Sunday, 28 February 2010

Tipsy Trains

No good deed goes unpunished.

I miss discussing politics, art and woman's rights with grumpy taxi drivers in Iraq. I miss their ridiculous, and sometimes scary outbursts at the traffic and the mother of all the traffic.
Instead here taxi drives consist of silence....some static. And yet more silence. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you get used to the endless talk, mutterings and flailing hand movements - none of which can be found over here.

I got off at the train station, thanking the taxi driver inappropriately...honestly i have trouble riding taxis alone...the stories of kidnappings, ransoms and everything else really messed my head up back in Baghdad, and now its ingrained.
I passed what looked like a 50+ year old beggar. Though he wasn't begging, but rather standing and sitting whilst shouting random observations to passers by, ranging from 'You dropped something!' to 'I can't look in any other direction', in a thick scottish accent.
I walked by too engrossed in finding what train, platform and time I should take.

After asking 3 people, and spending a long time reading the ridiculously complicated grids, I found my train. I sat down and yawned.
Little did I know the Scottish man had sat behind me. Ten minutes into the train ride, he asked me to send a urgent text for him. His eyes were such a light blue colour, they seemed like a cataract sufferer. They seemed dead.
I agreed, and he pitifully repeated 'Shokran shokran'. I was caught surprised. I had been talking to my mother on the phone, but it still seemed strange to me that he successfully recognised Arabic. Then again, perhaps its my fault for assuming that those around me are ignorant.
As he detailed his life to me, I nodded and smiled sympathetically.I wanted him to stop talking. His constant sitting and standing unnerved me.

Thankfully he finished babbling, and i turned back trying to resume my thought train. But he interrupted again. Looking at the open day university pack I had been given, he repeated 'you have to make sure you know that they want you more than you want them...'
A lady perhaps in her 40's tried to come to my rescue, as she glanced at my bewildered face.
Despite her angry looks at the guy, and her warning comments, he continued his tirade about death.
I actually looked at the rest of the carriage, trying to discreetly look for other seats. There were none.
His bulbous eyes made me feel pity, and a large part of me realised I was going to probably avoid using trains or tubes from now on.
Unashamedly, I pretended I was sleeping when he fell silent for a few minutes. Being quite tall, he would lean over my chair and ask personal questions, which i had no desire to answer. So I stayed silent.Though the overbearing scent of alcohol also aided my inability to open my mouth.

After what seemed like an eternity, my stop came. I pretty much ran to the exit, leaving him to be verbally attacked by some annoyed London girls. He then decided to try to converse with suited men conversing about IT. I must admit, I was impressed by the way they responded to him as he spat out his tale of how he had gone to Oxford to study IT, but had got kicked out....

As i walked around the maze that is the train station, I felt dizzy.

Later on that day, my phone rang. I answered it, to be confronted with the sound of the drunken train man. I closed the phone down almost scared.In fact out of shock, i had almost thrown my phone.
I felt betrayed by my own morals.
I was asked for help, and I had undertaken what i saw was a 'random act of kindness'. Only when I was confronted by the same voice babbling down the phone, did I realise I had been tricked into sending a text to the phone of a 50 year old drunk - it wasn't sent to the phone of a 'friend' who was worried. And he probably hadn't 'forgotten' his phone in Glasgow as he claimed. The weird thing was I waited for my anger. I waited for my usual reaction of mentally scolding myself for being naive. The anger never came.

Instead for the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable.
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Next time, I'm taking the 'Me no sbeak English' reply to every stranger. :D

The past few days in the capital city have made me inevitably homesick for my Capital. But I'm almost worried now..when i go back, will my rose-coloured glasses fall completely off, and will I finally face up to the harsher reality? Or will I continue to think of it as a place of beauty?

Monday, 8 February 2010

Military Mentality

My life has been ordained to be a joke. A cosmic comedy.

My head still hurts, but the reason i came to this conclusion was a simple meeting of friends. I smile as soon as i see them huddled in the bunch, blocking the path for everyone else. Before even we have asked how everyone is, we begin arguing about the colour of my nail varnish. We spend a whole 20 minutes arguing about this -they say it is black, but I stand my ground that its dark purple or it just looks black but its not. A few emo jokes are made, before i finally snap out of my denial and admit perhaps it is black with purple tint...One day i might look back at today with a feeling of shock at my trivial waste of 20 minutes.

I know we're supposed to be celebrating an occasion, but i'm just not sure what it is yet. As everyone else knocks back ice cold vodka's, i patiently wait for the news.
It turns out one of my friends- A has been promoted to be an officer or something in the army (or was it the RAF?). The conversation naturally turns to wherever he works, and what his new position includes. Travelling, lots of paperwork, shouting at cadets....the list goes on.

I joke about seeing him in Iraq in the holidays, and he smiles. The smile that tells you there's more to it. It turns out he might be stationed in Iraq for 'a few weeks'. I think I speak first, asking A what his duties will include in Iraq. He jokes that perhaps me and a few of my friends should go with him. Since its going to be an 'experience'. Well at least i think he was joking... until i realised he wasnt. Naturally one of his friends tries to convince me its a good idea to spend a few weeks in a military camp, translating and 'helping'. One of my closer friends shoots a look that tells them they're not thinking right.

The UK has its bases in the south. I've never been to there, and i almost like the idea of this new 'experience' until A opens his mouth.
Their subconversation was about safety, and I hear the sentence of 'i'd shoot an iraqi child easily if it looked like it was going to hurt me or one of my guys'.

I miss my mouth and instantly spill ice cold water down my neck and chest. I dont gasp or jump up...i don't think i even noticed myself shiver.

They'd shoot a child if it looked like it would hurt. Even without being sure. They called an iraqi child 'It'. I don't think i can describe what happened at that moment, which is my soul became devoid of any emotion. A and I stare at each other for what seems to be an eternity. He's a good guy, but I realise at that moment each values their own more.

'try not to shoot everyone', I mumble to A, even though I have a feeling that he won't shoot anyone.
He nods, and I spend a few brief minutes teaching him nice words.

A few hours later, A tries to mess my (now long) hair, while i swat his hand away repeatedly, like it was a fly. For years and years, they've only seen my hair around shoulder length, so now its novel to them.
Unfortunatley he succeeds in messing my hair up, and despite my angry glares, I give up stopping him, and i also give up tidying it. I occasionally blow my hair out of my face every few seconds.
He continues to mess it up, with my female friends deciding to start tidying my hair up for me.
What ensues is a battle where A (and occasionally a few of his friends) mess my hair up, while my female friends tidy it up, and slap A's hand away.

I'm too busy laughing to notice the bewildered stares of those around us. I'm also too busy laughing to realise it hurts.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Wolf of Babil

I was walking through snow again, taking gasps of cold air and struggling not to shiver. It was a suprisingly nice feeling, despite its foreignness. The small town looked so dead as everyone walked with such lack of speed and enthusiasm.

In my dreaming wonder, I was shocked as grey and white pigeons filled the sky, their wings beating furiously amongst the dead calm. They were flying up...i had approached the middle of the town centre and on my approach all the pigeons had flown up in anger.
I watched them and walked off uncertainly.

As i slowly walked on the stone slabs, a voice seemed to get closer and closer, as did the passionate strumming of a guitar. A huddled man sat on a chair, his hair curly and wild like a haggard lion. His voice was so clear and full of emotion as he sang, and everyone walked by, as if he had no existence.
I stood in front of him as he sang. I grinned like someone who had never heard music.
After singing two songs he looked up at me (still grinning), and gave me a small pitiful smile. Maybe everyone is used to having people singing on the sidewalk. I don't think I'm used to it, perhaps that explains my awe.

An elderly couple looked at me standing in front of the lion singer, and stood a distance behind me. I'm not sure if they were listening to the singing or not. They were leaning on each other. I took it as my cue to walk away slowly, the music trailing behind me.

Through the cold I trampled,as the melancholy voice of the singer filled the air so loudly.
I was surprised that it seemed no one could hear him.

"Don't you worry about the distance
I'm right there if you get lonely
Give this song another listen
Close your eyes
Listen..."


I shivered in my three layers of clothing and thick furry coat. I quickly remembered to walk quietly and slowly past the centre to avoid the apocalyptic fleeing of the birds.
It didn't work. As soon as I came near the circle they all took flight. I frowned at the white sky. There was tens of people walking around the centre, yet as soon as I approach they swooped into the wind.

A few seconds later I mentally scolded myself for being paranoid. Coincidence does exist.
My frown wore off as the soothing voice in the distant sang a more upbeat song.

I walked only a few steps when a local stranger spoke in his accent. An accent i thought that could exist only in the soaps...but apparently some people had that accent in real life too. I smiled as i turned, to ask the stranger 'pardon?'. He repeated himself, and his words caught me between bewilderment and amusement.

The words instantly made two images flash in my mind.
One was of when my grandfather (god rest his soul). He took me to the furthest orchard to show me the Iraqi wolves.
They stealthy walked in circles in the orange light of sunset. Their fur was long and matted, in twisted clumps. Their eyes sparkling yellow in the approaching night. They were muscled yet their bodies looked like they had been dragged to hell and back.

The second image was of my father. Whenever he was/is proud of me, he calls me 'theebat babil' (ذئبة بابل), which translated means 'wolf of babil'. I think there was a time where that used to annoy me, but recently when he has used it, I have shrugged it off.

In my mind, the conflicting images of bad wolf and good wolf ran around.
I didnt want to think of myself as like the iraqi wolves, sauntering secretly.
I smiled sadly at the strangers words;
"its because you're like a wolf"...
'Maybe' I replied, as my eyes scanned the flock of birds scattering in the sky.