Thursday, November 16, 2006

Monday, November 13th, 2006
Peace be upon you…
I want to continue my talk about my visit to Baghdad…
I arrived on Thursday afternoon, my relative received me, and he was supposed to take me directly to my friend's house in Dragh District, Al-Mansoor, but when we passed by the neighborhood where I used to live, I asked him to stop to see our house. He hesitated, saying that the security conditions were bad, and the area isn't safe… I begged him, telling him I will not be long; just get a quick look on the house.
He called the guard who keeps the house keys, and asked him to come immediately…
The car stopped by the house; I got off to walk with fear and caution. I looked at the baker's shop near the house and asked about it; he said it was closed since about a year. And the little grocer's shop? Closed too, was the answer.
I moved about, and found the car mechanic's workshop was the only one open. I greeted him; Do you remember me? I asked…
He smiled and said: welcome, yes, I remember you.
How is the neighborhood, I asked; is it safe?
No, he said: it is no longer safe. Two days ago they assassinated a university professor in the street over there, in the morning when he was leaving his house, and he died instantly… and always there are sudden armed attacks, by gangs who come from outside the neighborhood, who carry out assassinations and run away…
I was disturbed, and my heart clenched…
I said to him: can we sit inside the workshop while we wait for the house keys?
He said: of course, be my guests…
I entered the workshop; there were mechanical equipments for repairing car tire's punctures. Where is the chair? There was a chair with an oil-soaked piece of sponge on it- motor oil! I turned it around, and found it was the same from both sides. I smiled; who cares?
I was wearing a new clean suit which I bought for my trip when I was in Amman…but here, I do not care… who cares for elegance and cleanliness when death is hovering in every direction?

The key came along, I was very worried as I stood at the front door waiting for them to try the keys. I stared at every passing car, imagining a gang would stop by, open fire at us, and run away.
My heart was beating, the beat getting faster…
Cars pass by; bearing a man and a child, or a man and a woman. I breathe again with a sigh. But I cringe when I see a car with a group of men in it. I keep staring at their faces, worried, until they move away.
In Amman, I used not to care who passes in front or behind me, but here, things are different. Caution is needed, even though we believe that all is in God's hands, but caution is needed.
I walked slowly on the garage's flagstones, and looked sadly at the small, deserted garden, its white chairs covered with dust… I entered the house through the kitchen door; and was struck by the sight of the dust on the table and its chairs. All my life I have never seen this thick an amount of dust on the furniture. I entered the house, and walked around the lounge, I found the furniture has been left as it was. My husband was the last to leave the house, and even though I told him to lift the carpets and cover the furniture, I discovered that he left everything as it was, as if he was planning to get back in an hour's time… dust lay on the small side tables and their covers, on the various small ornaments near the dinning table. Electricity was off, and darkness shrouded the house. I moved closer and stared at things, and memories fell over; this is a small bell from Lebanon, this is a wooden elephant from India, this is a small enameled box from Iran. I looked at the guest's room; lying under the dust that covered the beautiful lace pieces on the small wooden side tables. Everything's sight was deformed by the dust. There was a small round table in the corner, on it stood a nice table lamp which I remembered just now, with a satin tablecloth and a Chinese ornament. I remembered everything now, when? And where did I buy it?
I looked at the wall; there were some pictures hanging, some with Quranic calligraphy, others with drawn beautiful flowers…all covered with dust….
There is the settee, the TV set, with a ton of dust on it, my books on the shelves, full of dust, and my son's photos, covered with dust…
I went upstairs and opened the bedrooms. Dust covers the beds, mattresses, pillows and blankets in a sad way, the boys' studying desks, the dressing table with its mirror, and the carpets, all covered with thick dust… red dust, telling of the sand storms that invaded Baghdad while I was gone.
I walked the corridor into the study; I saw the desk topped with dust, all over my books, papers and pens.
I felt sad, and felt how heavy the sadness is on my heart.
I walked out silently, quietly. My relative walking behind me, also silent, without a word. I stood at the top of the marble and wood staircase in the center of the house, and looked down at my son Khalid's computer downstairs; he left the loudspeakers on the sofa, and the camera fixed on the screen, everything in its place as if the people of the house will be back in a short while, and dust covered all of these.
I looked at the big chandelier in the middle of the house, and found that dust marred its brilliance and beauty too…
I gave the whole house a sweeping sorry glance. I remembered the war, the chaos, robberies, thefts and assassinations, the immigration of my brother, the owner of the house; a doctor, his fear for himself and his family, my leaving my former house to this one here because the old one was in an area near the Airport Road, the heart of the battle against the occupation, with daily explosions, and broken window glass.
Then I remembered the story of my son Khalid's kidnapping from university, his arrest, being put at the Interior Ministry for twelve days accused of terrorism, for nothing more than having a beard! How this family endured these difficult days, then they let him go because he was innocent, and because we paid a ransom for him, and decided to leave Iraq, like thousands of families did, before and after us…
I remembered how the family separated; Khalid studying at a university outside Amman, I see him once a week, Majid studying in Cairo, Raid lives in America to work for Iraq, and I work with different organizations to help the devastated and the displaced from Iraq.

I started to burst into tears. My relative came to consol me; Are you crying for the furniture? Because of the dust? Tomorrow, a woman will come to clean the house…

I told him through my tears: No, I do not cry for the furniture, let it go to hell. I cry for my country which was shattered, my family which scattered, the Iraqis who were killed, the blood that was shed, and the devastation that spread. All the Iraqis are like me, what happened to them also befell me….
I kept crying bitterly, but he dragged me, and removed me out of the house in spite of me, so I would be quiet….
I got to my friend's house, and put down my suitcases. She received me warmly, and gave me her room.
I said to her: I do not want to feel guilty; you and your husband sleep in the lounge, and I occupy your room?
She refused to listen to me, saying she was happy I was there.
I found that she has prepared a meal for me. I was very hungry; I didn't eat since morning… I ate with an appetite, smelling the aroma of the Iraqi food in everything, especially the yogurt, pickles, and then- the Kebabs…
Since when I haven't tasted the Iraqi Kebabs?
I am not normally a heavy eater, usually my appetite is slim, but I was happy I was tasting the food of my beloved Baghdad, that I was at my friend's house; my studying colleague since the days of the Collage of Engineering, Baghdad University. She loves me and treats me like my kin.
Where are my kin?
We were eight brothers and sisters, before the war.
I now have one sister and one brother, and the rest left Iraq after the war.
I called my sister; she lives in Al-Saydiyah District. We exchanged greetings and questions warmly. Then she invited me to have dinner at her house on Saturday, but my relative who was accompanying me refused, saying that was a dangerous area, and my friend, whom I was staying with, warned me also…
Then my sister called on Saturday, and told me not to come, the situation there was dangerous…
I cancelled the visit, and didn't go to see her. We kept talking by phone……
What life is this?
People cannot move from one district to another inside Baghdad?
I slept the first night to the noises of scattered gunshots, getting nearer, then further, and mortar shells, which I didn't hear for two years. But I was happy to be smelling the air of Baghdad, and sleeping in the arms of Baghdad.

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