Thursday, 26 February 2009

Arabana's Tale of Woe

Walking home as the sun shines. I like slow walking, despite its many hazards. Such as flying spit from annoyed 20 something year old guys, or glowing cigarette ends from depressed 40 year olds. I feel that walking on the streets now resembles a video game, with stereotypical characters and things you have to dodge, like a pool of dirty sludge in the middle of the pavement.

I pass the arabana on an almost daily basis. A balding and cheerful looking guy runs it, who makes jokes, which i can never seem to remember. He shouts jokes randomly, as people stop to buy drinks from him. His arabana (trolley) has a bright red, but ageing, umbrella over it, and it advertises at least 20 different drinks, when he only sells three: pepsi, miranda and 7up (occasioanlly replaced by mountain dew or apple mission).

I've never brought anything from him personally, but more like wait around a metre away while someone buys the drink for me, either because i was accompanied by someone older or male.

Today i was alone, and i noticed that a 12 year old boy had manned the arabana instead. I saw him leaning on the arabana from metres away, but as I approached an annoying sound got louder and louder. Until i realised it was his voice. He shouted, no screamed loudly the costs of the drinks, and a few jingles mixed in there to be catchy. I laughed hard, and I shocked myself. Why had I laughed at this 12 year old boy. Then I remembered, because everything he said and did resembled someone older than him by at least 15 years. He threw his head backed as he called the prices, and I could see a few of the older passer bys clearly get annoyed.

I carefully approach the loud child, and as i do, i can feel my ear drums vibrating more and more the closer i get. I buy a bottle of water, and I stay not moving trying to decide; whether to move and drink it (which will probably result in me spilling it, since I cannot walk and drink at the same time); or do I risk staying here, despite the group of people who will soon stop here also and start buying drinks and talking.

I decide to hold my ground and open the bottle. I spend a millisecond struggling to open the bottle, before the child asks me "trideen musaada bitee". I look goggle eyed at him. Did he just ask me "do you want help my daughter?". He's talking to me like a middle aged guy would?!

Before I actually can say something like 'shouldn't you be in school?', the bottle is in his hands as he rips apart the top. i see in the struggle the label has disintergrated. Group of people approach arabana. I don't even turn around to see who it is, but rather continue staring at the man-child before me. I nod off the change he gives me, and tell him i have to pay him something for 'opening the bottle'. Silently I start to wonder how his life has been. After he exchanges general information, while i tower above him drinking occasionally, I realise, I haven't asked him one question. The man child had just burst into telling me his mini life story. He hastily serves some other customers, who walk about a metre away and stand drinking and laughing loudly. Soon the dry smell of tobacco wafts over.

Lived in X city, loved it until war-where his uncle was killed, moved to syria, out of all his siblings only one school place was offered to them. No work, etc etc, so they moved back. 'But we're not from this area', he whispers conspiratorally 'it was just a safer area than ours'. I have absolutley no idea what to say, and end up bending towards him and whispering just as conspiratorally, 'we're all iraqis anyway'. I have to stop this habit of saying the most cheesiest possible thing, at the most awkward time. But I'm afraid its either that or an awkward silence. The man child bursts into laughter, and replies "la, inti mu iraqeeya" ('no, you're not iraqi'), I wonder what he means by that, and smile as he opens his mouth again: "lo inti iraqeeya chinti imkatatnee min zamaan" ('if you were an iraqi, you would have interrupted me a long time ago'). I burst into laughter at his wittiness.

As I walk away, I can't help contemplate how many other Iraqi children have watched their childhood crash and burn in a explosion of violence and anger. Perhaps thats why he talked like an adult. Perhaps thats why he instinctively felt he had to open the bottle for me. I walk back and buy three more drinks from him.

I'm going to visit both Arramadi and Diyala soon again. Arramadi I'll see relatives on my mothers side, and Diyala-father's relatives. Both of course require more 'modest' clothes, and i seem to have obliterated my two items of modest outdoor clothes. One is ripped across the back, and the other shrunk while washing, making it 'modest' no more.

Oh, and I've been told not to wander out as much around our neighbourhood these days. Everyone knows everyone, and people do know my cousins, but someone enquired about the 'il bnaya ilee ma labsa hijaab' (the girl not wearing the hijab), who were out with X and Y (my cousins). My neighbourhood is by no means religious, and is mixed with sunni, shia and two christian families. It just that my neighbourhood is also devoid of girls.Its mostly old people, some families with small screeching children, and unemployed male youths. I keep trying to remind myself that the only places were you can find young women is schools, universities and on the main shopping street. Therefore that is where I have to be confined to. Unless I am surrounded by relatives of course, in which case, i can go anywhere.

At first I got annoyed- why did my parents let me go out alone in the uk, but not here. i kicked up a fuss: 'my rights as a human, its this culture, is it because i am not dressed in a black sack? etc etc', and then I realised it actually was for my own peace of mind and safety. I can't really explain it apart from you get hassled if you're female and walk alone here. My whole family was shocked at the change in manners here when we got back. Our nana laughed as we complained. What did we expect she asked. A war, there's been a war, and anyone with a coin to hold has left, leaving the 'uneducated' behind in want of a better word. Basically, those that were poor and 'ima3deen' have left their cold houses, and inhabited the houses of those that ave left, or they have built upon the ruins of a built site and so on.

A tell tale sign of these poorer people is their language-from their crude remarks to their annoying shouting. None the less, they are iraqi and because of that, I don't mind. i don't mind that there has been a deteroriation in manners and respect for women in general here, I just hope that I don't go pyscho on the next crude remark i hear as I walk through Al-Rubaie. I probably will. Oh well.

I also have to re-acquiant myself with eating from the floor.Not that I ever got acquainted with eating urubee style. The other option of course is to end up with half a plate of food in my lap, meaning when i got up, i picked up the bottom of my dishdasha (formed like a bowl of fabric), and I went outside and threw it off onto the floor, watching as a dark wave of ants gathered around the mountain of food that fell from my dishdasha.

And the internet service provider server or something burned out. *sigh* Now its either the rip off that is mobile internet, or the internet cafes, which I have to spend half an hour trying to convince my mother to let me go in (its not suitable for girls, since you have yellow teethed people smoking down your neck. Literally.)

And its doing that dusty thing again, where its too sandy to go out. The worst part of it is how dirty the house gets after sandstorms. With all doors and windows closed. I pray it doesnt rain, otherwise it shall be sludge and slide galore for the next few days...


C.H. said...

Well, going to Diyala sounds fun! I guess you can say I am doing something similar, I will be down in Mexico one week from now to do a report for school :D

I'm quite excited about that. Touta, I wish you would tell that kid to never lose hope...I say the same to you :)

C.H. said...

I suppose both of us will be facing some challenges on our trips. You will need to remember how to eat from the floor when you get to Diyala, and I will need to avoid going to too many bars in Tijuana, LOL. Its hard to resist, because the age to drink alcohol in the US is 21, and its only 18 in Mexico. A lot of California college students in San Diego (right across the border) make night trips into Tijuana to go to the clubs and bars.

I'm only going to be there for a couple nights, but my hotel has a bar, and I am looking forward to that :)

Oh, BTW. I remember you mentioned 50 Cent in one of your last posts and how he needs to go to Iraq in order to see what a tough time is really like. The truth is, he might find Baghdad to be a lot more comfortable than Tijuana, with the current situation there. In fact, that's the reason I am going--I am writing a story for the newspaper about what has been happening in Northern Mexico.

A few beers might be necessary at the end of the day!

Touta, I hope that your trip is wonderful and sucessful :D

ginnypub said...

I could visualize the man child as I was reading this post.
I look forward to your posts about Iraq and devour each one like a hungry child.

JG said...

Very interesting post, Touta. Good luck on your trips... and you too, Corey...

Caesar of Pentra said...

Good luck, dudette! ;)

Touta said...

good luck on your trip- i'm kind of suprised that you'd go there alone if its so bodyguards? :D

thanks, :) I'll write some more soon.

thanks.. :) good luck in work/study etc. :D

at least you didn't call me duda.

C.H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moonlight said...

Poor child...poor children :( I wish I could take all the kids who lost there childhood and give it back to them...all those arabana children, all those kids who grew up before there time. If only I had a time machine.

Have a great trip Touta. And stay safe.

C.H. said...


I should be just fine, no bodyguards should be necessary, LOL. Like I said, I'm only going to be there for a couple of nights :)

Tijuana is sort of like some places in Iraq I amazing city rich with culture and entertainment. Its so unfortunate that there are people who want to bring it down, and this is why I want to write a story.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...


You're going to Tijuana? You do know that the State Department has issued a warning about travel in Mexico? They are advising against it. And I should think especially in that area. Granted, the majority of the violence is between the drug gangs, but others have been swept up in it as well. Writing a story about it does not sound like a healthy proposition.


What a sad story about the boy. He should be in school.

Good luck on your trip. :)

P.S. Don't tell Caesar you saw me. ;) I still owe him some "random things". :D

C.H. said...

I appreciate all of your concern, but I will be will be quick, and when I am asking questions, it will be with the police.

I am writing this story because I want the American people to know how hard our friends on the other side of the border are working, the same way I want Americans to know how hard the people of Iraq are working to fight terrorism while we take advantage of our security here.

BTW, Lynette, don't be so afraid of posting your 25 random things. Its a lot of fun actually, lol.

JG said...

Sounds good, CH. You must do a blog post about your trip.

I think I'll be doing my 25 things soon. I have a lot of work I'm avoiding doing and it seems like the perfect distraction! ;)

Michomeme said...

I like your post Touta, do not be surprised if you meet more man-child in the streets, near the traffic signs carrying boxes full of water bottles or ice cream in summer. they were forced to be men in their childhood, let us wish that they will find a chance to live their age in a good way and they way they deserve.

you remind me of a sentence that i always hear from my mother when we want to go visit some of our relatives whom do not wear or act like us, she was always telling me that you do not have to change your style for somebody else, this is you and they should accept you the way you are..

C.H. said...

JG, Touta, Lynette,

I will be posting many photos when I get back, don't worry, lol :)

Lynnette In Minnesota said...


Hmmm...well part of the problem is the police. Anyway, I hope you have a safe trip. :)

Actually, I have posted 10 random things already. It is just that I have been a little busy lately and haven't had the time to post the remaining 15. I will get around to it eventually. A promise is a promise. :)

Looking forward to your photos.

C.H. said...

Thanks Lynette :-)

Touta, I have been talking to Rhuslancia from IBC, and we are thinking about doing a mock election among the Iraqi bloggers. We will make a poll code, post it, and then readers can decide which Iraqi blogger would be the best candidate for prime minister, president, interior minister, etc.

I think we should run you for one of those position, what do you think? If you don't, I'm sure there are many people who would check your name in the "write-in" candidate box :D

Touta said...

i know, but the best we can do now, is make each other smile.

still try to keep safe, and i do look forward to the photos. :)it would be cool to immerse yourself in different cultures from time to time, as long as you can bear with the food. :D. And i heard the police were part of the problem too... Anyways, as for the IBC thing, why can't I be supreme master? *sigh*. Or maybe angry hateful vengeful minister who has a problem with cats? all work well. :)

the trip has in fact turned out to be the weekend, so i'll spend like a day in each. still...might be fun. as for telling on you..whats in it for me? ;D

i do wish that they can enjoy the rest of their lives- because they still havent lived through anything but war and anger. i agree with your mother, i never change my clothes usually, but they are traditional. anyway, i'll try it. :)

Abbas Hawazin عباس هوازن said...

"I feel that walking on the streets now resembles a video game, with stereotypical characters and things you have to dodge, like a pool of dirty sludge in the middle of the pavement."

A classic! where did you steal this from?

Touta said...

come on now, I 'steal' nothing but the occasional heart. :P

nadia said...

When I was watching videos of Gaza I thought something like that, like when the kids talked they seemed very mature even if they were 6 or 7, but the reasons for that are kind of obvious.

At least the people on the street are just talking, not doing anything else that's gross(I hope,) that still sucks though I don't know if I could stop myself from yelling back or throwing something(this is why I don't give people advice.)

Touta said...

I am always horrified when soldiers tell of how they killed children, because they were ordered to, or because the children were violent. Thinking about the lives they have led so far, it hardly suprises me. Being violent leads to violence, and I really don't know how many years this is going to take for humans to grasp. :D