Monday, December 26, 2011

The Exact Distance of a Tank, Shooting at You

Street shepherds and butchers are gathering in the sideway since months. I don't know if there are still slaughterhouses in modern Iraq. Slaying sheep occur as a daily routine in the sideway in our neighborhood.

There is a campaign of making Baghdad beautiful by building fountains and making gardens in some sideways. Yesterday, a new work of Ghani Hiqmat, the deceased, has been accomplished in the center of Baghdad entitled: the magical lantern, which relates to a story from "A Thousand Nights and a Night".
 As far as I know, no driving license has been issued since 2003 in Iraq. Today I was in a bus reading about "Nairn Transport Co." when a passenger in our bus asked the bus driver to stop just at the start of a bridge in a highway. The bus driver hit the break with his feet as if pressing on a cockroach and we stop just few centimeters from a taxi driver who was out of his car for unclear reason at the mouth of the bridge. "You was about to hit me idiot" the taxi driver yelled. "Learn to choose your words," murmured our bus driver with anger. The taxi driver went inside his taxi and yelled: "ZMAL (=jackass)" and hit the benzene pedal with his feet as if killing a roach.
 I read from my newspaper that Nairn Transport Co worked in Iraq from 1920 till 1960. They were taking passengers between Baghdad, Damascus, Beyrouth and Haifa. Because of the Bedouins that were attacking the buses frequently every traveler need to know that his "LIFE ASSURANCE IS CANCELLED" during his trip with the Co.
Agatha Christie had travelled in that same Co. when was in our area for some period.
 I then read about Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab, the Iraqi poet. Every Iraqi knew that Al-Sayyab spent the last days of his life diseased in a hospital in Kuwait. Today I read why he ended in Kuwait. A poet from Kuwait had come to Iraq to visit his friend, Al-Sayyab. That poet who came from Kuwait was surprised by the ignorance and the dirtiness of the Iraqi hospital. He managed to transfer Al-Sayyab to a Kuwaiti hospital with the agreement of the Kuwaiti government to help him. That was in 1964.
In 1991, Iraq invaded Kuwait. I still remember the nearby carpenter who brought a box full of video cassettes from Kuwait. I know a person who filled his garden with air-conditioners brought from Kuwait. My father managed to buy us a video recorder. We burrowed some of the video tapes from the carpenter. All were Indian movies. There was no subtitle. We understand nothing from the films yet, we bought a half-dozen of video tapes. My father was very anxious that a movie might contain a romantic scene that reveals some part of a female body. I managed to find some minutes of romance in one of the movies which were a big addition to my romantic experience and an enrichment to my fantasies.
I reached my destination, went out of the bus, and knew that I had to wait for a while. I managed to find a place where I can wait. A man joined me. We talked for few minutes then there was a silence. Suddenly he smiled and asked: "How can you calculate the distance between yourself and a tank in front of you in a battle field?"
You might think that there was a context that brought that question. Well, if there is a context then I don't know it. We didn't talk about tank, bombs, nor anything related to war before that man asked me the question. I drew a smile of surprise on my face, a smile that I wanted it to say: "how much you are informed man. I wanna know. I wanna know how to calculate the exact distance between me and the tank that is shooting me please!!!". I asked the man: "How can I know the distance?". With a glorious smile the man drew his left sleeve up and held his watch in his right hand and said: "you keep looking that the tank. The minute you see it firing you start counting seconds till you hear the sound of the firing. Then you multiply the number of seconds by ### (I forgot the number). It will be exactly the distance in meters between you and the tank in front of you."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Exceptionally Difficult Days for Ordinary Simple People

Our days in Baghdad are difficult. Here is a diary of me, with my neighbors and friends, in the last few days:

21st December 2011, Wednesday night, Baghdad
I just reached home in the evening after three days at the working place. I got no electricity. With the help of the hand light I saw that I got bread, and a half cabbage that had lost its water. I empathized with the cabbage.
 22nd December 2011, Thursday, Baghdad
I wanted the last day newspaper but the seller didn't have it. My neighbor heard me as he was standing near. He is a history teacher and a friend of my father. He had that last day's issue deep in his big bag which is full of papers. He gave it to me along with its supplement. The supplement was about Isabelle Ellindi. I promised to bring him back the newspaper that same evening. I knew about the explosions in the bus while going back to home. The road to our area was blocked. I concluded that the explosions were so severe and multiple that they started blocking roads. A car ban might occur. I completed the way to my home walking. 

I didn't like to go inside immediately. A neighbor who had witnessed the period when Iraq was a kingdom was there. He approached me and started one of his stories:
"God knows I am frank my son. One day – he took a deep breath, eyes fixed at a corner in our neighborhood- one day my son I went out of my home and saw golden bracelet. I saw it there – he pointed at that same spot he is fixing his eyes on-. I took it, felt how heavy it was. I looked around. Nobody was there and I started to sweat and tremble. I wanted to go back inside home but I found it so difficult. My thighs didn't carry me and I run short of breath. I finally went in and hide it in my room. I didn't tell my wife. I brought a piece of paper and wrote a confession of what happened and registered the date and signed. I waited for days to hear if any neighbor had lost something but no news was there. My wife started question the cause of my lack of speech. She was a good woman and didn't have the habit of insisting. I got a friend who was a big soldier in the army so I headed to his working place and confessed to him. He advised me to visit another friend of ours who is a goldsmith. Trembling I confessed to my wife, took the bracelet and headed to my friend. When the heavy bracelet was in my pocket, I felt guilty, like everyone sees me as guilty, I felt as if carrying a rocket in my pocket and that that rocket might shoot itself at any minute. I reached my friend the goldsmith and told him a lie: "friend, a relative of mine is a widow, she got this golden piece, she want to mortgage it for me for 50,000 ID, I came to seek your advice." My friend the goldsmith smiled as he took the piece in his hands and showed me that it is not gold. He proved that to me by applying it to fire. By applying it to fire it becomes black. I am telling you this story my son to tell you how much frightened and confused I was. How much guilty I was. I am asking you and myself, how come a man can put bombs in a school of children, or in any civilian place and explode it to kill us? How can his thighs carry him? How can he withstand guilt? I don't understand."
The old man left, I opened the newspaper and read about years of war and violence in Chili related by one of its gifted ladies.

23rd December 2011, Friday, Baghdad

My friend and neighbor called me early in the morning and offered me to accompany him in a tour in central Baghdad. He reassured my worries about block road or car bans. I like my neighbor, I like central Baghdad, and logically, all of our days in Baghdad are dangerous so, nothing is special about a day after explosion. I agreed. 

In the bus he told me this story: "When I was a college, I had a strange friend. He got many ideas, beautiful ideas that sometimes seem strange. We ended friends and I respected the way of his thinking although I didn't understand it all the times. He came one day with an obvious small swelling in his pocket. That particular day his movements were refined paying attention not to move a rough movement. I asked him, since I am his friend, about what is in his pocket. He took it out: it was an egg!!! AN EGG!!! Feeling confused I asked him: but what it is for? He answered: I want to know whether I can take care of a delicate thing in my pocket not to be broken for a whole long day of studying in the college. "

I like my neighbor a lot. He teaches me to cook sometimes. He had taught me many things. He was a soldier in the Iraqi army in the 1980s war and he got many memories. We were walking today in central Baghdad when he was happily surprised to see a DVD copy of a movie of Sofia Loren.

"SUNFLOWER, what a memory," he started to tell me the story while the DVD was now in his hands, "in 1980, and for few days before the Iraq-Iran war had started, in Cinema Al-Khayam, they started to show this film. I saw it. It is about how Sofia Loren married that guy, then after just few days the World-War started. She asked him to play the role of a madman so that the Italian army doesn't take him from her. They made a scene in the center of their city, her husband running after her with a knife. They took him in an asylum and monitored him, while she was visiting him, though an opening in the door, and they saw them making love. The psychiatrist decided that he is sound and sane and they took him to fight. She gave him a coat. A thick one for he was going to fight the Russians in Russia. He went. In Russia, the Italian army failed. They were dead but he was saved by a lady, a Russian lady that dragged him to her lodgment from his feet. He married that Russian. Sofia Loren kept waiting for him. Then she went to Russian and found out his wife and his daughter. She came back to Italy. He, while under the Communist regime, was banned from travelling outside Russia. He started to ask the governmental institutes to let him go away. It was a film about war. The film was banned to be shown in Iraq just after the very first days of Iraq-Iran war. It is just today that I see it in a CD. What a coincident. The film got wonderful music that you must here."
We bought black partridge since he promised to show me how to roast it. After the lunch we heard together the music of the introduction of the film. An Iraqi poet had said once: "in Iraq, death is the rule, life is the exception." I had put that poet's saying in my memory. My neighbors' experiences and memories were also integrated in me.

26 December 2011 00:32                                                                                                                       
I reached Iraq before 2-3 months I ain't sure since I didn't count them. I received my first salary before days. When I reached home, I headed to the local electricity supplier and asked him to register me. He asked me to bring him a 150 meters wire of 2.5 width. After some expected obstacles, electricity reached my home. When it was night and sleep didn't come easily I remembered that I got a copy of a movie in my computer. A friend in Kerbala gave me a downloaded copy of the 1998 movie "Patch Adams" which is based on a true story.  The movie starts with a sky view of a forest in the winter. A piano is being played wisely slow and simple. The following words by the sound of Robin Williams (Patch Adams) are uttered calmly:
"All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts in the world, all are trying to find a way home. It is hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in a driving snow, you don't know if you are walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or a destination. "
After all, I am writing all this, with the tension in the Iraqi political scene in my preconsious, linked to the last Thursday explosions. If I don't like to state that "I am not frightened", then let me put it as "I don't feel enough secure." Still, I got a generous friend in Kerbala who gives me treasures like "Patch Adams" movie. I got Isabelle Ellendi telling me about how it was difficult in Chili. I got my neighbors and their memories: one about the Iraqi Kingdom, and the other neighbor who had survived the battle field of an 8 years war. I got dry half-cabbages to empathize with, and I got more cooking lessons to learn. 

Monday, December 05, 2011

Identity and Privacy

I am reading these days L'Interdite (The Forbedden Woman) by Malika Mokeddem. While her protagonist came from France to Algeria to face the different understanding and approach to the concepts of "Identity" and "Privacy", I feel empathized with her in my position as someone who came back from Algeria to Iraq. Identity and Privacy:

"I didn't forget anything. Didn't forget that lashing nosiness. Didn't forget that interference which alleges to have all the rights. When arbitrary inspection is regarded courtesy, the questions become orders, and being silent is regarded a scandal"

"The women: (Oh sister, like somebody is hitting me with a dagger here and here, and there, and also here). She points to all the abdomen, the chest, the back, the head, the legs, the the same time. (God kept you from all the diseases, when it comes, my head turns around, I sweat, I vomit, I feel by joints cracking, after that, I feel myself fatigued, so I don't sleep, dont eat, and I have no desire to lie in bed. Please sister, treat me!). All this in Algerian slang language, everything hurts me, it is everythingitis, endemic in womens here, and well known. Everythingitis are the symptoms of the females' earthquakes and tightness."I bandage. I suture. I plaster. I examine and hear the long complaints. And when I put my nose to write the prescription, the women regain the eye of the eagle and the vigor of the beak. She contemplates me, measures me, analyzes me before she dares to: (Do you have children?). The danger alarm rings in my head. If the answer will be no then come the avalanche of whys, the luster of the look of disgrace, or of compassion. I will not safe myself this interrogation easily. To avoid that, I said, using a proverb: "here, it is me to ask the questions, don't flip the roles!" Attenuated by a dosed laugh. Sighs of relief. Smiles."

"- She said that our ancestors are all Blacks that came from the other side of the desert. Yacine said that his grandfather, no, his ancestors were Jews, for that many Kabyles were in that state. Do you think that there are people who are the real sons of a real origin?

-I think that there is no real but the mixture. Everything else is either hypocrisy or ignorance."

When the Sun Scattered my Watch