Thursday, June 20, 2013

Contemporary Iraqi Conversations

"In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice: "Always try to see the good in people!" he would say. As a consequence I reclined to reserve all judgments. Even I have a limit." With these words the new version of "The Great Gatsby" starts with Carraway's voice narrating his memories while he is a resident in a psychiatric ward.

I was in bus going to work when we passed by that city south of Baghdad named Alexandria, a city Alexander the Great had passed in once. I asked the man sitting next to me about the prices of rent of apartments in this city. He answered that even if it cheap as 5000 ID (about 4 $) per month he won't live in this city and then he called those people living in that area with some names. I nodded my head in what seemed as an agreement to what he had said. The rest of conversation he was the talking-one, and I was the nodding-head one. And then came that question, he asked me: "Where do you live?". That question is meant to know your religious status and to what sect you belong. Well, like Carraway's father, my father also taught me to see the best in people. The man sitting next to me and I ended to have a good conversation. We are finally simple persons having a conversation in a bus, no more, no less. The man reached his station before mine and to my surprise, when he landed on earth, and our bus was about to leave, he turned and smiled and waved to me. That was so nice from him.

 The next morning I found the streets empty from cars. An old lady with a crutch asked me to help her get a bus or a taxi. There was none. Some buses passed but they were no empty places. I told her not to worry and that if a bus came with one empty place she can be sure that she would be the one to go first. She asked me that question again with some wondering eye: "Where do you live?". We ended in the same bus. I helped her going up. When we reached our last station she asked God that I will find success in my life and thanked me for the help I offered her. She is one of those Iraqi grandmas that are so peculiar in the way they speak and relate to people and life. She some traditional tattooing in the dorsum of her hands, kind of three dots on each hand. I liked that very much.

I reached work and ended my job for this week and started the journey back to home. I took the novel I read those days and read in page 118: "He knew quite a lot about tennis, for a kid his age. He really did. Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he asked me, 'Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?' The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would've enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all."

I reached near home and headed to have lunch in that hidden corner where two men from Sudan run a simple restaurant and cafe. There was one of them that day and he welcomed me smiling widely with his beautiful white teeth. After that simple dish of eggs and tomato I started drinking that delicious strong coffee he makes. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and surprisingly Samira Toufiq's face filled the T.V. screen and she started to sing that old song: "I wish to be a nevus in your cheeks."

My friend the Sudanese was also surprised that such an old song from the 80s was playing in the T.V. and he said from his heart "Aaahhh!" and he made a dancing movement for a while. A very beautiful dancing movement that showed itself for a while and disappeared. God knows how wide my smile was, and his too.

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