Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cup of Tea with Muttalibi

“Script’s Memory: Excavations in the Neglected Unconscious” is such an inviting title of a book of memories. After an introduction which was written in 2004 as an open letter to Kenzabruro Oe and Gunter Grass, without a big hope that they would read it one day, Malik Al Muttalibi took us to his childhood in Al Musharrah, a village that belongs to Al Omara governorate in the south of Iraq near the marches.
The publication is elegant and respectful, and this is new to Iraqi publications, with artistic drawings by an artist named Abdul-Raheem Yasir.

After the introduction, five chapters take us to Al Muttalibi memories, and give us the opportunity to see through his eyes.

In “Café Instinct”, the first chapter after the introduction, Al Muttalibi describes Al Rasheed Avenue as “the empire of cafes” and tells us about the relation between Dijla and the Avenue. A relation that had been distorted after the “death” of the cafes, as the writer wrote. He told us about the famous 5 cafes, each with its special kind of attendees, most are writers. He got his memories dated to the period of 1959-1969. He describes the space of each café with the names of the known writers, poets, musicians, and other celebrities used to attend them. There were some other kinds of café like that attended mainly by merchants, and that attended mainly, or almost only by the deaf.

In the “Unconscious of the Old Hotel” he tells us about his visit to Baghdad with his father in 1957; in “Establishment of the Trousers” he tells us in a funny way his experience of being the first to wear trousers in his primary school and how the teachers and students responded to that unusual stimulus in Omara 1953.

In “Formulating Dogmas”, Malik Al Muttalibi told us about the Mandaeans-Muslims relations in Al Omara and how mixing was not that easy and touching forbidden. Touching forbidden? I didn’t know that. I got many friends in Baghdad at my school and neighborhood but we played, and ate with each other. Anyway, it seems not the case in Omara in the middle of the last century.

The most symbolic story came from this chapter. Al Muttalibi tells us how he was seeing the Mandaeans baptizing in the River and how he felt that they were strange till one day he was very thirsty at school. At their school there were four water reservoirs to drink from, 3 for the Muslims, and one for the Mandaeans. The three Muslim reservoirs were empty. He was very thirst. He drank from the Mandaean water.

At home he confessed to his father who shouted that nobody should touch Malik only after he would be taken to the river to be de-contaminated and purified.
Malik Al Muttalibi was taken to the river and two young men dipped him down into the water. Then they suddenly took him out and the gathering uttered: “Salawat Ala Mohammed Wa Al Mohammed (=Prays to Mohammed and his people)”. They did that for him seven times then told him that he can go back to his home since he had been purified. Since then he didn’t see baptizing as something strange.
Malik Al Muttalibi ended his 153 pages lovely book by the “Public Dancing” telling the story of how an act of theft turned into an occasion of public dancing between the victim and the thief surrounded by the neighbors.

Thank you Malik Al Muttalibi for this lovable important book.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

coule pluie, coule sur nos fronts

Much rain suddenly on our foreheads,
on our fields, our homes,
a deluge here, the storm this season,
what is the reason?

Is it to drown all our perjury?
Or wash our wounds?
Is it for harvest, the most fertile soils?
Is it to destroy?

Under the bridge of Martyrs, Dijla was tearless in her melancholia. Dijla left her erased book of history open under that old table lamp and went to sleep. At sleep she couldn’t dream, or maybe she forgot her dreams, since she got pseudo-dementia. Furat offered her a cup of tea at Basrah and she felt better but every time she passes by Baghdad she cannot but to search for her stolen tears.
Dijla, who had breastfed us, and still doing, is neglected, with her erased book of history.

What for is this rain?
Is it a message?
Is it a cry from heaven?
I'm cold my country, I'm cold,
Have you lost your sun rays?

What for is this rain?
Does it have any benefit?
Is it to punish us?
I'm cold my country, I am cold,
Should we celebrate or curse this rain?

Today the weather was strange again. The color of the sky was so grey. Suddenly it started raining.

I looked in the book who knows
believed in his verses
I read: "seek the answers to your question, look for the hyphen"
A beggar on my way,
- What are you doing in the street?
- My son and my husband went one morning,… no one had come back...

What for is this rain?
this water? clouds that astonish us?

She said the rain you see,
these are tears to the eyes of men,
it gives you the tears,
For too long they have dried,

Men do not forget the weapons when they know not to cry,

Flow you rain, flow over our heads ...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dinosaurian Nightmare

Before he slept last night he opened the T.V. to see women wearing black crying because their young sons had just died at the evening before in Baghdad while spending their time in their quarter playing billiard and dreaming about finding a job. A scene that lasted few seconds. The other channel shows three Iraqi politicians arguing.

The program presenter asked the first politician to show us what he got. The politician leaned under the table, and from between his feet he held up a huge mass of mud which seemed very heavy and put it in front of him on the table causing a huge sound that none of the other politicians seemed to care for.

The program presenter asked startled: “what is this?”

The politician, and after a moment of silence and of sad sacred looking at his huge mass of wet mud, took both his hands and silently pointed to the mass by both his hands.

The program presenter started sweating and decided to ask the second politician as a temporary resolution for this muddling: “sir, what about you, what you got for us?”
The second politician who is extraordinarily obese took a sparkling trombone from his pocket and played something. “What was that sir?” the presenter asked and the answer came: “Lassus Trombone by Fillmore.”

While the presenter tongue had been tied for a moment the Trombone politician added with nerves: “every Iraqi should learn to play Trombone, or else he or she, or them collectively, are non-patriotic appendixes that should, and I said it again with my full mouth, SHOULD be amputated”.

The presenter turned in a hurry to the third politician and said: “You sir?”
The third started by a smile that was long and fixated on each of the other politician for a good time. Enough time to draw the most screaming sarcastic expressions on their faces to his smile, which seemed as if a smile of somebody who knows everything and looking at children and smiling to their misdeeds and innocence.

“I, and I alone, By My Self, made particular spectacular excavation” the third started talking while erecting his right index finger very rigidly and narrowing his eyes “… an excavation that had been unbelievably miraculous and prophetic with the aid of Allah, I, Iiiiii” and his shout of that continuous "I" started to increase in tone and intensity while veins started to appear on his forehead and he was still shouting his miraculous "I" while his right index finger started to grow up and up… his continuous scream started to shiver and wane while he was losing his breath ….his face turned into blue, in 2 minutes he became out of breath and stopped his "I"s while the reporter turned to the first politician again.

“You” the reporter said then added “siR”. The first politician with his huge piece of mud in front of him leaned again below the table and with huge effort he held up another huge WMM “Wet Mud Mass” and put it above the first and sat behind them. He now doesn’t anymore visible.

“You” said the reporter while looking on the second then add “siRR”. The second said: “I got new mobile phone ringtones for the Iraqi people, all of them are new and unheard before but I will keep them as a secret poker paper to use it when I feel that Iraq is threatened”…. And while the reporter’s lower jaw hanged down the second added: “… our plan is that every Iraqi got more than thirty three mobile phones all synchronized with each other and all ring at the same time with different tones so that they resemble the FUSAYFISA’A (=diversity) of the Iraq”.

“You” said the reporter to the third and add “..siRRR”. The third said with his elongated right index finger while his breath had came back to him: “…. and after all those yeaaaars my deaaaars… I…. I made myyy discovery after all those excavations” he put his hand in his pocket and drew a matchbox made in Pakistan and lit one stick with fire, looked at it, put it near the camera to show it to the people, then blew it off. “What was that sir?” the reporter asked. The third answered: “an original Iraqi dinosaur”.

It was midnight. The old man shut down the T.V. and shut the lights of his room. He went to bed. He put his head in his pillow and started trying to wake up from his nightmare. After few failed trials, he finally passed into deep awakening.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Varnishing Identity (with Enrico Macias)

J'aime la simplicité (I like simplicity)
Des journées d'été (days of summer)
Ces petits moments superbes, (these small superb moments)
Déjeuners sur l'herbe (lunches on grass)
J'aime les cafés en hiver (I like coffee in winter)
Passer boire un verre (come to drink a glass)
Attraper la chance aux cartes (?)
Juste avant qu'elle parte (Just before it leaves)

The old man’s search for his identity card in the Mediterranean took him great time and he was lost to be surrounded suddenly by sharks. A hand suddenly, a human hand, came from above to sink deep into the blue sea where the old man was holding his breath frightened. The hand held the old man from his collar and drag him to Europe. “Ah! Enrico Macias!” the two old men embraced each other. Macias asked the old man about Oran, Alger, and Constantine and the old man had to lie a little about his trip just to let a smile to draw itself in the face of Macias, this Algerian Jew who started celebrating the arrival of the old man to Europe simply, as usual, by a song, and a glass of Algerian wine.

J'aime la musique toute nue “I love music all naked”
Les bals dans la rue “the balls in the street”
Les amours qui durent un soir “the love stories that last one evening”
Les danses inconnues “the unknown dances”
J'aime quand à la fin des matchs “I love it when at the end of games”
On plaisante, on tchatche “we celebrate, we tchatche”
Et quand on raconte nos drames “and when we tell our dramas”
“to our holy wives”

The old man wanted to visit Romania since long time and to be bitten by a female Dracula. Macias took him to Transylvania and the old man fall in love with a huge tree which he started to dance with a Romanian dance. When the old man and Macias were about to leave a female Dracula approached the old man. She surrounded him with her wide colored gypsy skirt which dances to the wind. “Just, not from my neck” he requested while she wanted to bite him. He struggled to escape from her but she was very insistent to mix her blood with his so he received many bites while the music continued, dancing got more spontaneous, and laughing more deep while the old man came back to Iraq, and Macias headed for Andalusia after a warm embracing and laughter for the extraordinary journey.

J'aime les copains et les blagues “I love friends and jokes”
Certaines un peu vagues “certainties which are little vague”
Comme les chagrins qu'on partage “like sorrows which one shares”
A n'importe quel âge “with any age”
J'aime les familles qui se quittent “I love families who when depart”
On rit, on s'embrasse ! “we laugh, we embrace each other”
On se dit "Revenez vite “saying to each other “return quickly….
Parce que la vie passe !" …..because life passes!”

Jan Dammu was sitting on the faint moon at Dawn eating a pear and contemplating while a black hungry cat was searching in the trashes of Baghdad. She found a cigarette and took it as a breakfast. Acidity started to grow up in her slim body. Jan Dammu gave her what was left from his pear, actually a big deal. The old man came to Al Meedan sequare to join Jan Dammu sitting at the faint moon of the dawn. Dammu said: “I kept varnishing the colors in old painting to find something but I found this faint moon. Don’t know what it means… I just gave my pear to the black cat. Did you have breakfast?”

“I brought pistachio from Romania! Here!” the old man handled Dammu a grasp of pistachio. “Romania?” Dammu asked. The old man told him the story while the black cat made coffee for the three of them.

On est tous les memes (we are all the same)
Dans cette histoire (in this history)
Qui finit dans l'noir (which ends in black)
Je dis "les mêmes" (I say “the same”)
C'est pas sûr qu'on se ressemble (it’s not sure that we are similar)
On est bien ensemble ! (We are good together!)
La vie, la vie populaire, (the life, the popular life)
C'est toute ma vie passagère (it is all my momentary life)
La vie, la vie populaire,
J'ai envie qu'elle n'soit jamais finie
(I want that it will never end)
La vie, la vie populaire,
C'était la vie de ma mere
(life of my mother)
Et celle du père de mon père (and that of the father of my father)
Rien à faire, c'est ma vie sur la Terre (nothing to make it is my life in the earth)

Varnishing Identity

The old man headed to Al Rasheed Avenue again searching for his lost papers. He didn’t saw a police man since the 50s so that was why his happiness on seeing that young policeman in the corner this night of April 2010 was childish, a happiness that met halfway with surprise and walked together as a couple of children in new clothes.

“Hey Policeman!!” the old man saluted the policeman who in spite of his long beard seemed like a female.

“It is prohibited that I shake hands with men” the policeman answered the protruded hand of the old man like a tongue on which many songs had been dried and died from thirst.
“you are really a new kind of a policeman” the old man commented and added “it must be that time had changed a lot, since you don’t look like the police man I used to see in my childhood in the 40s”.

The old man looked away into the turnings of the avenue and at the old forgotten ruins of what used to be a cabaret and added “…. When I was a child I dreamt that I become a policeman. But .. anyway young policeman have you seen a card of identity in the ground cause I have lost mine in the 50s and… wondering.. if…”

“No and No and many Nos!!!” the policeman answered as usual and started combing the hair of his long thick beard the hair of which was falling in the ground while more hair is growing in his beard. The old man started seeing at the falling hair and wondered if it was his identity card which he had just seen buried by the falling beard hair and buried. He wondered if he must put his hands deep into the dead beard hair to capture his card of identity but he saw that the dead beard hair is turning into a fire that threatens to burn his hands.

The old man decided that he left the identity case for a while till next winter hoping that rain would turn the fire off and that wild wind will blow the dead hairs away.

Jan Dammu came out from a carpenter atelier filled with the aroma of Rowney artists clear picture varnish and said to the old man: “I am failing to find the original color of our paintings. I will keep working on it. What else can I do. Meanwhile, can you go to my friend Khalid in Oran and tell him that I am busy today and that I cannot meet him?”

The old man went to Oran to find Khalid offering him Algerian wine. With the first sip, all his tongue dryness became an issue of the past and wet songs get back to life again and started coming easily from his mouth singing Rai with Khalid with some lyrics that are spontaneous, easy, childish, and popular.

While they were singing next to the sea he wondered if he had just seen his white card of identity swimming under the sea. He got naked and while dancing to the Rai of Khalid he jumped into the sea and continued his dancing with the dolphins.

yana el meryoul (yes I am the man)
yana sharrab l’alcohol yaah (yes I am the alcoholic)
serbi sebri, w illela, n3ammar rasi waah
(Pour pour, tonight, I want to fill my head “=get drunk”)

yana el meroul (yes I am the man)
willi quatnit shkoon yah? (and who is that lady who burned my heart?)
serbi sebri w illela n3ammar rasi waah

walift el negressh (I got used to the "negreesh" don't know really what it is)
will qar3a tseel (and the bottle is flooding)
serbi sebri w illela n3ammar rasi waah

medet 3ahad (I have given a promise)
minik ma nzeed had (won’t add anybody after you "=won't love anybody after you")
serbi sebri w illela n3ammar rasi waah

la zhar la maktoob (no dice “=luck”, no written “=destiny which is believed to be already written for everybody”)
sihrulna liqloob (they magicked our hearts)
serbi serbi willela n3ammar rasi

khalloha tibki (let her cry)
tbarred jinniha (to cold her Jinni)
serbi serbi willela n3ammar rasi wah

3eineek futhhatik (your eyes had revealed the truth of you)
bil dam3a bkat (cried with a tear)
serbi serbi willela n3ammar rasi wah

Kema bketi (like you had cried)
Nibki 7etta ana el youm (I would also cry today)
serbi serbi willa n3ammar rasi wah

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unordinary Book of Love

The Book Title: "A Past that Doesn't Pass. Iraqi Memories and Components"

Of the vital things in the post-2003 Iraq is the opportunity to express the self. From a village in the south of Lebanon, the young man of 18 named Hani Fahas travelled for the first time in his life outside his village, and where to? To Iraq, to Al Najaf.

“….my aunt held the back of the car, trying to prevent it from taking me away…. But the car went away by me to Al Sham (=Syia)… and from Al Sham to Iraq via the desert… I was about to get lost in Baghdad so I headed for Al Najaf as soon as possible… to be lost again… or about to be lost, and without some loss, how can one of us to find himself, to find the right way?” p79.

Hani Fahas came to Najaf in 1963 to study religion, and to go back after 9 years to his village as a Sheikh, a man of religion. But he is a religious man who wrote his diaries and memories frankly in an elegant book to tell us about his love, fear, and getting lost… he is a man that you can empathize with easily since he is like you, and me.

In his early days in Al Najaf, he described himself in a funny way, he didn’t know how to wear the new costume, a man of religion must wear, he didn’t know how to put the Omama, the head piece, and the wild wind in the narrow Najaf quarters had taken his Abaya away from him many times. He didn’t understand the Iraqi accent in Arabic and that caused him some troubles and jokes and he write them in his memories.

In his 9 years in Al Najaf he was like a child growing up across the sensory-motor period where he got to learn to control his new costume and find his way in the complex tortuous quarters of Najaf and to find the appropriate accent and meanings of the new words, to the preoperational period when he was a member of the journal of the religious school and was reading and criticizing literature, till he reached the formal operational stage of Piaget when he was forced to leave Al Najaf in 1972 while the Iraqi government was trying to control this religious school called in Arabic “Hawza”.

He told us that before he left Lebanon to Najaf, he had experienced “love” feelings to the other sex. As he left to Najaf, he oppressed those feelings as it was time to study religion, he said to his self. But in Al Najaf, he says, he found that love is a must of religion, is a must for science, and love is the oil of the mind, as he describes love. And that was maybe why he did marry in the second year of his study and his wife accompanied him during his career.

He told us much about Al Najaf. The Afghan bakers and their special bread, the narrow quarters of Al Najaf, Mustafa Jamal Al Deen the poet and the man of religion, and on the other hand the professors of religion who were against wearing a watch, a shoe, trousers, seeing T.V, listening to Radio, taking the train and so on.. some were against the use of new inventions of modernism and to stick to the old way of living…. They were even against music, and still they are… but it seems that Hani Fahas does not agree with them, although he don’t say this very frankly but he asked in one of his lines would there comes a time when music will be regarded as a science “a knowledge” and studied?…

The book is mainly about Iraq since he loved Iraq to a great degree and you can feel that easily. He wrote in one of his lines:”I will keep writing about Iraq till Iraq will get back to Iraq”. Yet he told us a little about his origin, his village of origin, where his father, mother, and sister are working in their farm. He told us about his memory while he was a newborn in few lines of nostalgia, love, and fun about the part of Muthafar Al Newwab poem came into his mind while his mom left him in his cradle and went to the farm, a part about a farmer getting ready to her farm. She left him in his cradle till the afternoon longing to meet her again… she came after the hours of working under the sun, still tired, but she headed for him, took him from the cradle, put her breast into his thirsty mouth, and he describes the rain of milk and the river of milk in his own excellent wonderful Arabic that I failed to translate unfortunately.

When he went back to his village in 1972, his family was still working in their land. He felt guilty that he didn’t have a physical job. Their village is in an area called Mountain of Amil. He, and few others including Abbas Beathoon, started what they called the “Forum of Mountain Amil Literature” and started to meet in the open air in the country side around their villages, make tea, and discuss about Al Sayyab, Mohammad Khudair the Iraqi short story writer, and the famous communist Iraqi poet Muthaffar Al Newwab among other things. But suddenly and while he was still in the first year after going back to his village from Najaf, still in 1972, the government of Lebanon made a new law regarding the ownership of their lands and of their products, and while he joined the rally against this law, army men came and started shooting them, many of his neighbors and friend had died in front of his eyes, he was imprisoned, and, as he said, a new chapter of his life had started.

Thank you Hani Fahas for this brave book which made me experience a new meaning to Al Najaf and a new meaning to religious men. Thank you for Al Mada publication also for this elegant warm publishing, a book that you can nothing but love, a man of religion that you can empathize with, as he is just like everyone, got his feelings, worries, fears, losses, and love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Baghdadi Muraba'at

The 80s war, the 90s embargo, and the bizarreness of the post-2003 were enough to leave Baghdad with an identity crisis and the Iraqis with a question of patriotism. What is there left in Baghdad to be loved?

Friday morning is quite in Baghdad. No cars are allowed in Al Mutanabbie street.

Went walking calmly.

It was calm.

You can hear what people are saying to each other as they pass you by. Those are talking about how much Picasso was selfish, while those are talking about Lenin and theatre. A book seller would utter a part of a famous Iraqi poem.
As you would approach then end of the road, near Al Shabender Café you would be welcomed warmly by a wooden wagon. A very nice warm wagon filled with Baghdad history.

Everything in it is marvelous and drives you to take a walk around it. On its wall you read: “the high shelves, voices never forgotten”. It is filled with tape cassettes and CDs of Iraqi music, movies, and pieces of theatre. A man would approach you with a Baghdadi costume and a calming smile.

You would smile as you find what you need by the help of the man’s knowledge about the Iraqi music and musicians. Your smile will get wider as the man introduces himself and give you a present: “as you are interested in traditional music, I would like to give you a present, a DVD of my own performance of Baghdadi Muraba’at”. He would handed you the CD with his picture on it. “so you are Adnan Al Sheakhly?” you would ask him. “Yes, this is me, Adnan Al Sheakhli, a Muraba’at reader” he would say with a wide smile.

After you walk in this calm beautiful street, you find that there is still some charm left in Baghdad. Thank you Adnan Al Sheikhly for your beautiful existence, and for your original “high shelves” which remind us of our roots, and give us back our identity.

Baghdadi Muraba’at, is a style of Baghdadi singing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Day of an Ordinary Iraqi...

In Al Alawi, and all of a sudden, we heard a bullet firing. One bullet. The bus driver stopped. We saw people walking behind a car, and above the car there was a rectangular wooden box wrapped by an Iraqi flag. People were walking silently but little fast. The bus driver declared: “the road is blocked by those people. I will go back.” Silently we examined what we can do, should we go back to our houses with the driver or should we go walking to work. All of us went down from the buss and went walking toward the gathering. It was a funeral to a martyr of yesterday’s explosion. People on the sides of the road were waving goodbye to the flag wrapped wooden box. I got little stressed as I enter into the gathering and wondered about the possibility of an explosion occurring in the crowd. I took a relatively silent place and phoned to work to tell them that I would be late. I changed my way to one of the governmental institutions to start that retarded bizarre symphony of cycle of bureaucracy. In that cycle I would go round and round, back and forth, between different institutes to finally get what I wanted after one or two months. Hot summer months. Anyway, today was a quick start.

not sure about the name of the cartoonist

Reaching the work late was great since I knew that I got a “partial” off from work before the exam so that I got my mind rearranged, and my studying concentrated. Newspapers were gathered at the table and the cultural supplement of Al Sabah (=The Morning) Newspaper contained two caricatures:

"the patient says to the doctor: Doctor, I am afraid that all the promises I heard during the elections would come true.... my heart would not withstand the shock!! The doctor answers: Regarding this subject, don't worry!". the cartoonist Khudayir Al Himyari.

In the way back to home, I passed from that same point I pass since about one year and a half, that area where the bridge fence is missing. Since about 6 months it is covered by ugly barbed wire mesh:

When I was to take the minibus back to home, I stopped and looked at the color of the sky and felt that its color is so strange, a mixture of dust, clouds, and pollusion. How much I hoped it would rain:

At home I took my tea cup and went to the balcony. I found the birds had eaten the leaves of the new plant, Zinnia. Rain started heavily and aromas arose. I forgave the birds for their mischievous deed.