Sunday, 30 December 2012

Fairness & Flash Floods

'Coming generations will learn equality from poverty, and love from woes'.

We visit bearing gifts, our christian acquaintances, glowing more and more glum each year it seems. I don't blame them; I can't blame anyone, especially when Christmas 2012 was spent with floods in Baghdad.

(Merry Christmas).

Getting more used to the heavy showers, I laughed (almost spitefully) at the few dirty drops of rain. Little did I realize I would wake to find half the city swimming in sewage the next day.

We all made such a fuss over the pools of water that had developed, the entire neighbourhood pitifully complaining, and people standing atop roofs and filming the wet scenery. I can't forget that elderly couple sitting in deck chairs on one of the houses in front of ours. They looked so bemused with it all.

Hours later, heavy machinery tumbled down the poorly paved roads, sucking up the water with grey tubes, and redistributing it elsewhere. Complaints still rang out, mostly of the anti government, anti corruption type. For it was lack of love, and great greed, that had robbed Iraq of basic services.

That night, we had friends over (like most other nights). Complaints, and angry comments over the flooding situation. Blame was passed from Saddam, to the people of Iraq, to the new Saddam (Maliki). Huffs and puffs later, all was forgotten, as the topic turned to cars or something along those lines, with the women making a hasty exit to the dining room to gossip.

I sat and in boredom flicked the remote. Hours earlier I had been splashing bravely in the dirty water, courtesy of my London-brought wellington boots. On the tv, images more suited to the monsoon flooding appeared on one of the iraqi satellite channels.

A man, wrapped in colours of mud complained over the lack of care delivered to one of the worst flooded areas in Baghdad.
"They deliver the removal of water to the places that have money. That can pay! Mansour, The Road of Palestine, Zayouna...not to us. They tell us they have no petrol or no cars!"

I felt my head hang in shame. I felt overridden with guilt. It was all so true. I needed to see if the images portrayed were real.
It couldn't have been, I reasoned, though we all knew it was. The room had fallen silent momentarily at the emotional speech of the man. A more callous man spoke up 'Did they do anything, speak up? Let them suffer in silence if they want, they should demand it!'.

A few guests agreed, though as usual, I couldn't keep quiet.

They had protested, they had been jailed, they had demanded, all to no avail! It will never be of use, since the current government won't listen.

The next day, I told my family I was going to the high street of the area. Or the mall I mused out loud.

'Bring some salt!'.

From my eyes, I replied, and set out into the evening sun.

Less than half an hour later, I had arrived at the more 'downtown' area. The area where clothes were brighter,and voices were louder. And everything was much, much cheaper.

There was nowhere to walk-  pungent water covering every surface. It looked like a scene out of a charity campaign, and it smelt even worse. I fought the urge to cover my mouth. Though I couldn't help scrunching up my face in despair as I watched pieces of rubbish floating by.

In the middle of this scene of defined unfairness and poverty, was a wet middle aged man. He was standing over what seemed to be a gutter hole, handing various instruments to someone submerged, who occasionally came for air.

When he seemed to be less busy, I apologetically asked him, what way was best to cross the heavily flooded road. I didn't feel like swimming in sewage.

 He pulled his son out of the gutter, pointed at me and told his son to help me cross. I smiled at the young teenager covered in dirt, who was quickly washing his face and hands from the remnants of his hard work. He led me across, an ingenious technique using a long stick and stacks of bricks, helped prevent getting soaked in the flood water. I thanked him sincerely, and watched him safely make his way back.

I wandered around the area, occasionally being asked if I needed any help, or if I was stranded. I smiled my thanks, and continued my winding way. Avoiding as much as possible, and not being able to meet the eyes of anyone passing by.

It's hard to witness the extent of how different the circumstances are in one small city.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Taxi 1.5

It's actually killing me.

I should really learn not to get into taxis with a driver over the age of 40.

They're taking advantage of me travelling alone, I realize angrily. As well as their angry stares and mumbling get on my nerves. I put up with too much, out of respect for the grey hairs on their head.

Walking is still not as common as I'd wish it was, especially walking between districts in Baghdad. Yesterday , after what seemed like 100 beeps and horns, I screamed into empty air.
'I'm walking on the pavement!'.
Well, technically, it can't exactly be referred to as a pavement, but it's not the road. The 20cm wide concrete block on one side of the road ,is difficult for even cats to balance on.

I dodge three more murky pools of water, that smell sweetly of sewage. (And they said there's a water shortage! )

No wonder this was voted worst city in the world.

Beautiful Baghdad, I've missed you.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The paper from Najaf - 2

I'm instantly taken to the women's quarters, as soon as I've finished talking with my father. He seems more preoccupied than usual.

I fear the phone call  from my mother. I know it will be filled with angry rhetoric, though I don't understand her unwillingness to accept that I do not want the life she imagines for me.
I tell her it is insipid and tedious. She tells me every girl would kill for a comfortable life in a safe place.
Why don't I see sense, she laments.

I smile and nod at a passing toothless grin. There's been several attempts to eavesdrop on my phone conversation, resulting in me lowering the phone volume. Merely breathing can become a topic of gossip, so I'm taking extra precautions to save myself.

We go to the city market mid evening. I'm choked by its emptiness. In the back of my mind, I know it will get busier as soon as Eid festival approaches. But its deathly silence and hardened stares of shopkeepers, tell me exactly what I don't want to hear.

I try to buy colourful chinese junk from every other stall keeper, under the disapproving glares of my father.
It's not for me, I mumble, well aware of my reputation. My bedroom is known as the storage facility for the sheer amount of clutter I manage to collect. Annually, someone tries to 'tidy' the bomb site up, as I beg to keep yet another 'sentimental' scrap. 

There's been a clear handover. Once run by men older than my father, the shops have been passed over to a considerably angrier younger generation. They wear bright colours, and their ages don't match their weathered skin, and tired eyes.
Everything smells of stale smoke, from the tracksuits to the teddy bears.

The shopkeepers loiter over to each other, and whisper. I'm a curious being, and I strain to hear words floating aimlessly. It's torture, made only more difficult by my father's resolution to seemingly have an half hour conversation with every man around.
You're not going to get a discount, I muse, as I try to hide my grin.

On our return, gender separation ensues, as my father nods me off.
 Tomorrow is important, he stresses. I have no idea why.  On the breaking of dawn, all is revealed, as shiny car after shiny car lines the dirty village streets. There's going to be one of those meetings. The ones I always used to make fun of. I peer curiously from the rooftop, where the girls are rushing around, trying to collect the trays of dried tomatoes, and halfheartedly drag bags of rice and flour down the steep stone steps. I offer help, though they refuse, telling me I'm their guest. Deja Vu.

I hate always being the guest, though I doubt I'd ever be much of a good host.
I sit in the -now empty- ladies living room, as I hear the not so faint greetings from the men's room. I wish I knew what this one was about, though I'm sure it will become obvious. These things never start or end quietly.