The biggest barrier to understanding the reality of today's Iraq is not being able to feel what it is like living in a state of continuous war and lawlessness. On Wednesday the BBC led on the story that 50 people had been killed in one day in Iraq. Yet the story did not even register in the blogosphere. For Iraqis today such atrocities are just part of the background of their lives. I have dedicated this weeks column to posts about the day to day life in Iraq. But it is not all negative. If you read through to the end I have instructions on the Iraqi style of haggling.
Writing this post does not get easier. This week I again send my commiserations, this time to veteran Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar who lost his aunt recently when an American missile hit her house. He also writes a memorial for the principal of his old school who was one of the many teaching professionals to have been assassinated over the last three years:
Slah Al-Bandar was the principle of my school… A great man with a big heart. We never call our teachers with their first names in the Middle East, every teacher is called “Ostath” then his name, as in Teacher. Ostath Slah used to be a very strict eastern teacher that everyone feared, but everyone loved as well. He used to work as a taxi driver in his beaten VW car after finishing his work in our school, and on weekends too…
Every Thursday, he stood there in the middle of the big football field while the 1400 students gathering in a U shape around him never dared to whisper. He stood there and asked us all to watch the Iraqi flag going up while singing the national anthem…. Then, he'll get the old microphone and repeat the exact same introduction for his weekly speech:
“My dear sons and students. My dear colleagues and educators. Good morning…
In this blessed day, I want to talk to you about…..”
He repeated this for years, until he was assassinated some days ago.
Ostath Slah Al-Bandar's big heart will never beat again.
May they all rest in peace.
Fear and Courage on the Streets of Baghdad
Miraj is no shrinking violet. She wants to buy a milkshake and after giving up on the household men helping, she decides to go herself regardless. But being a woman, traveling alone in Baghdad has its problems. Going by foot is out of the question:
“There was a new food shop … but the problem it’s located in a street where all you can see is men and men and more men. Rough looking guys sitting in the street near the shop, standing next to cars in the street where the shop is. I didn’t want to attract attention if me and my sister shopped from there, especially because most of them will know where we live and under these circumstances we are nothing but a simple bait for some of the criminals and rapists roaming our streets. It happened to me once when I was attacked near my house and I won’t risk it again by exposing myself or my sister to such animals.”
So she goes by car and her mother and sister come for support. But this is not without its hazards: “after passing by a small check point my heart started pounding like a drum and I opened my eyes wide unconsciously and started paying attention to any strange move around me. A car behind me with a guy in it started gazing straight into my eyes right from the check point.” But he was only one of those men who “think they own the street and it’s not a place for females with their cars… I wonder if those silly things they do make them feel better about their faked manhood.”
Then at the shop she takes the standard precautions:
“The safest move is to keep the car engine on in case anyone one came nears me to run away… On our way back I noticed a small van with guys stopped meters away behind my car, I told my sis not to go out together because it would take me some time to open the door while mum seemed still reciting Quran. I asked my sis to stay at the shop in case anything happened she could scream. I went to the car and mum felt my fear and opened the door for me, my sister quickly joined us and I moved with my highest speed.
And once home you thank God: “I turned to sis and mum and told them Hamdallah ala Alsalama, a phrase used to be used back n time in Iraq when you reach safely from another country by a plane mostly. Here we used it in such a small trip to the food store. Weird though, I didn’t feel the milk’s taste as before.”
But there are no standard precautions when gangsters enter your house looking to kidnap your daughters. That is just what happened to I Was There. Fortunately his daughters were not home as their bus had broke down. He tries to rush home as fast as possible. “But it took 45 minutes in a 15-minute road to reach my house because of those police checkpoints and the 150-meter distance that we should maintain between our cars and the US military Hummers … other wise they will shoot us so I was driving slowly following them while I was boiling deep inside trying to get home as fast as possible.”
All he can do is reinforce the locks on his house and plan for his daughters to leave Iraq. But the ordeal does not end there:
Next morning, I was leaving the house when two men took a picture of me while they were driving by the house and run away.
On the next day, my youngest daughter… went to her teacher, who lives one block from my house, for a privet lesson.Two men in a black car chased her to her teacher house then when she finished the lesson they were still waiting for her there so she told her teacher and called her mother; the teacher kept her in her house until they left then she walked her home.
He concludes: “It bothered me that no one cared for what happened… because what happened with me is an every day story in Iraq now… I just became a new scene in the Iraqi tragic play which the marionettes called it the new Iraq, but we will leave this new Iraq for them. I don’t think that they will found many Iraqis who will accept to live in their new Iraq.”
Now even the busses are targeted by bombers. Baghdad Treasure's friend Ahmed relies on them to get to work:
Ahmed started to be worried all the time. Like all Iraqis, he is unsafe at all. “Wherever I go, I feel I am going to die. Even going to work became as hard as getting a job,” he told me once. Today, a bomb planted inside a minibus exploded in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, killing at least two people and wounding six.
But although he says the security forces are doing nothing to stop this, Iraqis themselves are reporting suspicious cars. He writes: “Today, a group of people noticed an anonymous car parked inside the main bus station in Baghdad's famous Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya. They called the police who came hurriedly to see if the vehicle was a car bomb or not. Bravely, they defused the bomb they found in it and saved dozens of innocents’ lives.”
But the police cannot always be trusted. An Iraqi Tear gets a call from her son. He explains that he lost his money and mobile. Here is his story:
Close to the Central Children Hospital, a joint police-national guard check point stopped him. (Such check points used to stop him several times a day because his car number plate [is from a] Sunni governorates… and you can imagine what would be happen to a driver being alone) and my son was alone.
A policeman asked him if he is Sunni or Shiite… my son answer was (I am a Shitte). The next question “why is your car carrying this number?” my son told him that he bought the car from Baghdad… Another policeman who was searching the car told him: look I found this book in your car with the name Omer (a Sunni name). Who is Omer? A student in my class, my son answered. “F*** Omer and every Sunni; be a good Shiite and curse Omer and the Sunnis” the policeman adviced him… The policeman took the $200 and his $430 worthy N70 Nokia mobile that he bought days ago.
What could we do?
Nothing but thanking AlMighty Allah that they let him go… Till now more that 244 Omers were assassinated in Baghdad. They were kidnapped or arrested by the police; then their tortured and shot dead bodies were found.
Life on the Front Line
And if it is not the police, it is being caught up in the ongoing war. Brian gets mail from Qassem in Ramadi who describes the American military operations there against insurgents last week. While there is a strong political message, there is also a story of life on the front line. Qassem writes:
I am now with my family in Anbar I found my family ok…and most friends also…….but the situation was very bad ……burned tank ( US tank ) was in front of my house and my house [was damaged] partially… there was hard fighting ……
He relates what it is like to emerge after a battle and how people create their own system of communication to warn each other away from the war zone:
at the morning I succeeded to get out my house and I found many holes at many wall of the houses around …..it resulted from last night attacks of US troops ( after midnight ……most of streets blocked by the local people …..we can notice that the street is blocked when line of small stones cross the street ,it means there is US tanks on it some where……this is our way to warn the people that this street is dangerous and US tanks can kill who enter it………the clear fact is that US troops never put marks or signs to warn the civilians if they don’t allow people to get in some where…..and 100s of civilians killed because of no signs put by US troops .
An idea of the troubles of living in a front-line city:
For the last year Ramadi people take care of their city services by their own selves because our city completely ignored by the Iraqi government in add to the problems of my people with US troops along the last 3 years…..now we need to maintain the services again by ourselves ……the people in Ramadi think that the US troops want to punish the local people of Ramadi because they never allow to US troops to install military bases inside the city and fighting US soldiers every time they trying to get in the city…..for the last weeks US troops made many mistakes and destroyed houses of Alkurbeet Family ( tribe leader ) , train station of Ramadi centre and many other buildings …… in add they attacked Iraqi national guards that joined them …..US snipers killed 3 of Iraqi soldiers ….it was other mistake!!
And a message of defiance…
At night ,the US air force was very noisy with their jets and scared us too much …..I canot imagine that it will be ok tonight …
I like to tell them “ I am and my family and my people living in our houses and staying in our city , and, US soldiers and tanks and guns used every day against us…so, who should stop ??? we or U ??”
I really don't like to end on such a negative note and this post cannot pass without a mention. Neurotic Wife learns from her HUBBY something that everyone should know. How to haggle in the bazaar. Here is her blow-by-blow account:
HUBBY: How much are these pants
Indian seller: Sir they are 150
HUBBY: A HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!!! (his eyes popping out)
IS:No sir no, 150 dirhams (shaking his head from side to side)
HUBBY: A HUNDRED AND FIFTY DIRHAMS!!! WHY???I can get much cheaper in America (accent turning slightly to match that of the IS)
IS: But sir, this good quality, this is pure cotton sir, look at the quality sir…(taking the pants on his hands and turning them inside out)
IS: LOOK sir, look, this is TOP, TOP quality…u no find anywhere in market same same…
HUBBY(looks at me, and Im just staring into space, indicating I dont wanna be part of this)
HUBBY: Ok look I buy 5, i give you 150…(HUBBY starts taking the cash out)
IS: No sir, no, cannot, is good quality sir, see hand made…
HUBBY: ok i buy 4 i give you 100…(Im laughing my ass off here)
IS: Oh noooo sir (the shaking of the head becomes vigourous) NO, what you do is haram…I have baba(father), mama(mom) mal ana(all of a sudden the indian seller turns speaking broken arabic) fee old, very old people…have to give food, no money…
HUBBY: Ok I no buy..too much money this..BYE…
AS we walk away…The IS shouts, ok sir ok, for you i give 100, HUBBY tells me under his breath to continue walking and not look back…but im really feeling sorry for the IS now…we continue walking…The IS's screams become louder…SIR SIR I GIVE YOU 90…HUBBY again tells me to continue walking….The screams becomes begging and we hear running footsteps…The IS is behind us..OK sir he says…his eyes twitching..ok sir, what u want to pay???HUBBY tries to act cool and says I changed my mind…IS contniues…Ok sir I give you this look good quality 100% cotton, 50, only 50..HUBBY rolls his eyes, and shakes his head…IS then said ok sir, take (pushes the pants onto HUBBY) and tells him give me 20….OMG im thinking..OMG…from 150 to 20!!!! WTH…..
…HUBBY said watch and learn from the expert with a cute smirky smile covering his entire face…
But dont take your negotiating skills too far. Neurotic Wife refused to pack her husbands suitcase for him. As she says: “…Sorry HUBBY, I no give you 100% hand made perfect quality wife…”