Thursday, November 30, 2006


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The curfew is over. People are sneaking out of their homes after nights of terror. Streets battles are breaking out in smaller and smaller areas . Every single area in Baghdad had been engaged in some sort or another of combat the last couple of days; armed men attacking , mortar missiles falling on houses and car bombs . The new buzz is that; people are seeing in different areas of Baghdad, trucks appearing out of nowhere, unloading armed men, who spread in groups and vanish , they even have a name now; ( Afghan), whether these armed men are actually Afghanis “ which I doubt” or it is just to state that they look strange… , news conflict on that one. May be it is just to make it more spooky , you know it is more terrifying, when you don’t exactly know who is going to kill you!.

Before the curfew was announced and even before Al Sader city massacre, there was something in their air . All schools in Baghdad had received a direct or indirect threatening ordering them to close down , and kids were sent home .
It is a hopeless situation , the stage now is not to philosophise or anything , the stage we reached is; “just try and find ways to save your own life” . No causes needed here, we have already milked that joke enough ; the issue now is consequences and nothing more than consequences.
I too crept this morning to the office quietly . I sat at my desk for about an hour. The Boss was late cause his area was under siege all night long. I waited for a while for the others, who came in one by one.

As I was sitting, Abu S... was in his kitchen chatting to another employee. I was not paying much attention at the beginning, until what they were saying became a bit interesting. Abu S… was saying to the other fellow:
- Do you have a low or a high wall at the back of you house? I mean can you easily jump to your neighbour’s house if necessary ?
- I suppose so.
- Good, that will be the women's escape . As soon as they attack you, get the women to cross over , then you and your brothers and father go upstairs as fast as you can, and shoot down on them from your roof, and remember son ; never ever open the door for them even if they shoot or even if they bombard your garden, don't give them an access .
At that point I sprang out of my chair and went to the kitchen. Abu S... and M … were having their breakfast and drinking tea . Abu S… was standing holding his cup and eating a cheese sandwich , and M… was sitting listening attentively and eating .
Here , I intervened saying :
- Abu S…, my oh my, I've known you long enough , yet this is the first time I see the “General Casey” side of you , what the hell are you teaching the boy !.
- ‘Hello Dear‘ , he said slicing some cheese and wrapping it with a piece of bread , handing it over to me .
– ‘ M ...’s area is being attacked daily’ , Abu S.. explained, ‘And yesterday his next door neighbour was attacked . The bastards stormed in and the poor man was beaten up in front of his children and wife. Everything was stolen and as if that was not enough they took him away somewhere . I tell you they are taking the whole area in turn . A man has to do what a man has to do , one must fight for his house at least..
- ‘Who are these people ? do you have any idea’ I asked M...
- Who cares any more , you see our area has been practically invaded , people driven out , the houses left empty and any one can just break in . My area has been taken over by people who claim to have been driven out from their own houses . And they are forming now the majority and are carrying out raids on the old tenants. It is happening now everywhere .
- ‘And what are you going to do? , I mean besides the D-day plan Abu S... has formulated for you?’ , I said smiling at Abu S…
- What is their to do!, I'll move maybe . The whole country is on the run .

I guess it is a matter of time before it will reach every single one of us .

- Why don't you bring your family to my place . Bring them all and I will “ put you all in my eyes -an Iraqi expression, meaning I'll take good care of you and protect you- . Really I mean it . said Abu S.. sincerely.
- Thank you uncle . but your area is not safer is it ?
- No, but even judgement day with company is a festival, as they say - the Arabic equivalent of the more the merrier-.
- ‘Let's all go to the green zone!’ I jumped between them.
- Oh, yeah, as if they would take the likes of us in . said Abu S… clearing the table.
- You know if they just kick out the government from the green zone, it would all be solved. They will run faster than light speed to England or Iran or wherever and the country will be government- less, which is not so bad don’t you agree? I said picturing a stampede of black turbans , white turbans and suits trying to get on a pick-up truck as fast as they can, before anyone gets to them first, on a background of black smoke , rampaging fires , toppling date palms , and American troops folding the stairs of their giant giant super giant plane just seconds before the pick-up truck reaches there… and me watching from my roof top laughing hysterically and ….. enough of that .
- ‘You bet ‘ they both agreed dreamingly.
After a while I heard Abu S... pals shouting from the street bellow , calling him to come down. I ran to the window next to Abu S… cause I always enjoy these dialogues. I just love it when these old men start .
Abu S… opened the window and looked down at Abu M…. -a shop keeper and a friend of his-, trying to look as serious as possible .
- Why are you shouting, huh ? where do you think you are? at some sort of a market place? , please try to be more civilized.
- Abu S...Habibi = dear, come down and have breakfast with us .
- I said don't yell! people are trying to work here.
- Come on, it will get cold .
- What are you having ?
- Kahi and Kaimar ( a rich traditional Iraqi breakfast, consisting of fried puff pastry , rich cream and honey or syrup , most delicious when warm and fresh) I brought it just now .
- ‘No’ , abu S… said capriciously ‘I just had my breakfast.’
At this point the rest of his battalion came out ; another shop keeper , a carpenter, a photographer and I think a merchant who has an office a block or two away . And they all started to shout to get Abu S… down, a woman smiled as she passed by.
- What did you have? shouted Abu M…
- A cheese sandwich. Replied Abu S… .
- Ah, for the prophet Mohammed’s sake, what are you ?, a sixteen year old school girl or something? . Come down at once and get a man’s breakfast inside you !.
Abu S.. considered the issue for a moment and then said Ok

He went down to his friends , I watched them joke and shove Abu S.. inside a shop below us . Meanwhile, I could hear sporadic bullets sounds and explosions coming from far away .

Abu S.. lost his son not long ago , Abu M… had a brother brutalized and killed, one of the other men’s son was wounded and left invalid for life at the tender age of fourteen , another one of the group lost his old father after a shock related to the kidnap of his niece. All that in less than three years , Yet breakfast must go on, as they say.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Once upon a time in the middle east.

When I was so much younger than today, I thought that writers who devoted thousands of pages to death were unconditional freaks . Since then many moons have passed and I find myself doing exactly the same thing.
I remember once watching a nature film about apes and their reflexes .They showed how a baby ape died as he lied in his mother's lap . She started screaming and beating her chest demonstrating grief presumably . But as soon as they carried the baby away she resumed her usual life eating bananas and picking fleas from her head. They brought the baby back and she started screaming her head off and beating her chest again. They repeated the experiment several times and the result was the same each time . The conclusion was : Apes have a short memory . How I envy that practical Madam Ape .
My memory is so crowded with images of the dead, I even suspect that the number of my dead acquaintances has already exceeded the number of my living ones.
A new experience hit me the other day . Unfortunately I have already experienced how to be shocked when death occurs; you know to hear about it as soon as it happens , all the symptoms were there ; the total helplessness , the disbelieve , hope that there was some sort of a mistake … etc. But to hear about someone’s death after a considerable period and suffer as if with a setback, while everyone else has already got over it, is quite awkward .

Several years ago I worked in a company . My job was uninteresting and exhausting and the wages were so meagre, that it would have been more lucrative for me to beg instead .
In fact I was once standing with a friend, when an old beggar asked us for help, so we told her how much we were actually being paid. The old beggar said after hearing the sum : Your poor things , how the hell do you manage then ? I swear by God this is not a joke, it actually happened to me. Yet, somehow we managed in those crippling embargo years .
When work expanded and the owner of the Co. was growing richer, upon my demand I managed to get transferred to another department, thus a replacement had to be recruited . A sweet miniature young woman came in one afternoon with her Dad, they had heard about the vacancy through a friend . I explained the task to her and she accepted. Both of us were from specialities that could not have been more remote to the job , but everyone was working out of their specialities then . It was trendy in those embargo years to do everything to survive ; engineers were standing selling underwear in AL Arabi market, teachers were working as tailors , linguists were working as clerks , Chemists were working as builders. I even had a relative with a philosophy degree, who was working as a plumber . He used to joke that whenever he unclogged a blocked toilet or drain he actually saw all the philosopher’s faces “from Aristotle to Jacques Derrida” reflecting on the bathrooms glossy tiles and on the toilets porcelain mocking him.

So, she was no exclusion , but she never really minded ; always in a good mood, always making the best of it . We used to work in different shifts, so whenever she had a question or something to inform me she either wrote me a note or phoned . The manager made her his personal assistant soon , cause she was so efficient and loyal . She used to deliver his messages and orders to the staff . Meaning, that whenever she called late at night it usually was bad news and forebode trouble next morning with the manager .
- Hello , I hope I did not wake you up , but Mr. .….. wants you in his office tomorrow first thing in the morning .
- It is OK Mimi ( that is how I used to nickname her ) , I wont be sleeping after all now you told me .
Then the sweetest giggle usually resonated at her end ' Ok sweet dreams don't worry you'll survive'
- I sincerely hope so. Good night .
Once she came to me just as I was going home after an excruciating day . She apologetically started her request :
- I know you are tired and all, but can you please give me a crash course on how to use Microsoft office . You know the manager said he will allocate a computer for me only if I learn, and I have no time. But I can come a bit earlier, before my shift starts and if you .. I mean if it is no trouble can stay a little later to help me learn .
I looked at her half crazed with exhaustion , but for some reason I said ‘Sure I’ll stay for an hour after I finish work, sure, why not? you just make sure the boss doesn’t object’ . My other colleagues were pressing me to demand over time payment, ‘after all the boss should pay for your efforts improving his assistant’s skills’ they said. I had bitter experiences in demanding my rights, and I may add here that if they ever are going to hand out awards fro cowardice I surely would get the equivalent of the Nobel prize in that competition! So what I did after two weeks of teaching her Word , excel and power point , after two weeks of her not missing one moment , taking notes , asking questions and doing the tasks seriously, was that I wrote a memo to the manager demanding a reward for Mimi . The manager asked to see me , so I told him how serious she had been and “boy how I sang that day” , it is always easier to demand other people’s rights isn’t it? . He seemed convinced and wrote to the accountant ordering her a reward, the sum of 15000 ID “ the equivalent of 7 dollars” . My God he was cheap!.

She became an indispensable member in the Co. Always running around working so enthusiastically you would’ve thought it was…. It was the last chance she'll ever have to work.
A couple of years later I left my job after I got sick to death of it . And to be more frank I was hoping for a better tomorrow after the war . I thought there would be more chances than I could possibly be able to deal with, we were supposed to be the new Emirate for Christ’s sake , the future was supposed to be so bright it would blind our eyes as Oprah says, . Could I have been more ridiculous???
So, I quit after a minor row with the manger . She phoned me a couple of times after my stupid dreams proved to be false telling me that the manger wants me back . I did not go back, cause enough is enough I thought.
A couple of weeks ago , I met an old friend that used to work there too , we reminisced about the past and about how foolish we were on the eve of the war . We though all evil was connected to one man , alas .
This friend was counting the people that left the country and the ones that were kidnapped ,wounded, killed … and casually mentioned Mimi.
- You know she was killed months ago.
– What, just a moment, she was killed you say, how? when ?
- Yes, didn’t you know ?
- No , I lost contact with our old gang, I ….God , are you sure?
- Yes , shot … I am sorry I thought you knew , she was shot with a couple of other employees …
- She was barely thirty ….I whispered . I sank in my chair trying to prevent tears , it was supposed to be a bloody outing you see , I did not want to spoil it for my friend. And besides , it happened ages ( months ) ago , which equals centuries in normal nations calendars .
Two or three nights later I had a dream about Mimi . It was an unusual one though . I did not see her in my dream talking to me directly . Instead she talked to me on a phone!. I heard that pleasant-sounding voice of hers on the other end of a phone I had for some reason. She asked how I was and said that she was fine ‘No I did not die, don’t believe that I died’ she said . I woke up not understanding the meaning of the dream, whishing that there was actually a place on earth where Mimi would be holding her phone receiver telling people what they had to do for the next morning .

Today I started a new day remembering that we have new things to grieve about .We have people being dragged out of their offices in the middle of broad day light and taken to the unknown …the unknown ? I beg your pardon, how stupid of me , of course to the well known horrible death all civilians have earned for trying to continue …. living .
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