Sunday, 21 March 2010

Waiting

Today I sat on the wall, the cold metal fence providing something to lean back on. I swung my feet back and forth, meaning my heels would hit the brick wall i was sitting on quite often.
I'd planned to meet my friend in the city centre, but I'd come 4 hours earlier than planned to look around the exciting bustle, shrouded in my own thoughts.

I didn't understand how she could be so positive and persistent
What had caught my attention was a scarily thin woman my mother's age. She carried a backpack and approached strangers, she would detail her life story to them, and ask them to buy a joke book to help her 'get back on her feet'. As people shooed her away, or point blank denied her existence, I couldn't help my amazement as her cheerful attitude never swayed. She was ridiculously polite, and as she called out to passers by, she would compliment them - by saying 'excuse me trendy lady', or 'handsome man' etc. A few responded with swear words, but her activeness didn't sway.
It was just beyond my comprehension how she did not snap or give up.

Out of the corner of my eye, a guy approached me. He stood for a small amount of time next to me, following my gaze.
"Waiting for someone?"
My father, I lied, not bothering to look to him. Usually that two word sentence would drive the guy away like I had just told him my father was a cannibal.
"would he be angry if I talked to you?"
That completely caught me off guard, and I turned to face him with shock on my face. A simple no was all that was needed for him to start talking again. He asked me where I was from, and I replied Iraq, with a smile on my face.
I must be psychic, i thought to myself. I had predicted this, as well as his next sentence.
"from the North?" he asked hopefully.
I told him Baghdad. He nodded his head, as if my answer affirmed his suspicions.
His next question, I had also not predicted. "Christian?".
I shook my head, with an air of bewilderment. He repeated the word, but in Arabic this time.
I understood the first time, i thought to myself, I just didn't know what prompted these weird questions .Instead of asking why he would ask me that, I stated that he could speak Arabic. He nodded vigorously, and then asked me if my father would mind if he sat next to me.
Again, I failed to hide my initial reaction of surprise at his exceedingly strange question.

He slumped against the fence next to me, with a hint of triumph. That left me free to return my sight to the eternally cheerful woman. He started talking generally, though in all truthfulness I had no idea what he said. My thoughts were completely with the energetic joke woman, her dyed hair flowing in the wind as she bounded across the pavements.
I nodded from time to time, but pretty soon he caught on, and stood in front of me. Blocking my view of the joke book seller. That kind of annoyed me. But nevertheless, I looked up at him and smiled bravely. He asked my age, but he replied with his before i had even managed to open my mouth. I'm still trying to figure out whether his eyes looked younger or older than his real age. He was young, but his accent visible. He had said he had lived here for 10 years.
He asked something about my parents, though i'm not sure what, as my mind had drifted back to his christian question.
Self consciously i pulled my dress down, and pulled my cardigan up. If my cardigan had been any higher, it would have been around my chin, so I'm not sure why i felt the need to pull it up.Immediately I felt angry at myself for caring about the judgement of a stranger.
Interrupting my thoughts, he told me if I was cold, we could go inside the shopping mall.
He had no doubt seen me tugging at my clothes. I was glad for his interpretation, and blindly agreed.

We talked in Arabic for the whole conversation, and although his Arabic was far from perfect, I knew only a few Kurdish words.
I endlessly asked him for words, and i would repeat them, as he would laugh at my pronunciation. He detailed his whole life story to me, and I listened attentively, occasionally saying something, which would make him grin, or laugh rather loudly.
I knew i was funny, but at times his laugh was too loud. Or maybe just loud compared to the ghostly quiet around us.
He was from Suleimaneya. As he came to his one year spent in turkey, I said a few Turkish phrases that had stuck in my head. He then proceeded to talk to me in Turkish. I shook my head, not understanding a word.
"i thought you might have been turkmani", he explained. I nodded not understanding what his wild guesses were based on, and not understanding why it even mattered.

Inside the mall, brightly coloured gifts caught my attention, and I realised his sight was also on something else - a Kurdish family passed us, the father pushing a pram. I hoped he knew them, so they would talk while i slipped into the shop. That didn't happen, as they exchanged only glances.
My psychic abilities were back, as I predicted where our conversation would lead. Outside he talked of his parents bugging him to marry. He told me he had not decided yet. He asked me if i had decided. I really had no idea as to what he meant precisely, only that it was to do with marriage. I replied to him that life was too unpredictable to decide. He then asked if I had a boyfriend, to which my reply was my eyebrows shooting halfway up my head, and my lower jaw dropping. 'of course not'.
Awkwardness followed, which was saved by an acquaintance of the guy walking past. They greeted each other; i tried to avoid the gaze of the hooded and capped guy, who was holding an angry dog, in fear that he too looked like his snarling pet. It was explained that the hoodie guy was his neighbour. My eyes following the dog and his owner, as they joined a larger group of track suited young men. The dogs jumped at each other viciously, and at the other owners.

He asked me if I was afraid of dogs teasingly, and I replied truthfully 'no I'm afraid of cats'.
Laughter followed, and he took out cigarettes as he asked me if i smoked.I mumbled on the life shortening ways of cigarettes.He told me he had started smoking eight years ago, when his 30 year old brother died.
That pretty much shut me up.
Although politely he turned his back to me when he smoked, and blew the smoke in the opposite direction of where i was standing. Long streams of smoke hit random passers by, and I couldn't help grinning widely. We walked on.

In the corner stood a woman with blonde hair, streaked with pink. She held a guitar, and I abruptly stopped walking, excited to hear her melodies. He had noticed i had stopped and turned around and given me a look, which clearly indicated how weird he thought i was. I couldn't help smiling childishly. Adamantly he walked back..but only to try to get me to walk on...
I walked on a few steps, disappointed, as he kept on talking ...
i stubbornly stopped walking and stood in front of the singing hippy lady.
This time he hadn't noticed. It was perhaps the time to part - 4 hours had passed quickly.

I started walking the opposite way. Away from his lonely eyes, and away from her pink hair.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Iraqi Elections 2010: UK chapter


I've had a tiring few days, but I did what I wanted to do, so I feel a sense of personal pride. Kind of.

London:

I wasn't expecting the majority of the voters to be kurdish, but they were. I loved how many girls came dressed in traditional kurdish attire, which is flowing, glittering and sparkling. The guys on the other hand shouted and danced enthusiastically to the skilled sound of a beating drum. It felt like I was at a carnival, and I enjoyed it to be honest. The round thumping of feet, waving of flags, and steady beat that roared above the usual sound of talk and cars.
Thats about it really. The large gathering of people caused the inevitable impatience, gossiping and general chit chat.
A lot of people carried iraqi flags, but more carried or wore the kurdish flag. One particular guy had folded in his arms, perhaps the largest flag i'd ever seen, the orange star in the middle being bigger than my fathers stomach.
He sauntered in amongst shouts of encouragement and surrounded by a gang of leather clad teens. Then the iraqi arabs got annoyed by this, with one guy shouting 'why the hell do you always want to separate yourself from us'. The natural arm waving, shouting and general splitting into ethnic/religious groups ensued. Oh and the women took also helped in this effort by the regular tongue clicking, annoyed head shaking, and of course the patented 'dirty look'.
I felt disappointed at my country people. Then again, my grandfather once said that sometimes the only thing that links you to your nation is the chance that you were born in the same area of land.
Apparently on the faithful news network, the london polling station had closed, because the sunnis/shias/kurds had been biased and unfair in the voting. Each channel showed its own version of 'undercover footage' of cheating, bribes and corruption, with the truth being, it got shut because of Iraqis' biggest failure - a lack of patience and an affinity to anger.
A lot of people didn't have the right documentation, or did, but weren't allowed in because the invigilators deemed it not good enough. Every election officer seemed to have their own opinion of what was allowable and what wasn't, which can only mean a failure in training (although they all had to sit exams to become election officers..:S)
I remember hearing an anguished woman cry out in arabic, as people looked on ' we all left without nothing..when you run for your life you don't remember to bring all the papers...' and the sad truth unveiled further and further, with the officers refusing to cooperate with the voters, and with each other.
( i saw some officers arguing amongst each other...one of them had stamped all the voters papers only on one side, which meant their votes will not be counted...the paper has to be stamped on both sides for the vote to be counted).

All the testosterone was just too much, and the existence of a few scattered journalists, meant tensions ran high amongst the guys. What i can only describe as 'gangs' of young men began picking on one another - i didn't stay long enough to see it escalate. But the funny thing was walking past the incredibly long queue on the way out... people were literally huffing their chests out, banging on walls, fences or windows, and everyone was blaming everyone else.
The kurds blamed the arabs, the sunnis blamed the shia, and the shia blamed the kurds.
I managed to get a video of the riot police storming in, just need to find a way to upload 3GP. :D
I couldn't help grinning. Especially as i overheard their often ridiculous conversations.
The line was so long, it was unbelievable..i could have queued up there for a day, and still not made it, And the doors remained firmly shut. I resolved it was early, and i could always travel to a smaller city to vote tomorrow.....



Manchester:

surrounded by coaches filled with young kurdish guys from around the country, and a police helicopter whirring overhead, this all felt a little bit weird. A fight had broken out, and the center had closed for unknown hours. Naturally this caused restlessness, and more annoyance.
The clear thing here was that there were 2 sets of kurdish voters - ones carrying the blue flag with a candle, and those carrying the flag of kurdistan. Guys stood on the fencing, and i walked into a sea of iraqis.
A group bearing the flags of blue passed and when they did, roars errupted around especially amongst the guys standing on the fencing...i assume they were shouting/insulting the blue flag wavers, who in retaliation screamed back, and waved their flags and held their head high.
An hour in, police rushed in, none seemed to happy to be interfering, and they blockaded everyone into 2 sets. They were pushed around, and I felt shame as i saw their yellow fluorescent jackets swaying, as the crowds pushed and shoved at them.
I saw a few prams being carried over people's heads, and a few guys started hitting and lashing out at each other as well as the police.
I was ridiculously under dressed. Everyone had come in satin suits, and most of the the girls looked like they were going to a wedding party, with sequins, with brightly coloured clothes and bold make up, catching my eye often, as i tried my best not to gawp geekily.
There was an hour left until the center closed, and over 100 in front of me, and 300 behind me. I walked up to a policeman and asked what was happening. After answering my questions,the poor police guy asked if i needed help..'why?' i asked quizzically...'Cos they look like they're gonna murder ya honey'. I turned around to see around 10 guys intently staring at me like i had commited a crime.
Large groups walked away, as the realisation hit me, they doors would close before I could vote.



Birmingham:

I reached here with an overbearing sense of nostalgia and annoyance. The tv stations and internet had shown me how Baghdad and Basra had been more organised than the previous 2 places I'd been to.
I got spotted by old acquaintances who recognised me, but had forgotten my parents name, what had happened etc, but i was too preoccupied to talk to them properly. A few guys from a nearby iraqi restaurant were giving out small cups of tea for the endlessly long queue.
I saw yet another friend, and the rest of the time were spent making fun at, and laughing at pretty much everything, though her hard laughter at what i was saying, made me worry that she hadn't been laughing as much recently. She confided to me like we had never been apart, and I was surprised slightly at how so many of my friendships can pick up at where they left off, without the awkward stage that i always anticipated.
The hour waiting in the queue went quickly, compared to the previous hours I had spent queueing. As my time came up, i couldn't help feeling regret of tiring myself out so much for something which at times seems trivial. I'm going to remind myself only to do something if it makes me happy, and at that precise moment I didn't feel happy. But i instantly cheered up when i walked out to see the bright masses. It had been fun to see that the stubborn mentalities of iraqis will follow them to the ends of the earth.

I can't wait to spend the next few days and hours experimenting with what will take the stain off. My bets are on paint stripper, though i'm pretty sure that its going to sting...