Category Archives: Iraqi Life

Story of Love, Reconciliation, and Healing – Preemptive Love Coalition

I “liked” Preemptive Love Facebook page after I watched its founder’s – Jeremy Courtney’s – heartwarming, optimistic TED talk at TEDxBaghdad2011. Every now and then PLC Facebook page would post personalized photo-stories about their patients with blogs entries talking about things range from meeting the patient to after-surgery celebration. I came across a photo-story today about love, hope, and kindness in their finest and purest forms (pictures below, or can be viewed here.) Because we hear about suffering, disasters, misery all the time, it aches me to say that sometimes people’s pain becomes mere background noise. Not for the Courtneys.

Beautiful Nivar

Jeremy walked the extra mile to change the sad, sick, helpless realities of Iraqi kids. “Dissatisfied with mere sympathy, Jeremy started looking for solutions,” to alleviate some of the suffering in Iraq. After their visit to Iraq in 2006, the Courtneys decided to “love and serve the poor” and starting PLC. (Here’s a little bit of a bio about them here.)

Nivar’s echocardiogram

Anyways, today as I was going through my usual, religious duty of Facebook-ing, I came across a touching photo-story about Nivar – the girl with congenital heart defect. Iraqi Nivar was transported to Istanbul for a much-needed heart surgery to fix her Tetralogy of Fallot that is most debilitating and potentially life-threatening, thanks to Preemptive Love Coalition staff and surgeons. I initially had a gut-wrenching feeling about Nivar but as I read her story, and scrolled through her photos, I was filled with feelings of optimism, love, and hope. Why PLCers do it? It’s because “we work because we love, and we hope that love can be shared with everyone who donates to a child.”

Nivar Prepped & Ready For Surgery

Read one of PLC’s staffs experiences in Nivar’s home before she was given surgery. http://preemptivelove.org/2010/06/27/revisiting-nvar-helped-plc-family-advocate-refocus-on-plc-goals/

Nivar made it through surgery!

I strongly urge you to donate to help PLC taking on more cases. Or simply, talk about PLC’s work. Bring to people’s attention the plight of Iraqi kids.

Click to go to [PLC] blog and read about our excitement when Nivar made it out of surgery with total correction!
http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/21/nivars-surgery-results-in-total-correction/

More pictures and short photo-stories can be found PLC Facebook page.

PLC twitter page: @preemptivelove
Looking for summer internships with PLC click here.

Video: Four Iraqi Children Arrive in Istanbul for Lifesaving Heart Surgery

Taken from Preemptive Love Coalition website: http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/20/video-four-children-arrive-in-istanbul-for-lifesaving-heart-surgery/

Please donate, help, or simply share/talk about PLC. You might be the cause of saving some kid’s life.

Iraq’s Artists Exhibit in Venice

Because there is more on Iraq than war and destruction.

London-based Channel 4 airs a short clip of Iraqi artists’ exhibit in Venice. My heart ached yet grew airy to learn about Iraqi art and culture in exile. It is sad that these artists cannot go back to Iraq and exhibit their work there too.

Crashing Stereotypes

If you watch Crash, at first you would think the movie is racist. But what is racist, and how do we judge it? While the movie throws many racial language and images, it does not really tell us what is racist. It does, nonetheless, draws an interesting picture of what racism is. Racism stems from ignorance.

Typical stereotypic images presented included white district attorney buys off a black cop, Hispanic man with shaved head and tattoos, and Persian woman wearing hijab are prevalent in the movie. It is up to the viewer to judge who is racist among them. As the movie unfolds one finds interesting twist: those we thought were victims turn out to be offenders, and vice versa. For example, a Persian man is pictured trying to buy a gun. The all-proud American shop owner, irritated by the man’s inability to speak well, refuses to carry out the transaction and asks him to leave. The man is upset because he thinks he was discriminated against by the shop owner. Later, the Persian man tries to commit a murder. And he failed. Initially, I had a clear picture of who is the victim, but later in the movie that changed. Now, it is not just black and white. I’m not justifying the actions of either men but simply saying that I’m more aware of the circumstances that not only allowed the American dude to refuse the Persian the transaction, but also that made the latter almost commit a crime. I think being aware of these complexities helps us better understand people, ourselves and our biases.

Another example is a white male policeman pulls over a black couple in a Cadillac Escalade. The cop searches the affluent couple, touches the wife inappropriately in a defying gesture, waiting for the couple to react so he can arrest them, or to apologize for something they have not committed – humiliate them. The cop’s white partner protests initially but submits eventually. The movie establishes two things here: institutionalized racism and white supremacy. Clearly, it was race of the couple what prompted the cop to stop and humiliate them. So, I developed a negative attitude towards this cop. I made assumptions based on that one incident. Later, however, the cop almost lost his own life saving another’s of a black person during a car accident. Ironically, it was that same person he searched, touched inappropriately earlier. So, I think these conflicting notions made me slightly at unease calling the cop racist. I mean he IS racist for pulling over the black couple, but he is also NOT racist because he saved the life of a black person..?

Apart from that, in the movie, men are depicted as leaders, whereas women as servers. Examples range from a black secretary and white district attorney, to a Hispanic cop as black detective assistant. Movie starts with a scene of two women in a car accident: Asian and a Hispanic. LA officer writes a report and talks to victims, trying to calm them down and control the situation. Sitting in the car, next to the Hispanic women, is a police detective who investigates a crime scene. He gives orders to cops – who appeared to be mostly women work under him. Furthermore, I noticed that women are generally silenced and unheard. For example, the district attorney’s secretary spoke only a line or two in the movie; district attorney’s wife was often ignored. I believe that the movie not only address these issues in an impartial way, but also helps us examine ourselves from an outsider perspective. Do we think of women like that when we go on our daily lives? Is that how we view women at work, school, etc.?

I think this movie really helps us examine racial and social complexities from afar and so we can educate and correct ourselves when we err. I don’t know, just thought this is something we can ponder.

3iraqi Identity

Beautifully created by May Asaad.

Warning! 3iraqi culture and 3arabi words ahead.

It appears as an instagramed painting from afar. Upon a closer look, thirty distinct mini paintings appear. Ranging from samoon (bread) and nakhal (palm trees) to lala (lantern), argila (hookah), to Arabi coffee, these beautifully organized pictures tell us a story about Iraqi food, music, and culture.

The very first picture in the left upper corner is the well-known delish Iraqi bread, samoon. It is very unique to Iraq. Neighboring countries have a variety of this kind, but none tastes the same. When I arrived the US it was difficult to get a hold of Arabic food, let alone Iraqi bread. In Chicago, I used to commute for almost an hour to buy Iraqi bread, spices, and kabab. The first picture on the upper right side is an isteekan – tea cup. Virtually every Iraqi I know drinks tea. It was probably introduced to Iraq during the British occupation during 1910s. Ever since, Iraqis drink tea in the morning, at work, in school, after napping, and serve it to guests. It is inseparable of the culture. Some went as far as ‘deciphering’ the word isteekan as eeest teee kan, or ‘east tea can’ – presumably what the British called the cute little small cups tea is served in.

Furthermore, the picture in the bottom right shows red yashmagh – traditional head cloth worn by men. This is not a hijab – head scarf, or veil – but a piece of cloth worn by men signifying reverence, respect, and tradition. I associate my culture with yashmagh because not only I wore it multiple times, but also because it has historical significance. It is believed that yashmagh was inspired by Babylonians, 2nd century BCE, who used clothes with similar knitting pattern to fight off evil spirits. It has evolved to symbolize resistance and freedom during colonial era.

On the other side, bottom left, a picture of shanasheel during evening. Shanasheel are traditional Iraqi architectural buildings from Ottoman Empire time. They denote sophistication, as well as, historical and cultural heritage. Remainder of pictures represents different aspects of home.

This collage can potentially be limiting and confusing to non-Iraqis. There are many assumptions made while making it: familiarity with music, food, etc. I have a memory for every picture. Not all of these pictures have mere historical relevance. Some remind me of times during Hussain’s regime, such as second picture in bottom left of a square with a stick. We used to utilize this during programmed power outage in hot weather. Power was cut once a day for two hours. Apart from that, there are few pictures used to convey religious and political ideas. I personally may not associate myself with these pictures; however, they are still culturally relevant. I shared this collage in class and someone pointed out that these pictures represent me. It is probably assumed so because of the nature of these pictures: mosque and flag.

I shared the self-portrait on Facebook and Twitter. Some of my contacts “liked” it, and others “retweeted” it. Those were mainly Iraqis! I think it is the case because they could relate to the portrait. It really speaks to Iraqis in a way that only those who lived and experienced life in Iraq would understand. Also, for those living abroad, Arabic words on some pictures stir feelings of nostalgia and belonging. If I want to reconstruct my life back home it will be comprised of twenty eight pieces. It’s rather interesting how powerful pictures presented in a certain way can be.

This collage always serves as a reminder for me to go on and continue doing what I do best.  It motivates me to succeed academically, excel intellectually, and continue being an extrovert social bee. 😀

Iraq; some thoughts..

Deborah Amos,

Deborah Amos, “Eclipse of the Sunnis”

So, first off, I haven’t blogged in eons now. It’s a rather hard task balancing between work and academics, let alone blogging. Regardless, I’ve been trying to put together something talking about my life in Baghdad and how I ended up being an “exile.” So until then…

Recently, two weeks ago specifically, I started reading Deborah Amos’s “Eclipse of the Sunnis.”  This book has been one of the best books I’ve read this year. I recall shedding a tear reading the first 10 pages. It talks about post-war Iraq, the large refugee crisis that followed, and the spill of Iraq’s war into the region. It focuses more on the geopolitical transformations and security vacuum followed the US-backed invasion, than talking about the refugee crisis itself. She definitely uses personal anecdotes from Iraqi exiles in Damascus, Jordan, Sweden, and London, raising questions about the future and quality of life of these exiles, as well as,  implications in shaping Iraqi’s nationstate.

Here, I will be quoting Amos because her book portrays Iraq almost vividly. The following quotes explain not only things I lived through and managed to survive, but also they detail daily lives of millions of Iraqis at home today…

So let’s start with what is Iraq? When exiles reminisce about good ole days of Iraq, we usually compare today to pre-war Iraq. But was pre-war Iraq a good Iraq to start with? Were we actually unified as a nation under Saddam Hussain? Paying loyalties to Iraq, serving the country, and its people for the common good? Or were we simply scared to say no to authority. Were we secretly hating each other, and loyal to our own sect and/or religious cult? Did Iraqis live a lie that they all loved each other and shared the belief that Saddam sucked, but they had to submit to the one and only secular, nationalist, pan-Arab Saddam?

“Syria and Iraq..long the rival [cities] in Islamic history, and geopolitical rivals in modern times, are consumed with the questions of identity. In one, a Baathist state had tightened its grip on power; in the other, it had been blown away, opening a vacuum into which the politics of rival identities had flowed with catastrophic results. For Iraq, the forces that divided the country after 2003 were far stronger than the history that had unified the people. Banditry and breakdown in Iraq had led to mass exodus and internal displacement. In 2009, the unanswered question ‘What is Iraq?’ discomforted Arab neighbors and kept the exiles from returning. They were still unwilling to bet their lives and the future on their homeland until they were sure of the answer.”

When I was in Syria, I was planning on studying abroad – as in outside the Middle East. 1) I couldn’t go back to Iraq, not only because it was risky, but also because I didn’t have a house to go back to; 2) There was no country in the Arab world that would grant me visa simply because I was Iraqi; 3) The Syrian government – so as other Arab countries – treated Iraqis as tourists (ineligible to work) and as international students when they decided to enroll in college. This meant that I had to pay somewhere between 200-250% more than a domestic Syrian student had to pay- something unrealistic at the time.

“We have learned over time that Iraqis have lost hope. They don’t believe in a future any longer. They have become survivors.”

Finally, this quote describes what I lived through. From constant fear of getting kidnapped (myself of members of the family), being unlucky enough to have a bomb go off in my vicinity, have my car/house stolen, or simply get attacked by armed men, at a fake security checkpoint because my name suggest I belong to a specific sect of Islam. As the above quote suggested, I was surviving in Iraq.

“By 2009, [Iraq] was ranked as the most corrupt country in the Arab world, and the fourth most corrupt among all nations… Baghdad had developed into a kleptocracy that rivaled Nigeria… Iraq [is] still a place of militias and unemployment, with intermittent bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations. [The] medical care remained far below pre-war standards. Electricity and water supplies were undependable at best. The capital was a cantonized city controlled by armed guards at checkpoints. The sectarian police force was deeply corrupt. There was no longer such a thing as a Baghdadi – just Sunni or Shiites. An Iraqi could still be the wrong kind of Muslim for a particular neighborhood.”

I still remember that one time when I was on the bus returning to Baghdad when an Iraqi border officer got on the bus and asked me to get off the bus… My life flashed back before my eyes!

One final note, please do not pity me. I’m a strongly motivated, determined man who has acquired survival skills to let him turn negative feelings into positive ones. I appreciate everything I’ve been through!

The Staggering Feature of My House!

 

Are they crazy!? That was my first re-action, when I saw those homeless people who used to sleep on the roofs, when I was a child. After couple years, I realized that sleeping on the roof was part of the Iraqi culture, and there are procedures before being on roof.

At first, I’ll brief the story of sleeping on the roof. Originally, the story of this awkward way of sleeping arose when our forefathers climbed up on their roofs and found them as shelters from the stubborn sizzling Iraqi weather.

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Ideologically, in the five-hot-summer months, Iraqis used to escape from the sweaty weather inside their houses up on their roofs. Cheerfully, the preparations and arrangements for this activity were done cooperatively between the family.

My house had two-level roofs. One, the upper, for my mom and dad, the other was for me and my two brothers. They can contain many beds. Every month we were sponging down the roof. The preparations for sleeping start at sundown, the cleaning ones in the afternoon. Daily, we, me and my brother, used to head up to the roof with two buckets for each. With jokes and gossips, we shampooed and rinsed the whole roof out. When the first phase ends, we heading for the next one, which was the unrolling-beds process. You must proceed in this order, so that the sun will not warm up those beds. When the night kills the last sunbeam, we unconsciously found our way to the roof.

After the jokes, the funny stories and the chit-chat, we used to sleep. But, I have two pictures of sleeping on the roof experience!

Tediously, the first one, especially if I was tired, is just falling into sleep. Offensively, a bunch of disturbing mobs of insects with this sinister look on their faces were hunting me, as a result of this mischievously cruel attack, I used to wake up during my peaceful solitude time rubbing my skin ferociously. Accordingly, I stumbled my way down to the interior of the house to wash and cool these stings.

On the other side of the sleeping on the roof picture, insomnia has a positive effect on the roof. Curiously, I used to look attentively at that dictator who took the weight off his feet in that gigantic firmament and at those pleasing and illuminated tiny mermaids that aligned amazingly in the sky, whom were appointed to serve their dictator, the moon. Stars are uniquely and professionally shaped. Attractively, from my bed I can see those small pearls adorning and ornamenting the dark blue vista above me! Once the gentle mellow breeze banter my spirit, late in night, and tremble my body, only then, I would doze off into a deep slumber.

The moment we fell into sleep, and moved to another worth-discovery world, the dream or subconscious world, we would be energized, despite the short period of sleeping. We would wake up in the early morning on a puff of air and the sassy birds’ cheeping and shrilling. Chirpily, I used to annoy my family and wake them up by saying the first good-morning to them with a grin of my face!

In summation, God knows how I miss those days! I want to be just like the homeless crazy people, who don’t have another place to sleep but the roof, as I guessed at my early stages. Being in the roof with the family and the combination of the marvelous sequence of actions before and after falling into sleep, is a hard thing to achieve in the host country, simply because there is no such houses as we used to have back in Baghdad. Unquestionably, if I would sleep on the roof of my building, people here in Syria, at deferent stages, will not just say crazy, but also they’ll call the police for satellite-dish rubbery suspicion!

No Stars, Palm-Trees!

The two magic words, palm trees and Iraq, are attached and tied some way or another. Iraq has a desert weather and palm trees, obviously, live in a kind of weather. Iraqi palms are distinguished by their large compound and evergreen leaves that arranged at the top of a trunk. However, many palms around the world are exceptions to this statement, and Iraqi palms in fact show an extraordinary importance and obligation towards its homeland – Iraq. Economically and historically, Palm trees exhibit the Iraqi Identity on deferent perspectives.

 

You can anticipate the palm trees from the second you enter the Iraqi border. Palm trees are one the most well-known and extensively useful plant families. Indeed, many common products are derived from palm trees: date-juice (Debes) is a typical food for Iraqis, especially when it combined with Rashi, a fluid that comes from sesame. Likewise, Kilecha is another product that labels Iraqis. it’s a cooked-dough that no-seed dates are cooked inside the dough. The look of the Kilecha can be shapes in many forms: circular, square, oval and might forms in any particular style. Surely, both Debes and Kilecha have their profitable importance. In fact, Iraq used to export palm’s products to its neighbors’ countries to stay economically stable. Moreover, Iraqi-Sothern’s palm trees, with dates that are borne on a branched spadix divided into 25 to 150 strands 30-75 cm long, are considered the most fruitful and productive palm trees in the region.

 

Apart from that, Palm trees have their historical significance. “The date-palm was first cultivated in Mesopotamia,” once said. Figuratively, palm trees can identify Iraqi money and formal identifications. As a matter of fact, my passport has an image of my palm tree! My identification card has an image of my palm tree! It’s not a coincidence, for almost 2000 B.C. years ago, Iraq had been known by its desert weather and fascinating landscapes, for it contains palms. “The palm tree is an ancient tree that has been grown in Iraq for thousands of years. There are about 450 varieties (cultivars) in Iraq. They vary in size, shape and color,” Mohammed A. Hegazi, an Iraqi-American writer, once said. In many cultures, including Iraqi’s, palms were frequently used as symbols for such ideas as victory, peace and prosperous era, Assyrians and Romans for instance.

 

In brief, I believe that Iraq had many accomplishments in its earlier life, so that it gained those three stars in its flag. In my personal point of view, stars should be replaced by three palm trees, for their values, merit and reputation among Iraqis. As noted earlier, a palm epitomizes my country, and so it corresponds to my beloved Iraqi identity. Although Iraq has the largest number of these amazing trees, still, Iraq suffers from poverty, negligence and omission towards palm trees. Palm trees, I love you; I miss you especially here in Syria, because there is no Khestawi!