) about Moses, the Israelites, and the Jews. When I meditate about that fact I saw it is in resonance with the water to ground ratio, three quarters of water, and one quarter of land. And from this point of view I understand the relation of Moses the prophet and the Jews with the sea.. since the sea contain the salt which protect its water from getting rotten”.

Decades after Sit Najeya family left, the writer and one of Najeya’s son, Yousif (=Joseph) met. The second half of the book tell us what happened to Najeya family.
It was a pleasure to see that “new facts” about us are being told by some few educated men filled with love and acceptance. Iraq is still under the influence of the some bad cooks who forgot essential elements and Iraq is getting more and more tasteless. Hope Iraq would gain its original flavor someday.

The book is published by
Dar Al Hikam Publishing and Distribution in 2004 in its first edition

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Khidr Qad and the Olive-green Era" a novel by Naseef Falaq

The king with the goat ear got the habit of killing any barber that cut his hair for him so that people would not know about his ears. The last barber was imprisoned in the king’s castle but they let him only to have a walk in the king’s castle garden. In his walk he told the ground. Reeds grew up from the ground. A shepherd came one day and they asked him to cut the reeds away. The shepherd made reed-pipes from them and sold them. Every time one of the villagers plays with the reed-pipe, the pipe would sing: the king got ears of a goat. The king made a speech to his villager: “all honest people must got goat ears”. Since then and the villagers got goat ears.

That was the synopsis of Khidr piece of theatre he made while he was a student that drove troubles after him. That day of the act he had to jump over the wall of his college and run away. He was not able to go back to his college unless he sign on a paper stating that he would never write a piece of theatre. He started to write small notes and insert them in his big wooden table of writing that he made for his self. He made some secret hidden area in the table where he can insert papers. They would not go out unless by breaking the table.

It seems to me a nightmare becomes reality
The last days of the paradise are gone for you and me
We're living in the crossfire
And we'll be killed at first
Why cannot people that we made the leaders of the world
Understand that we don't wanna fight
Understand that we are mush too young to die
Understand no one will survive
Understand that we love our life

Khidr was a student in Baghdad Beaux Art Academy. He cannot kill somebody. But the regime wanted him to join the army, it was war with Iran and all men of his age must fight. He left his table to his friend Kareem and told him about its secret. He took two books with him to war, one of Albert Camus “The Plaque” and the other of Taher Ben Jalloun “The Sacred Night”. He spent most of the time in reading to the surprise of his different bosses who all punished him. He was shifted to Baghdad big prison and was tortured there till they thought someday he had died. They put him with the dead cadavers. He farted. Somebody heard his fart and came and rescued him from being buried alive.

He loved Sallama who refused to marry somebody but he. But they took him again to the front of the war. She decided to wait but her family found her a man and forced her to accept. She ran away to her widow aunt in the south who runs her farm by herself.

Khidr, seen as of no benefit, had been sent to serve in a mountain in the north as a guardian of the Iraq- Iran border and to report any Iranian troop that may cross the border. Khidr, one night, took his two books and run down the mountain and crossed the borders to Iran.

Can I trust the meaning of the life line in my hand
Which is as long as exciting hundred years
I could be a lucky man
But I'm living in the crossfire
Of a time that starts to burn
Why cannot people that we made the leaders of the world
Understand that we don't wanna fight
Understand that we are mush too young to die
Understand no one will survive
Understand that we love our life

He didn’t like Iran though he spent some years till 1991. The regime invaded Kuwait. They started to be defeated by the coalition forces and Khidr thought that they are getting weaker. He crossed the border again, back to Iraq and joined the armed men from the south who were fighting to liberate the south of Iraq from Saddam’s regime and were heading for Baghdad. Khidr joined them but he forgot the fire arm they give it to him. Suddenly the coalition forces withdraw themselves, Saddam’s regime starts again taking by force the cities of the south killing everybody who fight or may fight. Khidr was caught easily. They started kicking him till they thought he died. His body had been taken with other dead bodies in a big car and they started digging a big hole in the ground. A shepherd with few goats and a dog was watching from a distance. They put them in the hole and was about to start to bury them. Somebody saw the shepherd. No witness is allowed. They brought her by force and threw her in the hole. Sallama fall on Khidr. They looked at each other but before they can identify each other soil started entering their noses, mouths, and eyes. They were buried together.
Kareem still doesn’t know that Khidr is dead but time is going and there is nothing about him. Kareem broke the table and published this book, a novel named: “Khidr Qad and the Olive-green Era”, written by Naseef Falaq.

The song is by Scorpions and called “Crossfire” form the Album “Love At First Sting 1984”
The painting is by Faisal Laibi and named “The Funeral” 1976.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anxious Journey

It was said that this song is about a war. Some specify more and said that it was about Vietnam war. But I have put it some way from its proposed contest, this post is not about war, it is more about a journey. It seems that writing a post while hearing a song over and over again is working for me But it is not always linked together, sometimes the link get loose, and words flow like the resolution of a grey clowd into a budding tree. This is my trip, to and back from, Damascus. I went there to take my final year written exam in psychiatry.

Us and Them

And after all we're only ordinary men

Me, and you

God only knows it's not what we would choose to do

I was in my spaceship wearing my oxygenated human-contact-proof helmet playing some kind of mental solitaire in the waiting space to take a bus to Syria. An elderly lady wearing a necklace with a cross, entered to the waiting area with a slow pace, with all her historical charm, slimness, short hair, and walking stick talked to me. I didn’t hear. My helmet is noise-proof. She held her stick up high in the heavens and with the weight of all the different Gods that people once dreamt of she centered the tip of her stick on my contact-proof helmet and break it like breaking a cover of a nut for her grandson: “young man, take this prescription, bring me this drug from a nearby pharmacy, I cannot walk anymore”. I went roaming around and around and the pharmacologists were giving me paranoid looks since that prescription got opioids in it. I went to her back without the drug. “Sorry, they don’t have it”. She took the prescription and for 12 hours of the road from Baghdad to Damascus she kept giving me sandwiches, candies, and nuts.

Forward he cried from the rear

and the front rank died

And the General sat, as the lines on the map

moved from side to side

Al Saleheya explosion was a black dot that didn’t dry I held on the back of my head. I tried not to touch the back of my head. On the day of the explosion I was going to that same area but I quitted. I was still at the street when I heard a sound of explosion. I thought it is so near. All people started looking to the direction of the sound. After one minute we heard another one. We looked down and walked in our way, each one to his way. I took a bus to my home. The radio was off. We were silent. Two men came up in the bus and told us about the site of the explosion. We sank in our silence. On the night of that same day of the explosion, I decided that I should send her a message telling her how much I like her, and that I want to be her friend. In Syria, almost all the taxi men asked me about the cause of the explosions and what is going on. I knew no more than them.

Black and Blue

And who knows which is which and who is who

Up and Down

And in the end it's only round and round and round

In the exam there was a question about Digoxin and whether it causes confusion or not. I wondered for some few seconds and then wrote: “yes, it causes confusion”. Then came another question: “by what mechanism?”. Oh God, and what the hell I know. Ask him, ask the Digoxin why he causes all that confusion and by what mechanism I am little tired for this. They told me that it was me who asked to be examined. “Really?”, I said “I cannot remember, my memory is tired, I want something to drink please”. Godot opened the door of the examination room and offered me a walk in Damascus.

Haven't you heard it's a battle of words

the poster bearer cried

Listen son, said the man with the gun

There's room for you inside

Damascus was rainy but Godot put a rule if I want to stay with him then I must go silent for a while. We walked till we reached Al Hamedya market. He stood and looked at me. I knew he was examining me: will I chose to enter the market or walk by the old walls.
I walked by the wall. He followed me with a smile of victory. By the wall we saw that statue of Salah Al Deen Al Ayoubi. Godot stopped and started talking: “Al Ayoubi was born in Iraq, went to Syria, then Egypt. In Egypt he had to enter the war with the crusaders. Many Egyptians are Christians and they were not sure what to do. Should they fight with Al Ayoubi against the crusaders, or should they welcome their brothers in religion. Al Ayoubi said his famous saying to them: “Religion is for God, and nation is for everyone”.”
“Godot,…” I said and looked in his eyes seriously. He held his breath. “Get lost!” I said. He disappeared at once while I was trying to fixate my attention and to maintain my concentration in resolving some other questions. With time, I felt I am more into the game of answering questions. With time, my divergent squint into a convergent one.

Down and Out

It can't be helped but there's a lot of it about

With, without

And who'll deny that's what the fightings all about

I took the bus back to Baghdad. Gladys Matar took it with me and told me that story of that valley of the Ash she thinks worth to talk about. People living there were called “the Grayish People” and their society was “Unsuitable for Adults” as she said, and she seemed to liken it to a circus, as the circus was mentioned in each chapter of her narration. They were having constant war without a clear cause with people who came from the desert who finally invaded their city, the Grayish Valley. The invaders were of a different religion. She told me about Thu Al Hak (=Of the Right Justice) who is shy, suspicious, and impulsive. Who loved an ex-prostitute and married her. Told me about their city sultan who every time he overtopped the pulpit and starts talking, a crowd of dinosaurs invade the city in a chaotic running shaking the earth beneath them and swaying their bodies. She is good in some parts of her narration but I was lost in some of her circumstantialities and tangentialities. While she was talking I remembered some of my dreams and wondered about their meanings. She kept talking her thousand and one night while I slept in the chair of that bus. I woke up with a neck pain. She was still talking. “Gladys, listen”, I said while she stopped talking stunned, “your novel got some unnecessary details and some of them are misleading, you called your novel as “Velvet Revolution” and there is no Velvet, nor Revolution, and somebody had put Delacroix painting of “Algerian women in their apartment” on the cover of your novel but why?”. I said that to her in some anger. I got the sense that I was rough on her, in spite of the fact that her narration is one of the few Arabic female narration that doesn't feel "female". I felt I should show her some respect. But I added with some calm and a smile while my eyes were looking at the desert from the window of the bus: “Woody Allen got a film named Shadows and Fog, it is of the same theme of your novel”, then I looked at her and said while my smile turned into laughter: “but it is much better”. She stood up, pulled her shirt down with anger and went to the desert alone leaving me to my neck pain and fading smile.

Get out of the way, it's a busy day

And I've got things on my mind

For want of the price of tea and a slice

The old man died

I reached Baghdad to know that I failed to pass the Iraqi board exam. I was so tired so I preferred to take a deep sleep and spent some time in yawning. My friend phoned me and asked me about the result of my exam. “I failed” I said. The other day he phoned me again and said: “Sami I decided to give you a present because you failed.” We went by a taxi, the taxi man was talking too much. We went back home by two new bicycles. I reached home very tired. I took a very hot water bath that washed the dead leaves from my growing tree.

"Velvet Revolution" is a novel by the Syrian Gladys Mattar.