Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Remembering Katrina, Remembering Iraq

My younger sister was telling me a while ago, after I started this blog, that reading my accounts of life in Baghdad, and reading a Palestinian lady's accounts of life in Gaza, made her lose a certain respect for the people of these nations. Reading about the crazy violence, and the random kidnappings and murder, made her see these people as rather uncivilized people.
That was never my intent when I started this blog, and as I continue it today. But I realize that my sister's words do not only reflect her feelings, but those of many people who are bombarded by daily images and stories of bombings, lootings, kidnappings, terror and violence in these hotspots.
But I must say that such behavior is not necessarily endemic to these people. It is a result of a catastrophe that has left Iraq, and any other country in its same shoes, in complete chaos, the result of having no government, no governmental authority, no leader, no law in place.
That is what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine hit it exactly one year ago today, on April 29, 2005. I remember watching the news of this natural catastrophe which hit the Gulf Area, in between the few moments of quiet I had while caring for my then newborn daughter. I remember the images of chaos, the dead bodies floating in the streets, the people begging for help on national television, the looting, the guns going off randomly, the National Guard threatening not to come to the city if individuals did not stop using random gunfire to defend their belongings; the horror of having your home destroyed in seconds, of losing your loved ones and not knowing if they were dead or alive, ...
At that moment, all I could think of was... Iraq. This is Iraq. This is Palestine. This is every land and people that have been destroyed by a catastrophe. This is America getting a taste of what it is like to be left without law and order. It doesn't only happen in the Middle East, it happened right here, in the heartland of America. When I saw the looters who had to steal food to survive (or not), when I saw people having to take the law into their own hands, defending their homes and businesses from randoms looters, all I could think of was life in Iraq today. This is what a state of chaos and lawlessness does to a people. It leaves them to fend for themselves, some stay true to their goodness, in others, it brings out the worse.

I was looking over pictures today of New Orleans then and now, just to remind myself of some of the horrors that these people went through. I saw a horrific picture of a body floating down the water-flooded streets, unclaimed and unburied for days. I saw a picture of a man standing in front of his oriental rug shop, with a large hand-made sign reading, "Don’t try. I am sleeping inside with a big dog, an ugly woman, two shotguns and a claw hammer…." I saw a picture of a makeshift grave for an elderly woman who had been killed in a hit a few days after Katrina. Her body was left unburied on the side of the road for five days. I saw a picture of a family standing with a large sign which they waved at the helicopter flying above, begging for help. I saw pictures of human misery, and I hope they never recur to any race of people, here or abroad.
What happened in New Orleans, or Iraq, or Palestine, can happen anywhere. We are just fortunate that we are not living under the circumstances that these people are living under, or we might very well see the worst in our fellow neighbors and friends. May God protect us from all catastrophes, natural and man-made.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Our Very Own Fulbright Scholar

My daughter and I spent the past weekend with my parents in law visiting Umar in Pennsylvania. Umar is my husband's first cousin, and he arrived about a week ago from Baghdad on a Fulbright scholarship to study here in the United States. The Fulbright Scholarship was resumed in Iraq in 2003 after 14 years of an embargo that included the economic as well as the academic spheres of life.
Over dinner, Umar was telling us his 'name story'. Interestingly, he has a very Sunni name, while his brother, Haidar, has a very Shiite name (bisectarian grandparents). Umar was telling us about how certain parts of Baghdad are prohibited for him to visit, and other are prohibited for his brother. While he is welcomed with open arms in Adhamiya, Haidar is forbidden from going there. And while Haidar is welcomed with open arms in Kadhimiya, Umar stays away for his own safety.
Thankfully you were able to escape this craziness for a bit, ya Umar, hopefully it'll be better when you go back, and either way, we're very proud of you!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another Meaningless Murder

Actually, there is no such thing as a meaningful murder. And unfortunately, these murders keep on occuring in Baghdad.
Today, I found out from my husband that our neighbor, who lives a few short steps from our door, was gunned down at his job in the Jami'a district. Killed for living as the wrong sect in the wrong neighborhood.
This young man was my friend Zahra's brother in law. Zahra comes from a bisectarian family, with a Kurdish father and a Shiite mother. Her older sister married a Shiite, and he was killed today. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raj'ioon. To God we belong and to Him we will return.

On another note, my favorite uncle died Tuesday morning in Cairo, Egypt, of a likely heart attack. He was in his early sixties, a grandfather to two, and a father to three young men, 18-30 years. Ammu Nasr was my paternal aunt's husband, yet he treated us like his own. He opened his home and heart to me, my husband, my brothers and sister, for days and months on end. He gave us the best of his time, wealth and nature. He was charismatic, generous and kind. May God reward him for his good deeds and forgive his shortcomings. And may God give patience to my aunt and my cousins. Rahmatullahi 'alayhi.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another Curfew... Another Inconvenience

Baghdad is mourning the anniversary of the death of a thousand Shiite pilgrims who drowned last year after a stampede occurred on the bridge they were marching on, on their way to Kadhimiya. May God have mercy on their souls.
Baghdad's Shiites are also remembering the death of Imam Musa Al Kadhim today. What bothers me about all this, is the need to shut down the capital for another couple of days, for the umpteenth time since the invasion in 2003. A car curfew has been imposed in the streets of Baghdad from Friday night through Monday morning. That means no work for most of the residents on Saturday and Sunday. That means being stuck at home, except for where you can get to on foot, for most residents. And for my cousin in law, that meant that he had to spend Friday night sleeping on the benches in Baghdad International Airport to catch his flight to Amman on Saturday. Just another inconvenience in the life of an average Baghdadi.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Family News from Baghdad: Breast Cancer, Watered Down Fuel and Army Checkpoint Troubles

My husband's grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago and underwent a mastectomy this past Sunday in Baghdad. My husband emailed me a note about how the operation went. My grandmother in law is back home after her surgery, awaiting news on her next course of treatment. Part of the medical philosophy that is essential to good healthcare is that half of a patient's cure comes from his emotional and psychological well-being. I would say that this is mainly manifested in clean hospitals/clinics. For Baghdadis, this essential aspect of healthcare is non-existant, even for those willing to pay more for a better hospital. Read on for my husband's quick account of his past couple of days in Baghdad.

My grandma had a rough time subhanAllah. First they took her to Zuhour Hospital in Harthiyyah where the anesthesiologist (the only one available in the area) refused to give general anesthesia so they took her to Salamah Hospital in Yarmouk. She had left the house at 8 am and this was now around 12:30 pm. They actually started the operation around 1:30 pm and it lasted almost 1:30 hours. The doctor said that he removed every cancerous growth that he could find and that the biopsy would determine the next course of action, though chemotherapy might be difficult because she is old and because the drugs are not easy to come by (!!!).
Also, the hospital was miserable, it was a private hospital and supposedly one of the best, but it was filthy. One of my aunts joked that it is considered clean because you don’t see moving creatures immediately which is the case in other hospitals (My note: I've been to this hospital and its depressing at best). After she finished surgery literally the whole hospital came up into the room wishing her (good) health and of course begging for money. Anas distributed 45000 ID in baksheesh (tips). Almost 20 minutes later some lady comes bursting through the door and says “I am from the laundry... you guys gave everyone and you did not give me!"
Then two more ladies came in trying to find something to do, one of them starts playing with the curtains pretending to straighten them out and the lady opens and closes the closet door acting as if she was doing something and of course they had both come in to get money it was really sickening. The day was exceptionally hot…easily 125 degrees and the electricity was coming 1 hour and cutting off for 5-6, the airconditioners only worked on electricity and not generator so my poor sick grandma did not really sleep that night (This is where she's supposed to be recuperating!!!). Her and Aunt W spent the night sweating. The next day I went to pick her up about 11 am to take her home and then another bunch of people showed up wanting money, especially some bandage guy whom W had already given 5000.
Our way home was pretty uneventful except that the Army has setup a checkpoint right in front of Mamy’s (grandmother's) house so we have to get their permission to park (in front of the house) and let her out! They throw garbage at the door, they take bribes in the form of gasoline and diesel from drivers then force my uncle to store it for them (in grandmother's house). They knock on the door even at 11:30 at night asking for cold water and tea then they throw their trash right in front of the door.
Anyway, she seems to be feeling better and we are now waiting for the results of the biopsy.
I am still awake because we just got done fixing the generator at 1:15 am. It was not working because they had bought a barrel of diesel that was mixed with water (cheated) so we pumped out the old diesel from the generator and we pumped in the new diesel that cost us 900,000 ($600- up from $400 in early June) for 1000 liters. Now the airconditioners are working again. It is important (that we got this done) because they are not working on regular electricity with only one phase coming and it is very weak.