The short autobiography of an English teacher born in 1905 in the south of Iraq. Seems interesting? He was born in Qal’at Salih in Omara. The autobiography tell us about the history of Qal’at (=castle) Salih which, according to the book, was established in 1865 in the period when the Othman were ruling Iraq as a military castle next to Dijla. Houses were made of mud and reeds, and Dijla had no bridge. They were crossing to the other side by boats and paying by the Persian currency “Qaran” (=20 Fils) or by the Turkish Othman currency “Majeedi” to be both replaced after the UK invasion of Iraq by the Rupiah and Pound then to be replaced at last in 1919 by the Iraqi Dinar.
There were Jewish, Muslim, and Mandaean people. They were separated to a degree like in cafes. There used to be a café for Muslims, and a café for Jews.
Gathban El Roomi, the writer of the autobiography is Mandaean. He said that if a Mandaean drank tea in a muslim café, they would break the glass he drank from when he leave because it would be regarded as, not anymore clean.
Mandaean religion was mentioned in the Holy Quran in three different verses as a monotheism religion and that was why Muslims did respect the Mandaeans to a degree. The Mandaeans, according to the book, are more easily in harmony with the Christians since “Yahiya (=John the Baptist) is Jesus’ cousin” as the book state literally. The Mandaeans got a special relation to Yahiya. The book says what it means that: “in spite that Yahiya parent were Jewish, but he was baptized, and baptism changes the one religion from Judaism to Mandeanism”.
Gathban El Roumi tells us in this book that he had another book in 300 pages co-authorized with another person but the papers were lost dues to the unstable statues of Iraq, as he says.
So there were some separation between religions but different religions were united by the poverty and diseases. Malaria, bilharzias, pox, intestinal worms, and scabies didn’t differentiate between the people who were mainly farmers and at night many turn into burglary. Killing was not that rare.
Women used thistle, cow manure, and palms fronds to set fire in their mud made furnaces to bake food.
In 1916, and while Gathban Al Roumi was 11 years old, the first governmental school opened in their area. Before that teaching was mainly in mosques. He entered school and started passing the classes fast with excellence. There were no specific teaching method. Every teacher had his own teaching method and text. Gathban Al Roumi still remembers how their teacher asked them to write down the numbers from one to million. They all failed to complete it in one day. So the teacher asked them to write it for every five, i.e.: 5, 10, 15, 20 and so one and it took them days to weeks.
The science teacher had told them that when you are cold and your nose run, that fluid which comes from your nose, is the brain liquefied.
Gathban El Roumi became later an English teacher. He talks about how his salary was not enough for his daily living in the 50s and that he got to give private lessons.
World War II started and some Iraqis thought that the Nazis could help Iraq problems and they started to support the Nazi ideology and to spread their writings. United Kingdom didn’t like that and they started to imprison those who support the Nazi ideology. They made a prison for them in Gathban’s city, Omara. The UK didn’t opposed the Communist Party activities in Iraq because the Communist were against the Nazis, like Russia was against Germany. The communist get stronger with time and they aided in the 1958 revolution when they ousted General Mod’s statue in Baghdad (Mod was the UK general who led the invasion of Iraq). Some of them were very violent in their expression. Killing and mutilating dead bodies took place in Baghdad and thereafter in Mosul. After that it was never settled down. The communist lost the opportunity to take power and were put in prison and tortured in an attempt to end this movement in Iraq. Gathban talks about an open court set in 1958 against the previous regime and that it was broadcasted in radios and T.V.
Because Ghathban Al Roumi was having correspondence with some literature journals and newspapers and because he didn’t take bribes he was mistaken for being a Communist since the Iraqi communists were known to value literature and to stand with the poor and look to money and bribery with small eyes. He was fired from his work as a teacher of English teacher and started selling cigarettes in Omara. He then got back to his work and show his excellence performance and was chosen to put the Baccalaureate examination questions for some years. After few years, and for the same previous charge, he was imprisoned.
The book comes to an end when they set him free after some months with 2-3 pages on what happened there after in the following decades in Iraqi politics. “Mandaean Memoir” is a book that had added much to the understanding of Iraq identity. Simple language and style, written in the period of 1981-1982 and published by Dar Al Mada in eye friendly 117 pages. We need more of these book to blow the dust away from our collective memory.