Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Encounters of the Military Kind - 1

I challenge any Iraqi (or anyone who embarrassedly/proudly calls themselves thus) to deny the few or many drops of tears that trickled on watching the destruction of our homeland. Politicians are welcome to interrupt and tell me Saddam had already destroyed the country before then, so I must correct myself with – on watching the further destruction of our homeland.

Whichever way I look at it, America and Iraq have a dysfunctional (almost abusive) relationship. The one that ends with the man angrily storming out while the beaten and bruised woman still clings onto his leg as he walks out.

It sticks with me as very appropriate.

I speak for myself when I say throughout the years of war, my opinions of the soldiers parading around has differed greatly. It has switched between respect, hatred, embarrassment, disgust, playfulness, anger.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The First Time:

I was so excited and thrilled. It had been perhaps 3 or 4 months after the ‘toppling of the regime’. On driving across the border, we got stopped and searched. My dad was casually chatting with the soldiers that were supposed to be questioning us. From behind the safety of luggage and my parents, I peeked at the 7 or 8 soldiers. One smiled. I ducked.

That night, I mentioned how Americans were good looking. I based that judgement entirely on the hair and eye color. That day had been the first time I’d ever seen Americans. I had not spoken one syllable to any of them. I think it’s safe to say my mind was still of a child.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Nameless figure in a Nameless war

I suppose they are quite faint, but its still there. The silvery lines blend quite well into my arm, and at times, I thought they looked pretty when I wore black.
I used to get so angry over them. How was it that I could be so unlucky.
The day I got them, was the day love ceased to exist for me.

What reminded me of that day, was a weary eyed woman. One of the rare occasions where I hadn't worn a long sleeve top, my bare arm was resting on the arm rest. I hadn't noticed her looking at me, then looking at my scars, but when I finally did, I blushed, and almost too quickly turned my arm over. Her glare never left my downcast eyes.

What is it, she asked, her chin pointing towards my arm.
I tell my friends its a childhood scar and say no more. I'm partly telling the truth, after all, I was a child when I won that trophy.
I haven't thought about that day for almost 7 years.

It was in late in the year. The joyous moment where we all looked at Iraq starry eyed. Our naivety and blind hope misplaced . I hadn't seen my grandparents for what seemed like forever. It was the first time back from exile, and I had forgotten how they looked or spoke.

The night we arrived, everyone fell asleep, the journey taking its toll. I fell asleep to the whispered hushes of my grandparents and parents excitedly catching up-mainly about us. Our growth, our change,our achievements.

I woke early the next morning to a view of lush greens, a stark contrast to Baghdad's browns and greys.
Cautiously I tiptoed around. My bare feet making no sound on the stone. I jumped and my shoulders straightened, when I saw both my grandparents awake in the kitchen.

Their joy was evident, and for a few seconds I dumbly stared at my grandfather's pure delight. His weathered years didn't seem to slow his happiness down. After almost hand feeding me, and asking me whether I wanted to go to the village souk with them, I nodded shyly.

I left my family asleep, and waltzed out. The journey in the taxi was fun. Though I don't quite remember my replies to questions, and even my laughter at their jokes, was very bashful. I felt shy, and it was that awkward first day of reunion.

Then we parted. My grandfather stayed outside in the rising heat, while me and my grandmother went into a clothes shop. The clothes were all ridiculously bad looking, and it was funny watching her argue with the shop women for what seemed to me, no apparent reason. I glanced outside, my grandfather was buying food, proudly informing his many friends of our return. He generously gave verbal invites to our house. It was going to be a busy few days.

I walked around the shop, mindlessly feeling fabrics and textures for around half an hour. The crowd outside had died down a little, but there nonetheless. I saw my grandmother heading out the shop, and dutifully, I walked towards the door.

Naturally I got to the door first, and pushed it open slightly with my left hand, through the glass I saw my grandfather's back to me. His dishdasha a clean white. His red and white yeshmagh wrapped as it had been done since the deserts began. I could see his head tilted up towards the sky, as he waited for us. I knew he was smiling.

I glanced back briefly at my grandmother, and continued to push the door open.
That's when the glass door shattered, and I heard the taxi driver shouting.
I looked down disorientated to find a glass pieces had cut open my arm. Using my back to hold the door open, I pulled out the glass.
I felt my grandmother walk past me, then fall down on the hot floor. She had fainted.

I looked down at the gash. The skin was flopping back, so I pushed it down into the cut, not understanding anything. My arm was warm, but I felt no pain. I tried vainly and desperately to seek out my grandfather standing proudly. My eyes and head throbbed.

Calls were frantically made for an ambulance. No ambulance came.

The taxi driver ran around frantically. Women in billowing black crowded around my fallen grandmother, pouring cold water over her grey face. They knew her, and took her to the back room. Different women, also shrouded in black ran out into the streets, their cries and wails a vocal mess. I remained standing in the doorway, a deep churning in my stomach. Where was my grandfather.

I saw the taxi driver pick up a limp body and put it in a taxi. The dishdasha was dirty though. His was clean, I thought briefly, my eyes still searching.
I walked out into the sunlight. The light was painfully blinding, but my eyes continued their hunt.

Hands and soft shoulders pushed me back into the shop. I didn't have the strength to hold my ground, and I was back into the dark cold shop. In the space of ten minutes I was in a taxi. Sitting at the front seat, I couldn't understand the wails and crying whimpers of my grandmother behind me. Two women sat on either side of her, holding her tightly, as my grandmother's arms flailed.

My left arm felt like it was burning. Probably sunburn I mused.

Arriving to our enclosure, I saw the same taxi driver. I saw his taxi.It was empty. The whole family was all outside.

No ambulance had come, I realized.

The day passed with a blur, the taxi driver never left our house. I kept wondering why. I remember people hugging me. People telling me to cry. I didn't.
I still haven't cried for him. I thought I might writing this, but I still haven't.

Later that night, when I was washing my arms for prayer, my mother gasped at the cuts. She hadn't left my side the whole day. She asked me how it had happened. I replied I didn't know. She asked no more, and bandaged it up. It stang for a while.

Sometimes, my father asks me 'don't you remember when he...' or other menial memories. It seems every memory of my grandfather was robbed from my mind.

He was a stranger that I loved. I don't remember anything of him now, not even his face. Not even his voice. I never knew him.

I never saw my grandfather again. My last image of him is the back of him. He was slightly stooped. Wearing a clean white dishdasha. His yeshmagh bright. Looking up at the sky. I knew he was smiling.

Rest in peace gido.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Happy Eid!!

I stood, staring blindly at the fireworks that for a brief few minutes, lighted up my being.

I hate this. I hate the fact on what used to be my happiest day, I was completely uninspired. I think I'm starting to hate a lot of things, only hate is too forceful, too strong for my timid tastes.

I want to suppress life smacking me in the face, which is frankly what I feel it is doing to me now. Only repeatedly.

My childhood eids seem a lifetime away, though I know they were only a few years ago. The shouts of aunts, uncles, grandparents ringing loud in my ears. My heart racing for a day that was all over too quickly.

I curse the circumstances that have led to my isolation from all I love, yet at the same time I feel unequivocally blessed to be standing here, the cold making each intake of breath kill me a little, yet also awakening me to life.

There's so much I can talk about! Too much to talk about perhaps. If i started, I have a sneaking suspicion I would never stop. The reams of my life knotting in a jumble of words. Where can I start with my laughter and delight at Rwandans,Koreans, Jamaicans, Russians, Brazilians...their nationalities and cultures each so distinct so separate. Where can I begin with my interactions with the species of 'London Iraqis'. Where can I commence with my stories of misunderstandings, and understandings.

The immensity of how alone I was hit me, but the excitement and rush of future escapades washed my loneliness too quickly (I like to occasionally mull over my solitary state). This time feels so liberating and yet so imprisoning.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

MesoCafe - A palace of emotions (A review)

I'm going to halfheartedly admit it. I tried to stay away-but my efforts were in sheer desperation. The reason being, as soon as I read the description of the 'microbudget' film, my heart sank. It was a love story.

I tried to console myself, by telling myself it would be on BBC Four or the like in the coming year, as part of their cultural films line up, but a nagging voice made me finally give in and buy the tickets.

The last thing Iraqis needed was a love story. But then again, I was enticed by the trailer, the blogger holds a dark and twisted secret, the cafe is a hub of activity, and of course, I was hoping for conspiracy galore when it came to the politics in the film.

It was completely different to my expectations, which I suppose I should be thankful for, because my expectations of it were what hindered me.

Walking into the cinema, the Iraqis had congregated. In patches almost, their kisses and embraces genuine, and their tongues flapping, switching between Arabic and English. Naturally, I sat alone and leafed through whatever was available, while lamenting the location of the cinema.

I'm going to be honest, I don't visit cinemas much. Perhaps the first times I went, was just to say, 'yes I've been to one of those lighted, luxurious cinemas in London'. But after that the novelty wore away.
It took me an unnatural hour of walking around in the sun to locate Apollo cinemas.
And I also had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting in between two food munchers. The type who crackle and crunch. Quoting a line from the movie 'Iraqis love to complain', and I suppose my main complaints are over.

The movie didn't revolve around the love story as such, but the ending was the conclusion of the love story that was ongoing throughout the film. It had been a cheesy love story, but I suppose to a cynic, a love story will always look cheesy.
Aziz Al-Naib's performance as the taxi-driver/caretaker of the young men was the highlight of the film for me, his voice soothing throughout the darkness.

Throughout the movie, there was a tense atmosphere heightened by melodic iraqi maqam, occasionally the female lead would mention 'palace'. I wondered which palace she meant. Another so very-touching aspect was the beaded purses.
The ones that were sown on pieces of sack cloth. My grandma's ones were always black with a religious name sown into them. The only colourful flowery one she had made had been for me. After her death, I had demolished mine. Hundreds of beads had spilled from my hands at 13.

Towards the end, it is dawned to the viewer what palace it was- The Palace of the End. To my unsuspecting seat neighbours, that reference made my eyes sting with tears. Everything suddenly got too close to home for me.

The film has no political agenda as such, but more of a humanitarian one. It touches on the hypocrisy of the sanctions that killed so much iraqi civilians - most of all the children and the disabled. I would have preferred more politics in the film, but I've noticed that discussing dirty politics is like a rabid dog chasing its tail.
In other political news, Libyans will now get 'war trauma counseling'. I am not a jealous or mean spirited person, but hearing that news made me ever so slightly more bitter towards life. Iraqi's have constantly lived through conditions that are quite simply the stuff of legends. And for us there is no counseling. There is only death to bring us peace, as spoken by my grandmother.

The filming brought back vivid memories of last year - it was filmed through the eyes of someone who had just come, who couldn't see enough.

Every time the 'Baghdad Blogger' was mentioned though, I couldn't help think of the myriad of bloggers I've had the pleasure of knowing over the past (almost 3 years)- this blogger was more of a darker character though.

At the conclusion of the movie, the director and actors sat down for a mini Question & Answer session. All I had really wanted to ask, was why the absence of leather jackets.

They all stayed behind, to shake hands with the director. I was the first one to slip away quietly, wondering how I was going to survive my early lectures the next day.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Return of the Tribe

I wandered around blindly alone. Smiling left and right, hearing mismatched sentences out many conversations. I needed cold air. So I sat on the stairs, the drafts from the air conditioning being the most concentrated there.

Sitting near the top, I saw it so clearly that it made me frown.
My friends had sectioned themselves off into groups. Though the term friends is used loosely here, it was a mixture of old friends, new friends and acquaintances.

Those hailing from Baghdad sat on chairs, their eyes heavily lined with kohl, speaking of university friends and gossip. Occasionally their laughs deep and mellow.

The Najafis and Karbalaies had taken next to the the decorative Islamic art and the quieter areas. Their clothes uncharacteristically colourful.Their smiles genuine the night long.

The few Kurdish girls were already setting the sparklers alight, their language distinct through the crowd. They conversed briefly with the Baghdad girls, generally talking about fashion.

The girls hailing from Mosul made me feel inadequate as a female, as they simultaneously held conversations and helped out with children.

My distant relatives from Diyala concentrated around the kitchen, their hospitality organized and generous, their shyness cute. Their dialect making me smile occasionally.

I wondered why despite positive attributes, that their conversation with the other 'groups' were limited. Seemingly only a gesture of politeness.

As the gathering drew to a close, I got my answer.

Each girl left on the tail of her mother.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A Day's Despair - 1

Every year, on certain days, I reminisce of what happened on that day a year ago. People usually do it on birthdays, but I think I do it a lot more than I should.
Therefore in the spirit of a day before Ramathan, I recount with euphoria, what the day before Ramathan was like last year...

A white plastic cup in the bag. Memories of a more poignant paperwork effort. One that had almost reduced me to a shuddering wreck.

I had stood in front of the balding man. My eyes glazed and angry, as I ignored the rushing, and palatable fear around the figure sitting down on his large mahogany desk. It was cluttered with shows of luxury and money, from gold-plated pens, to a crystal figurine of a couple that seemed to want to dance off his desk. The figurine's rainbow reflections never quite left my line of sight, always glittering in the corner.

His cold eyes showed exactly what he thought of me, and my sneer said the same to him. It sadly never crossed my mind to perhaps show a little more respect for one older than my father, but his general attitude to those around him, and to me had earned him my disrespect pretty quickly- and my disrespect is hard to win.

At a standstill in the 'mu3amala' - operation is the closest translation I suppose.
I had calmly walked out his room, my head still held high, but my soul ready to sob as soon as I got a safe away distance. Surprisingly I made it outside, and walked the first 10m of the never ending queue lined outside the building in the blistering heat. Then I took my first shaky breath, and fought the urge to fall. I couldn't call anyone, because I knew I had momentarily lost the ability to speak.

I briefly wondered how I had ended up here alone. Had I not complained and persistently campaigned for independence. I got my wish. I just never really took into account the bargaining with army officers, bribing border officials or any of the other 'man requiring' actions that I often cowardly had to undertake. It did help me learn how to stand my ground more though, and for that I am thankful.

Usually my father of grandfather would deal with it all. I'd wait a day, one of them would come home sweaty, but triumphantly holding whatever paperwork I needed.
A daughter's dalal. (dalal meaning the act of spoiling someone).

After an interlude of perhaps 10 minutes of the sun beating down on me, and brain suppressing my need to release my turbulent emotion, a guy sitting in between two older guys on a ledge 5cm up from the sandy grey concrete got up. Almost awkwardly he approached me and told me 'not to worry'. He tried to weakly smile as he nodded me into agreement that God will guide me. Nothing but utter despair rained heavily in my soul.

After all, he added, I looked too stressful and pained. I couldn't help but laugh in my mind at his last sentence. Why it mattered whether I looked stressed or worried shouldn't be any body's business apart from my own. Willingness to take on another's worries just seems excessive in my (at times) calculating heart. I tried to smooth out my brows, and look up.
His aviator sunglasses and pulled down cap obscured everything, other than an anxious mouth, which had grinned once I winced up. The bright sun's glare a contrast to the dim government office I had just survived.

'Sit down'. His arm motioned to the ledge he had just got up from.
A lot of guarded eyes were now watching me. I hated the fact the queue was largely made up of women clad in black, their tongues clucking, and their arms and abayas flapping. Even the young women had the same demeanour. The three guys breaking up the queue were almost the only ones, in a long line of black. Most other guys seemed to have evaporated into a corner behind the building or right at the end of the queue to shout and discuss cartoons, football, and whispered gossip.

I hesitated.

The two older men sitting at either side of the gap on the ledge smiled up at me. The one on the right caught my attention because of his wrinkled smile. His face and body never quite leaving my memory. His left eye (which was actually to my right) was gashed. I don't even know how to describe it, but the cornea was glazed white- a whole white eye, and its surrounding was red and sore. His left leg was missing, the trouser tucked halfway up.
I smiled at him without a hint of pity in my entirety. I'd learnt how to do that pretty quickly. I suppose everyone else has too.

The guy on the left reminded me of a jovial shopkeeper, he hadn't stopped nodding and smiling since the moment I'd followed the arm of the younger guy who told me not to worry. I felt a pang of guilt, but I desperately needed to sit down and breathe.
I still hadn't uttered one word yet, and I wanted to mutter at least a thanks.

Abandoning all etiquette, I sat down on the ledge. Aware of its dirt, and aware of my uneven breathing.
I think I muttered a thanks to no one in particular after five minutes, a strained smile splayed across my lips.

Somehow, they all heard me.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Imagine Iraq

Recently I was emailed this link, of Iraqi artists showcasing in Venice :
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b012xt77/Imagine_Spring_2011_Iraq_in_Venice

Unfortunately I can't access it, but I can almost imagine what's in the video.

I'm glad. Iraq is slowly developing foundations in the creative arts- means of collectively translating the chaotic debris of modern Iraqi history. No doubt through sculptures, paintings and writings. Future generations will no doubt look upon canvases filled with blood reds and black; written words of angry hate, and hopefully be glad that it is assigned to history, only history.

Its still not enough though. I genuinely strive and hope Iraqis turn more creative. I want to drown in words and books and publications and art, but finding them in the Western market is difficult, and I've looked in some of the most diverse book stores.

Our imagination in life is limited. So little of our nation strays from the path that has been already paved for them. It all occurs so suddenly, that our imagination and dreams are repressed and overwhelmed in a tightly knit family unit.

I occasionally worry for our arts - has it all been looted and burnt? Will we ever think on our own to produce intricate masterpieces, or will we fall into the age old mentality of following the social norm.
Perhaps my thoughts stem from being surrounded by so much Art at the moment. Then again, I'm also surrounded by an excessive amount of garlic, and family asking the same questions about my life in London. I wonder how many times I have to repeat the same story, although at times, I almost imagine a hint of sadness in their eyes, over their perhaps less adventurous youth.
To which I always try to remind them that nothing comes without sacrifice. Not even my adventures.

Now I'm off to try and throw paints at paper and see if I manage to discover that I'm actually an amazing artist...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Risk it

It started on one of those famous 'grey days'.

Sitting around, and doing absolutely nothing productive, apart from thinking of ideas to be productive. Or at least pretend we were trying to work.
One of the guys sat up. 'Lets play risk!'. He muttered it with such excitement and strength, that I got a small insight to how he must have been as a child.

I was also surprised by the lack of response his outburst had achieved.

I thought truth and dare had been renamed risk, and chose not to question that assumption. I replied we needed a break, but I was probably going to chose truth over dare. At that statement everyone lazily turned to look at me, and I earned a few guffaws and laughs.

So was my introduction to the board game Risk. I had no idea it would last as long as it did ( rivals Monopoly game time), nor that I would win.

It wasn't Beginner's Luck, it was simply because I constantly acted like a child (who doesn't act like a child when introduced to new board games though?). And my childish behaviour meant I was constantly underestimated. :D

I ended up through a phase of Risk addiction. I'm going to try to explain (again) the rules to my family. I think they've lost concentration, but I'm so addicted, I might end up trying to con the neighbourhood children into playing against me.

Perhaps it would be embarrassing to lose to them (I just know they'll rub it in my face for eternity), but I can never bring myself to rob them of the happiness of winning. (it's hardly as if their life is a whirlwind of joy..)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Rewriting #1

I made them all laugh about how no one looks at each other, and once I do stare at someone's face, I cause awkwardness, even more so if I try to smile anonymously.

I told them, how every morning, without fail, an old man in a white suit would bless me on the tube. And how I smiled at him every time, and his insistence to call me 'the repenting sinner'

I made them laugh at how everyone runs in heels, while I trip on flats. I told them of the legging fashion- how leggings and a shirt only are worn, but no skirt. I told them how the first time I saw it, I tried to politely ask the girl if she forgot to wear a skirt.

I told them of one morning where I arrived at rush hour, and how tense everyone was- in fact I sensed that if they got more tense they would have 'let one rip' as they say.

I told them how I was going to miss being a fresher, because of everyone's low expectations.

I told them about the different races, so diverse yet so divided. And the unfortunate stereotypical roles they had all fallen into.

I told them of how I had a hacking cough that vibrated through my chest. It stuck for too long, and after numerous consultations, the diagnosis had been 'you're not used to the polluted city air'. To which I had replied 'yes, I prefer the very clean Baghdad air'. The doctor had stared before breaking out into a bellowing laugh.

I'm counting off the days anxiously, my nails having been reduced to mere millimetres.

That wasn't what I wanted to write about- far from it. I miss writing and writing, with no beginning and no end- what I used to do here, you know I might just start doing it again.

I don't want this to be the July 14th. post- I've recalled the events of that Tammuz verbally so much times, I'm not even sure what I think of it any more - my recital of that portion of history usually stems with a stranger's astonishment that Iraq had a monarchy, or something along those lines, and my thought train goes on a rampage...
I'll sleep on it, and decide what to post tomorrow. I think I used to be a hard core monarchist at one point.

I wonder if writing deteriorates or merely changes? I don't think it deteriorates per say, but I'm now stuck in a colourless state of writing, so much words and sentences and experiences, that I've truly come to appreciate the meaning of 'information overload'. That being said from a self proclaimed 'love-to-learn' is a big thing indeed.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The night before..

I need a plausible excuse.

My skin is a greyish tint, my eyes look deep and dark, and I'm generally scrunching up my face angrily without noticing.

This study year has taken its toll, and I'm not sure how to explain my deterioration. I think they half expect me to come back an English rose. Instead I shall return to them like a Disney villain.

My mind is euphorically empty, and I might use this opportunity to look once more on the city that I live and avoid at the same time.

The world has never looked so extensive as it does now.
I feel a growing sense of excitement, at the same time apprehension.

I want to go running around screaming after pigeons, but I'm sure if I were to, I'd get sent to a correctional institute.The ground here is not soft at all, its rock hard concrete. I miss soft dirt, it makes a thudding sound, and although it looks unsightly, for some strange reason, the earthy smell of it surrounds you with rich history.

This night is going to be so dark and quiet...so befitting a Disney villain.

(basically, i think i need sleep...)

Sunday, 15 May 2011

'I think you're amazing'

My year of being a fresher is coming to an end. So much funny memories which I have neglected to write, choosing only criticism and complaints in my posts.

Staring at the white suited man reciting the gospels quickly, as his head shakes from side to side. He blesses me once. He blesses me twice. He blesses me three times, the third time, I finally look up into his face.
His crinkled eyes show such worry, worry for me or for himself, I'm not quite sure.

He mumbles the sentence, as my mouth opens in slight shock, trying to understand. To distinguish the meaning of it all.

He saunters slowly off the tube. From my peripheral vision, I can see the guy on my left grin at me for a few seconds, before returning to his gadgets.

I leave glowing happily, my thoughts of exams completely obliterated.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Cold Dead Tiles

I wake to find my sister sitting on the floor next to me. Her head leaning over mine.
I laugh coarsely, as I know exactly what she is up to.

She looks at me evilly, and tells me 'its just not normal honestly'.

I sleep very calmly. If that's what it can be called. It all started years and years ago. Many many mornings, I would wake to find my sister with her head hanging very close to mine. Sometimes i screamed. A few times I accidently head butted her.
Only after 2 or 3 years of this happening did I then ask her what she was doing. I guess I always assumed she was trying to annoy me.
She told me - " I was worried you were dead, so I check you are breathing". Her answer scared me, and we were both at a young age, where death should not be so familiar.
At that time I skipped down to my mother and told her. She laughed and told me I was like a statue when I sleep, and that my sister had been 'checking i was alive' for a long time. I remember laughing at the time, but writing it down, it doesn't seem so funny.

I remind her of this, and she grins broadly. Her laptop rests on her legs, and she repeatedly taps me, until i roll up. I complain about how sleepy I am, which she ignores. She tells me she heard a song, which reminded her of me lying on the cold tiles, to cool my heat stricken skin. We had fans and air-conditioning, but on the frequent occasions where they would close, this was my lazy solution.
I laugh as I ask her if this is her way of telling me she wants a hug. I outstretch my arms in a happy daze.

The whole day is spent talking and listening to everyone. I feel empty, and homesickness rears its head angrily. It seems the worst time to have guests. So naturally, guests come knocking on the door. I'm hurried out of the living room, like a secret.

I cough in disbelief, as my grandmother and mother discuss whether I should be 'hidden' from guests, or let me get dressed and say hello. I know they are doing it out of consideration, but I do want my opinion to be taken. Its not. The guests are my grandmother's friends, and I see their grey heads toss as I creep into another room.

I look at the bed longingly, though my sister has other ideas. She talks for 2 hours straight, to be interrupted by our mother, who warns of her upcoming exams. She moodily trudges off to revise. I'm left to my mother, who I talk in length of living in London. I tell her the truth. That I still don't understand the life there. I tell her tales of the subway, and stories of student life. I laugh along.

What I didn't tell her, is that despite me clearly not having adapted to the City or the Londoners yet, there was one thing I did miss...the emptiness.
The sunset brings distinguished oranges, reds and purples into the sky. I lean against the balcony alone, admiring the expanse of dust and destruction before me.

I go indoors reluctantly, as someone calls my name.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The I2 Generation

When I thought it would be so much, and it turned out to be so little is quite the slap back into reality, which to be honest, I have needed for a long time now.

The problem is the parents. And the way in which they talk. The repetitiveness affects you; even if you try to deny it, the dark hidden truth is that it does.

And so the schism remains jarring open. Hidden by polite words, and our educated minds. But when it really comes down to it, we are so very biased. It slips out during conversations I’ve noticed, and can you see the slow, but sure way in which it’s dividing Iraq a thousand fold?

Surely the divide between religions and classes and everything else exists in every nation, in every people. So why does it seem so much more pronounced in our nation? I was under the impression there would be no divide here. There would be no gaping wound. But i was wrong. At times, it seems the old prejudices are more alive on the outside, than it is on the inside. And I had to ask myself why.

In order to reach the right answer, you have to ask the right questions, or so I’ve heard. And I’ve always been one to ask the absolute worst worded questions. I occasionally doubt my social skills in that sense, but oh well; it’s all part of my (often unsettling) charm. :D

Anyway, living in such a varied, and rich society should mean that you become more understanding, that you feel the spices of a thousand traditions flowing through your veins. Not that it would somehow result in an almost bitter and biased soul, hidden by a westernized exterior, and fashion labels.
If inside Iraq there are the biased, and those wishing to cause a schism, they do it from bitter and brutal experiences. Whereas here, in Lenden, (that we all dream of seeing and experiencing), there is nothing but khibeeta (mixed mess) and kheer (riches) - a population so mixed, that they’ve all but given up trying to trace back their roots.

So where does this us and them come from? The occasional open minded person appears who claim they have no bias. I smile happily, hoping my hope is not misplaced. But it seems it usually is. For within the same week of being introduced to them, they would often let slip ‘look at them, what they have become’ or some similar phrase, which reminds me the gap between our nations is a seeping, infected wound.

It has to be the parents. Over time, their exile might have perpetuated bitter thoughts, which have not been wiped out over the suffering and deaths that has already been wreaked in Iraq. Instead, this has remained, fixated in the hearts and souls of many. Even across generations who have never seen, or will never remember Iraq. Is that fair? To transmit prejudices across generations? Rather than sending traditions?

What frustrates me even more, is the preconceived ideas of Iraqi culture and tradition- that it is the very reason why we are not progressing. That our culture and tradition is the root of the problem. And so I look onto the young generation who all but spit on our civilization, because it is what is seen as ‘backward’, they blindly dismiss it, in favour of the western ‘empowerment’.

Again, it must be the upbringing (any other theories?). There is unfortunately no happy medium. The Iraqi parents have either enforced an iron fist on their children to remain ‘Iraqi’, through religion and extreme prejudices, or the parents have enthusiastically let their children become ‘modern’ through losing their heritage, and denouncing Iraqi traditions.

For those who have endured the religious upbringing, become too biased towards the other sect. And they have the audacity to hide it, and hide it well, but when amongst their own, it comes out in all of its blazing glory.

And those who have endured the modern upbringing have little respect for cultural rituals, not understanding that our culture is not just about ‘disrespecting’ women, men wearing white dresses and smoking shisha.

I cannot vouch for all our traditions and say it is all good and great, for that is a lie. But it is also a lie, that our culture is what is holding us back. Because isn’t. It is, however, our mentality that is leaving us stranded in a country that is neither improving nor changing.

I, too have become stranded. It seems stubbornness is one sure thing that every Iraqi will never lose, no matter where or how they were brought up.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Expectations

The only problem is that this city and its dynamics are trying to mess with my mind.

Let me start from the beginning. To the ‘family’ girl, or the ‘respectable’ girl in Iraqi culture, there is no thing as falling in love. She gets engaged, and then she falls in love with her husband to be, who meets the criteria/requirements, rather than meets the needs of the heart. Obviously it is not always the case, but for the traditional family, that’s the way it works.

Anyway, so Touta comes to London, and sees what she doesn’t expect. A city that runs on finding love, finding a partner, etc. She dutifully ignores it.
And that is precisely what Touta does. Every time a friendship gets a little too close, or a little too comfortable, she shuts it down amicably, with a variety of excuses.

But, recently, I feel almost as if loneliness is going to consume me throughout the entirety of my life.

At first I blamed it entirely on the Iraqis in London. For every Iraqi that approached me, eventually asked me about my love life, and once I replied that mine was never existent, their eyebrows would shoot up, and a pitying look would fill their eyes ‘So who are you going to marry? Everyone has a girlfriend/boyfriend ready to marry, as soon as they finish university’. At such comments, I always smiled, and laid that statement down to reliable Iraqi exaggeration.

Many tried to persuade me to see the error of my ways, and the downfall of my nun-influenced lifestyle. But I refused to give in. I was strong. I was independent.

What followed was an episode where I convinced myself (and those around me), that I was determined to live completely alone. No family, no children, alone. It seemed a lot easier and safer than to risk what could potentially be one of my life’s biggest mistakes.

For although I don’t like to always admit it, but I have fairy tale expectations of life. So far those expectations haven’t suffered too badly.

Anyway, after many agonising moments over the possible futures I may or may not have, I gave up worrying about whether I would end up alone or not, and I did the following-

I closed all the lights of my bedroom. And I stumbled onto the bed. Looking out into the dark, brought alive by millions of glittering lights, I spoke loudly and clearly, to the city causing me insecurity over my isolation-

You can mess my sleep. You can mess my eating. You’ve even messed my (non existent) fashion. But you will not mess my mind or my heart.

I then fell back onto the pillows, closed my eyes, and dreamt a thousand and one dreams of happiness and love.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

See it to believe it.

A life cut short in so many ways.

A song hums in the background; a balding greasy Iraqi laments...

“He loves another, and I’ve let him love another. I lift my soul and throw it in the fire. I lift my soul and throw it in the fire. And what has happened to me would not happen”.

I keep expecting myself to suddenly fit into this new world. To have all the jigsaw puzzles fit, and not get lost, bewildered or astounded by this loveliness. The ‘v’ could just as easily be replaced by an ‘n’.

One thing I’ve noticed about these capital city types is their brute determination in every aspect of life. It scares me to be quite honest...watching their angry walking, their efficient hair, and even the viciousness of the way they eat- almost leads me to believe they are fighting and pushing in every aspect of life- a life that is not to be enjoyed but grappled with.

I don’t think they believe in happy endings or the slow roll of days. They believe in squeezing every second for what it’s worth.

But strangely enough, everyone is unbelievably kind and helpful. I’m not sure if I look like I am permanently in need of help, or if this charitable nature is overlooked by the quick steps and sharp turns.

A sight that somehow never (and I mean never) fails to make me smile is the underground at ‘peak times’. I cannot suppress the bubble of laughter that forms in my throat. It reminds me of busy Thursday souks, the only difference being the atmosphere. The souk has a comical anger, and the stench of sweat and grease is always prevalent.

Whereas the Underground smell is laced with designer perfumes, and the anger is cold and quiet- the type that frankly sends shivers down my spine.

Perhaps this is only an onslaught of homesickness, brought on by a slight excess in free time...exams are over, and now that my mind is relatively more relaxed and free, it (unfortunately) gave me more time to think about life, current affairs etc.

“The tiredness of years has been lost of him. I wish just to forget him. The soul is saddened by him, but to love him, she is forced. “

(Look at how easily the word count rises and rises. Why can’t the many essays piling up be as easily written? :D)

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Irrelevant

I didn’t expect there to be so much Iraqis here.

Where do I begin? I remember going to an Iraqi university and making fun of the stereotypes there...here the situation calls for a similar approach.

1. The Religious one- Ahulbayt Version 1.02 – will spend many hours ‘debating’ with the Saudi Sunni, then they’ll forget all differences and spend many more hours fighting each other through Call of Duty. Rejoices when they find out you are Shia, but will spend a few days sulking when they find out you follow Sistani. Like wearing dark clothes and pretending they are contemplating life (really they are trying to remember the coolest cheat for FIFA).

2. The Religious one- Saudi Sunni version 2 – look for a beard, or particularly long stubble. Avert their gaze from the exposed flesh of women, but have no problem casting flirty glances with ‘hijabis’. If female, look out for colourful abayas, and a predisposition to talking a lot. Try to ask you delicately if you are Sunni, and invite you to all their food parties when they find out you’re not shia. Look for a Palestinian scarf, as opposed to a green/black one on the AhulBayt assembly.

3. The Party animal – seem to be permanently arguing with their family. Very incorporated into western culture. Know their music, and a ‘London’ accent is often heard. At the same time, they have an almost shy interest in learning more about Iraq and their (lost) traditions. Vows to never end up marrying the ‘fresh’ Iraqi, and daydream of finding their open minded equivalent. Little do they know, their parents have already lined up their candidates.

4. The Gangster – Look for a chain around the neck, sportswear, and a haircut that somehow incorporates zigzags. Will undergo various phases of hanging out with their religious group (number 1 or 2), then will enjoy themselves a while with the party animals/party Asians. Seem to generally hop around, not quite belonging, but not being outcasts either. They look cool. But kind of geeky too- their darting eyes giving the impression of being unsure of themselves. Surprisingly (to me) very family orientated, and seem to always mention wife/husband and kids.

5. The Doctor – You will find yourself often looking at their neck and wondering how such a small neck can carry such a large head. The female version is always better than the male version. Will always end up with a one sided conversation where you slowly nod while thinking of something completely different. Always oppose your opinion- even if you agree with them. The end of your conversation is always with them stating ‘I understand where you are coming from though...’ and trailing off as they take note of your unfocused eyes.

6. The as normal as it gets one – a proverbial emulsion of east and west. A sweet pick and mix of Iraqi tradition and London life. In males look for smart clothes, and a voice that can always be heard, talking about the most recent social event/party. In females- don’t look; you can smell them a mile away. On close inspection you will realise they alone are the cause for Maybelline’s success.

7. The Touta – The one sitting here typing this post for some unknown reason. I think she’s bored. Uh oh, she’s also in trouble as its 4am, and the Touta is still awake. This type always wonders around in a dazed dream, partly because that is her nature, and partly because she ends up sleeping at 4am and waking an agonising 4 hours later.

I tried and hoped (rather in vain) that every time Iraqis gather, it would not yield the same result. Unfortunately, it always does.

Although it’s nice to be comforted that no matter whatever changes around you, you can always depend on Iraqis to bring the Baklawa.