Friday, 27 March 2009

And That's how it goes down

I have to pinch myself to make sure what I just witnessed was in fact reality and not a dillusion from my flu-ridden state. Yep, it hurts. It was real.
Nowadays its wonderfully sunny, and in general I lament every hour that i have to spend inside revising, or trying to anyway. Exams begin at the beginning of June and last for quite a while, so basically, I've got plenty of time to waste (or rather enjoy) before drowning in self pity and 'if only i revised'.

Getting to the main story before I get sidetracked, Friday's are most definatley, and always have been my favourite day. Nothing to do with the fact I spent the entire day looking at dresses for graduation parties at all. And I haven't graduated yet. Talk about optimistic thinking. Anyway, I was supposed to walk around the empty campuses of my cousin's universities (Mustansiriya University and Baghdad University), but I found it exceptionally weird to spend a day walking around universities. My cousins like most Iraqi girls are unbelievably dedicated to work. I admire them for it, but I swear it can't be healthy to work so hard. So after one of my embarassingly awkward and cheesy talks, i mananged to get them to think about something other than work and work. And thus the day was spent. :)

Getting home was normal. I realised why i found Rumadi weird- because of the obvious presence of troops and military. Despite checkpoints and police lining the streets, its not so military, and getting home was relatively okay, apart from the excrutiatingly long and slow traffic. Traffic annoys me to no bounds these days. My parents and Grandparent both end up having to wake at 4am to queue for petrol, most of which is then wasted while the engine whirrs in a non moving jam.

Reached home to find the national water was open, and a few minutes was spent happily throwing it at each other in the garden (this way the plants get water and we get a wash..hahaha. :D). It smelt chloriny today in comparison to its usual sandy smell, and was greeny rather than its usual milky look. At first i would feel bad for watering plants when there was so little water, but then all my efforts to turn the water drinkable did not go well. I brought a filter, but it took an hour to produce half a cup of clear water. Which smelt weird. I then boiled some of the national water, but the pan got covered in a powdery substance. Finally I succumbed to what they repeatedly shouted at me: Its untouchable. Uses of Iraqi water include: washing clothes, watering plants, cleaning in general. And thats it.

Interrupting my contemplation of water in the shade of the garden was a very loud knocking, which physically made me jump. Ignoring all better insticts, i ran to the gate and opened it, trying to look out. A few seconds later the unavoidable "What are you doing?" talk came. Followed by the "you can't go out in that!" talk.
What gets on my nerves here is it is perfectly acceptable for a guy to go out in his dishdasha, and you are kind of respected if you do, but if i just *stand* near the gate wearing my dishdasha, i get the 'its ayb' talk, which consists of a lecture of how i am bringing the image of the whole family down. Its inevitably followed by my mother commenting on 'why can't you wear a long skirt or smart clothes', which is inevitably followed by my 'because i'd die of heat'. My father might then say 'wear jeans then'. To which i may reply 'no, they're too hot too', or i silently walk back into the shade. Perhaps I should just don an abbaya and really embarass them, but for now, I'll stick to jeans and 'made in china' tops, which always have incorrect spellings of word on them. But I am kind of liking this more and more. A few of these t-shirts read: 'cutei buny', 'everning', 'renbow & lov' and the infamous 'flour power'. :D Needless to say, at least they make up for the spelling mistakes with colour and design. Ish.

So, loud knocking, half my family at the gate spectating and speculating what is happening, and your truly contemplating running to my room and staring out of the window. Instead i hang around. Shouts of "GET OUT!!" follow. Silence. A large metal gate creaks open. Its all happening a few houses down. A heated discussion follows, where i cannot hear a thing despite straining my ear drum. Cars start to slow down as they pass the house where all this is taking place. I creep outside and peer over my parents shoulders (Gosh, I never noticed how short they both were). A family stand outside the house with luggage. The wife is clearly angry/upset, and her children wander round in small circles. The man was the source of the shouting, and the heated discussion was with the man, and a guy in a tracksuit at the gate of the house.


Suddenly the man points an angry finger at the guy in the tracksuit at the house's gate. He says (translated badly by me): " Look! Look People! Look at why we will never be at peace, why we will never have success and power! This is my house, 20 years of work! 20 years! Who is this?! Can any of you tell me who is living in my house!? By my blood, i built this house brick by brick!". His voice breaks at the last sentence, and he really looks like he can't talk anymore.
Ever felt a deep stab of pity and sorrow. I did for the man. Why would he lie? He walks round in a circle, and i somehow feel he is trying his best not to scream/cry.

I don't know what happened after that. As is the nature of my parents, one of them led me back inside and closed the gate on the way out. I always feel I have been cheated of life, because they do allow me a lot of freedom. But at the slightest hint of trouble, or sad news, or anything negative, they hide it. The only reason I heard of the hospitilsation of one of the closest people to me was because i accidently eavesdropped on a conversation. Talking to my brother and sister about it, they both like it my parent's way better. Not hearing about anything until its a death. Not hearing about the economical problems in Iraq. Not hearing about the fact that the large child population of Iraq are on the streets and not in school. I don't like my parents way. I want reality, which is why i dedicated exactly half an hour of complaining at the gate, until my parents finally explained everything.

The man who was shouting was a normal iraqi guy. Worked and worked, and built his house. During the war years, his family got threatened with death, and he got beaten up, and accused of working for saddam, because he had a nice home.

He left Iraq and lived in Jordan. Came back this year to visit family, and sell carpets and furniture to provide money for his family, because they needed money as Jordan is much more expensive than Iraq. Came back to find a family in his house. 'shay sowee hisa?' (what's he going to do now?) I asked. My mother turned around, and looking into the distance, replied 'I don't know'. My father has walked off and joined into the group of men who were trying to solve this problem on the pavement, and again, my mother led me back into the house.
As twilight came nearer, perfumed tea was served. I went into the garden barefoot and drank the boiling tea while looking into the multi coloured sky. As the sun disappeared further and further, all I could think about was the pain of the man. What could the police do? If the house was given back, where would the tracksuit guy and his family live? Why were they in the house in the first place?

Just before i walked back in, I overheard something, but I really have no idea who said it 'at least he still found his house standing. at least he didnt lose something more important than bricks.'. Again the stabbing painful pity came. A child gurgling with laughter than broke my contemplative sadness. It laughed further and further into the distance, until it was overpowered of someone calling my name. As i walked back into the house (leaving sandy footprints on the floor), I smiled at how surreal life could get.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Rolling in Rumadi

I've typed this from my mobile, as my cousins watch in amazement. I'm in Rumadi now. The trip to here from Baghdad is a story in itself.

My cousins who live here visited us to our house, but we never visited them. Now I sit comfortably on a recliner that is only a few centimeters of the floor, making it quite difficult to actually get up once you've sat down.

To transport us from our house, we hired one of thos cars with black windows and large tyres, driven by a tall, quite intimidating guy.It really comfortable and large, and he bellows in laughter as he talks about the rumadi stereotype. I think we had to pass three checkpoints through the whole journey, and I didn't really do anything apart from stay seated as soldier after soldier would peer in suspiciously before exclaiming 'Family!' and letting us pass.

After the usual talk of politics and water and electricity between my father and the driver ( the talk was accompanied by me popping chewing gum- I had no idea I was doing this until my mum leaned and said 'ayyb biteee, sirtee chibeera'-'rude, my daughter, you're grown up now'.), anyway, after the man talk, silence ensued. To which the driver thought Hussam alRussam can serve his purpose here. Hussam al Rassam is probably the only singer which i hate to love. His songs are loud, uncouth and funny, and repeated in every shop and every taxi and bus. It will drive you crazy, but then you suddenly start to see why he's a good singer. *cough cough*

Anyway, this time it was this song "arrumadi arrumadi, wadoonee al rumaadi, ya ammi yaboo il jimsee"

I asked what birno meant, and its basically a gun, but I *have* to know what 'jimsee' is, but I dont want to ask more questions. So I'll sit here trying to see what words it sounds like. We've arrived it seemed, and I honestly could not be more shocked. I didn't take the song seriously, but when i look out of the windows, the guys are actually wearing those bright white dishdashas and yashmagh/agaal. I never believe in stereotypes, but unfortunatly, stereotypes always seem to exist just to spite me.

I haven't seen one woman or female on the street so far, but we've passed some weird vehichles in between a jeep and a tank, with a small american flag in the corner. They're very tall, (the car things). Anyway, my brother and my sister do not stop complaining of hunger, and the driver stops us in front of a small collection of shops, as we get out, I can feel the eyes of people in the surrounding buildings, and a few guys wearing those black and gold things over their white dishdashas come out onto the street. I hand my sister half of my food because I feel to dizzy from the bumpy ride. Then I take half of her miranda. :D I'm generous but not that generous..:D
Anyway, i ask for another drink, and i sit drinking on the stone steps, (there's only four chairs). I see a guy appraoch my dad. He's quite tall, and is wearing his yashmagh around his neck rather than on his head. He greets my father, and asks if we are okay..need any help or directions. Then he starts asking about our family. I pray my dad does not start telling him our life story. My mini wish goes unanswered, as my father starts riighhhht at the beginning. My sister gets up and the man sits down a while later. I think its been an hour, and so me and my sister walk around the place for a while. Some of the shopkeepers leave the inside of their shops and stand at the doorway as they see me and my sister walking around. My sister gets intimidated, and I spend the next half an hour trying to convince her, that no one is going to kidnap her, its just too hot inside the shops. I even go into one of the shops alone and buy chewing gum. She smiles nervously, and i end up walking her back to the chairs.

I don't know who this guy is, but he has to be one of the most patient men in the world- he's still listening and is actually concentrating. i kind of feel annoyed. I don't like people knowing too many personal things. Anyway, by some miracle, my dad looks at his watch, apologises profusely with this guy, swap telephone numbers, kiss each other, then leave. I can say nothing apart from how still impressed i am at the friendliness of Iraq in general,despite this always being the case, you always take it for granted. People call strangers their 'brother' or 'sister', and i can tell you out of experience, this doesn't happen with the nations of other countries i have lived in or visited.

Back to the black GMC car. The conversation now revolves around family, and old singers. I manage to both be embarrassing and impressive in the following conversations.

Destination reached, I see that i'm not only going to be meeting my aunts family, but the extended extended family too...There's so may people who I do not recognise, and I know that they aren't actually related to me.

The ritual kissing and tight hugs will follow for half an hour, where strangers will pretend to know me, and I them. Quite fun, its like guess work, you get asked silly questions, and you ask sillier questions. To a really old lady "How's your health?", to the jubba clad woman: "how's education?", to the children: "how's life?".

It turns out the whole of Iraq is suffering intolerably from unemployment, and lack of life. No money=no life. Its simple. All work seems to be handed out not to the best qualified, but to members of the same family, and this is the case for all sects and groups of Iraq. Same with the government. If you're lucky enough to have a foreign degree you can expect a job, but even then its sometimes hit and miss, and depends whether you have a head big enough to boast of how great you are.

One of the older guests spends half an hour complaining about the iranians. At first I get up on my high horse and complain of racism, but then he quickly and quietly reminds me of how many friends and family he lost in the war. "Why do you think they hate us too?".

There's a lot more foreign soldiers here. i didnt really expect it, but seeing them, after an absence brings back the whole Iraq situation again. It was fun in Rumadi, my 13 year old cousin actually felt it was necessary to walk me to the shop opposite the road. Then he spent 15 minutes trying to pay for everything. i know its out of niceness, and its the way they have been brought up etc, but I like independence. A bit too much perhaps.

The day was mainly spent talking and I have to admit, most of the talk was about this family and that family It occured to me, like all humans, iraqis like placing themselves in groups. This time, its not political groups but tribes. i would love to say that this occured after the war, but it didnt for my family anyway. Diyala was always quite tribal orientated, and i was taught all this about family and certain words which would identify you to a fellow family member.

(I got taught that in times of trouble, this word would be shouted, and every part of that asheera would rush to whoever said the word, to offer help....*ahem*).

Baghdad was different and the same, but more emphasis was placed on the extended family, rather than the whole 'sheik and tribe' thing.

Spending a day in Rumadi, made me realise not the divisions of Iraq, but rather how large families and communities are. I liked it. Okay, sometimes the whole tribe thing does annoy me to an extent which you cannot imagine, but at other times, I just resign myself to that fate. But today, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I saw how everyone did everything together, and I saw the respect they have for one another.

Now if only some idiots would stop killing innocent people.

Monday, 9 March 2009

How I introduced Nuggets into the land of War

Today, to prevent a possible explosion of my head from the mess that is life (you know that i really mean lack of...), I went shopping. Such Normalcy. In Iraq. :)

Basically this is an unspoken rule, where when it starts to get hotter, you need start actually visiting people and places. Forget the occasional bousts of gunfire, 'its just people protesting against the iranians'.

Therefore I cannot wear anything with a smart coat on top as I have been doing for the past months. Around December time, I was far to preoccupied with sulking on a sofa, so when it came to getting ready to visit Z or N or whoever, I put on jeans, and a coat. On top of my Pajama top. Should I really mention that when the woman of the house finally wrestled me out of my coat, and exclaimed how "pretty, but aren't you cold habebti?"(-mental response: well why do you think I wanted to keep my coat on?).

My grandfather chuckled loudly with laughter. Fortunatley, no one apart from my grandfather and sister had noticed I had remained unchanged from my pajamas. Such observation skills do we iraqis have, its a wonder how anything manages to get past us.

So no more pajamas and coats for me. Shopping went well, until one certain phase of shopping was reached. Undergarment shopping.

In Iraq, most of underwear stalls (you rarely get shops just for one certain type of clothes) for women are filled with things from 'al quroon il wusta'. i.e. the Middle Ages. They are greying, and old, and weirdly shaped. And made of material that feels like it has been cut out of potato sacks. Therefore, the only solution is to go to the garishly loud stalls, with all their brightly imported from China goods.

Suprisingly, the garish stalls had nothing but brightly coloured hawain shorts or boxers or whatever they're called nowadays.

An hour later of wandering aimlessly, and laughing at how my dad walked ahead, I saw a shop not on the high street. With headless plastic models showing off scary looking underwear.

Basically, I had found a shop (notice not stall, but a shop), that sold underwear for women. Ones that didn't look like they were sown while the factory workers were drunk/stoned.

The colour inside the shop, was a dark pink, with lighting that wasn't bright enough. It kind of made me feel sleepy. All the shop needed now was a smoke machine.

There was no one there, but usually after a while, the shop keeper comes down to serve you.

So I chose happily, and we waited. Chose some more because I got bored of waiting. Waited some more, and then when i hear the 'naam?' (yes?). I am too scared to turn around, because I've realised its a guys voice. Usually, I have no problem with buying all my clothes from guys as is the case in Iraq. But with a shop like this one, I kind of hoped, nay expected, a female to serve me. I mean even in the UK, underwear shops for females had female sellers. Or at least had two sellers, one male and one female. Ah, how I miss the choice.

Leaving the shop, I spend the following ten minutes complaining to my sister who does not consolidate, but rather laughs, and rather loudly too. What do I want? An islamic state like Saudi? Well, you'll be suprised (or not) to hear, all their under wear shops are also manned by guys... In Iraq though, it has absolutley nothing to do with religion, and solely to do with the fact that the souk is a man's world. Its considered kind of not so good if you're a woman and you run your buisness (unless its a salon or food), because buisness requires the 'brutality and bravery of men'. *ahem*. Welcome to the after shocks of war.

I just want the ability to choose who serves me, or at least not have a male seller smirk at me, as I try to stop from explaing myself to a stranger.

I have babbled long enough at the horror that occured to me today. Looking at the bright side, at least I didnt get shot by the distant gunfire heard. Or 'fireworks', (I'm not that easily fooled, nor do I live in a rainbows and butterflys la la land).

Onto the main story. My sister complained bitterly of hunger, to the point that I was sure someone was about to hand her a free meal just to make her be quiet.

No such thing occured, but as we drove past shops, we realised there were no food shops/stalls in sight. ?!!! We make a resolution to stop by the first thing we see. Happens to be a stall selling finger chips. As i look down the road, a wave of food cafes and stalls appear.

People walk past the finger chips guy without even turning their heads. He wears a tattered jumper, and beads of sweat lie on his forehead, as he stands next to the hot metal thing.

Really, when there are Mcdonald-esque fast food stores a few minutes away, no one is really going to bother with the finger chips guy.

The finger chips guy is now a rare breed. Before the war, he was to be found in every park and every fairground and outside most schools . Until the parks and fairgounds and schools became battlefields.

But here he stood. The rare finger chips guy.

My mother is going to kill me for persuading family to eat here, and so risk food poisoning.

I do it anyway, and minutes later, our finger chips are ready, as he smiles and hands burning hot food to us. My father turns away ready to go eat in the car (yeah, I know..), but I complain that I'm going to get thirsty soon, and so we need to buy drinks.

So we end up eating outside next to finger chips guy. A few people buy finger chips 'ala al shaheeha malatkum' - basically this means, they're not hungry, but seeing us eating finger chips made them crave it.

We and a few guys are now hanging around finger chips guy, eating finger chips and drinking pepsi. A few jokes are made, laughter.

A few people leave. A few walk by.

We remain eating and drinking. My father has finished, and now just stands waiting for us. Finger chips guy starts talking about buisness and says 'economic recession' in english.

I mention that people want more than finger chips now. (Was i being subconsciously cryptic? Perhaps). I go to the car, and get a frozen bag on chicken nuggets. My sister has a very select diet...My sister follows the bag of nuggets with her eyes, and my father shakes his head, in the way that says 'what are you doing?'. In an answer to his silent question, I tell him my little sister is still hungry, and if 'Ammo' ('uncle'-this is a reference to Finger chips guy) doesnt mind, he could fry them now for her. Finger chips guy smiles, and says 'itdalilee'. (of course?).My father says "all 100 nuggets?". :D

I explain, that there's no other way, because the bag would open in the car and fill the clean car with crumbs and raw chicken mush. That seemed to work. I hand the bag to the Finger Chips guy and he fries them within seconds. He places them in paper, with the paper in a flower arrangement. He makes around ten of these flower arrangements, and there's still more nuggets waiting.

My sister manages to eat one and three quarters of another. I eat the quarter grudgingly. I feel bad for throwing food away, as everytime I do, I'm haunted by images of starving children. Yes, i do need help.

What to do with the 27 remaining nugget flowers? "Sell them". As soon as I'd uttered this phrase, a child had spotted the colourful flower with nuggets and was screaming at his father. Ten minutes later 8 nugget flowers had been sold.

When we walk off, the finger chips guy shakes all of our hands, and I can still remember his smile. I don't want the Finger Chips guy to be extinct. Not because I like his food, not because of pity for him and his tattered jumper, not even because he smiled a lot. It is because to me, he represents the culture which i don't want to disintergrate amongst the incoming flux of Mcdonalds and Starbucks imitators.

I want to see a happy finger chips guy, surrounded by families with chubby children, I want to see the finger chips guy in shiny fairgrounds with a sparkling deelab il hawa (ferris wheel).

Now I wish I did live in a rainbows and butterflys la la land. Stupid Reality.