There's no such thing as 'middle' in Iraq any more. It's either dirt poor or stinking rich. I constantly feel guilty and unable to put up with the antics of the so called (boring) bourgeois.
The endless dinner parties, the stretched smiles, the endless questioning , and the hapless endeavours to show off to one another.
Unwilling to participate in such a monkey's tea party, I ended up constantly being criticized, so I did what I normally do. I ran away! Not literally, but figuratively speaking.
My normal refuge (my grandparent's house a few blocks down the road), was empty save for the guard outside. And he wasn't great conversation. They needed cooler climate, so I sorely missed them for a few weeks. I would sneak in, to the detriment of the guard, who constantly worried 'something would happen'. He refused to understand why I preferred to spend my hours wallowing around an empty old house instead of my parent's excessive furnishings.
I don't want a headache, I would reply laughing. Yet he would still usher me out, his hands flapping like chicken wings, as his eyes quickly darting from left to right.
Anyway, back to the main event! So as soon as a trip to Diyala was discussed, I grabbed the opportunity over enthusiastically, despite knowing I would inevitably suffer under their archaic rules for a while.
My father was already there, and the rest of the family had to stay in Baghdad. I decided I would make the trip alone. After all, they did all trust the driver. I could also use the situation to my advantage, to convince them to actually let me drive around.
The drive was quite short, as far as any road trip around Iraq goes. I sat at the back, where the air conditioning wasn't as effective. Halfway through, at a village stop, I switched to sitting at the front, grinning at the cooler blast of air.
Although young, the driver doesn't speak much, and instead grunted a minimalist conversation. He does however, give a lot of commands. After a while, my polite acceptance wears off.
'I wouldn't have sat at the front, if I knew you'd make me your right arm'
His laugh echoes in the empty car for a while, but thankfully he starts to pay more attention to driving.
As we draw ever closer to the village's winding dirt roads, he tells me politely if I want to wear my hijab now. I tell him I don't wear one in the village, and he asks if there's been any backlash against my father because of it. I shrug. How would I know.
He reminds me of the lies that I'm supposed to remember. I wasn't studying abroad, but in Baghdad, and I haven't visited, because education takes up all of my time. 'Take it seriously', he tells me earnestly, as he catches a glimpse of me smiling.
I stand sheepishly at the door, with no luggage. Nothing I could pack would be useful anyway. After listening to the shouting caused by my not so timid knocks, the worn gate is opened.