Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gas, Kerosene and Diesal

My husband and I (with our baby) took a walk to his aunt's house today. The walk took us past the gas station in our area (there's one gas station in each district, only). And as has been the case for the past year or so, a long line of cars extended past the gas station, a few kilometers down. Anyone needing to fill their tank has to wait about five hours in this line. Frustrating.

The same situation is true for kerosene (heaters), cooking gas and diesal (certain cars and electric generators). These things are sold on the street (many times illegally), but for up to seven times the price of the gas station. So for the average Iraqi, spending their weekends in a line leading up to the gas station has become a frustrating reality of life, compounding the many problems already faced here.

I didn't take a clear shot of the line of cars, but this is just a sampling of the cars waiting to fuel up, with my husband and daughter walking along. If you look carefully in the background, you'll see a long line of cars extending to the end of this long street, and beyond. (I can't easily take pics in public here- singles you out as a foreigner (which can be dangerous) and as one who has money enough to own a camera).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Al Mahdi Army

A couple of nights ago our neighbor, Dr. A, sent his son over to tell my husband to keep his mobile phone next to him while he slept. There had been a car bombing in Sadr city that day, a predominately Shiite poor neighborhood that day, with many dead. Dr. Ammar told my husband that there was news that the Al Mahdi Army (a militia led by the Shiite imam Muqtada Al Sadr) had started moving from Sadr City to mostly Sunni neighborhoods (including ours). Dr. Ammar was afraid that they might come after him as an active leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni party), and he wanted to keep communication open between us in case of an emergency.

Thankfully, nothing happened that night to us, but Dr. Ammar had plenty of reason to worry. In the days following the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, many Sunni mosques were attacked and many Sunni leaders and citizens were kidnapped and assassinated. In many cases, the culprits were described as hooded men dressed in black-as the Mahdi Army is known to dress.

These militias are one of the many problems plaguing a chaotic society in post-Saddam Iraq. I was watching Muqtada Al Sadr in an interview on an Arabic news channel, where they asked him about dismantling Al Mahdi army. His reply was that this is a religious duty, and no one had the right to dismantle this army, and the highest Shiite authority in Iraq (Sistani) told him not to dismantle it. What kind of a country is going to survive with such a mentality and such lawlessness?

I'm going to post another blog about the extent of lawlessness here. The problem with these brigades are that they are one of the main reasons behind the ethnic violence here, behind the sectarian kidnappings and assassinations, behind the fear plaguing this society. I'll post in a few days about some kidnappings of our near relatives- a direct and indirect result of these militias rule.

UPDATE: I found a good online article that details this problem nicely, much better than I could ever say it: The article is from the March 2006 archives: "Neither a Good War Nor a Badr Peace."

Monday, March 13, 2006


Above is a picture we took of my daughter in the dark (a few months ago), when the electricity was cut off. She opens her eyes really wide, as though she might be able to see better this way. Electricity cutting off is a daily fact of Iraqi life. I don't mean that it cuts off for a few hours a day, but rather that it comes on a few hours a day. This winter, we've been having electricity on a rough schedule of 1 hour every six hours. When it got really good this past week, it would come on 3 hours and cut off for three hours, all day long.

Before Saddam's ousting, Baghdad residents had electricity all day long, except for the 1-2 hours when it was cut off. But, other Iraqi provinces were not so lucky, with less than five hours of electricity a day. So supposedly, the new government has managed to more evenly distribute electricity across the country. Unfortunately, today, everyone is getting less than five hours of electricity a day, Baghdadis and non-Baghdadis. And since I arrived in Baghdad more than two years ago, the situation has not improved one bit.

On a personal level, you can't really understand what its like to actually live without this basic service until you experience life here. Once, when I couldn't watch TV, or go on the Internet, or wash my laundry, I decided to go iron some clothes that needed ironing. It wasn't until I went up to my ironing table and held the iron in my hands that it clicked in my mind that I couldn't do this either. It just happens that you don't fully realize the situation until you live it.

And then there's the extreme weather here that can only be combatted with full-blown air-conditioners in the summer time, and numerous space heaters in the winter. I usually escape the crazy summers here by travelling to my family in the States. But the one summer that I spent here until the 10th of June, before we had a generator to ease the situation, killed me. It gets crazy hot here in the summers (reaching temps above 140 degrees F in July/Aug), to the point that you really can't do anything without electricity, least of all sleep. You can't cook, you can't read, you can't concentrate, and you can't rest till the electricity comes back on. Even showers aren't that pleasurable because the water pipes heat up from the sun.

Winter isn't much better, especially with a baby, as I have experienced this past winter. You have to remember that water heaters are electric here, and there is no central heating (winters are pretty cold). So most of the time, my poor baby was bundled up in alot of layers (not something that a moving baby likes) and given baths only once a week. And when I bathed her, I had to wait for a combination of things; she was awake, had not been fed less than half an hour ago, electricity had been on for a bit so I could warm up the room and the bathroom with space heaters. One time when I thought I had everything in place, I ran into the bathroom to turn on the water, but it came out lukewarm. I waited for it to get hotter, but it didn't. The water heater had not been on long enough. So, baby Sumayya couldn't get her bath that day. Yup, it was frustrating.

But this is not a full picture of what the situation is like. Most Iraqis have electric generators, or share an electric generator with neighbors for such times. But since it's expensive, most only have about 5 amperes of electricity to use. That's about enough to light 3-4 neon bulbs, a fan, TV and perhaps the fridge. No heater, a/c, water boiler, iron, blow-dryer, washing machine, etc. In the summers, this means that you can't keep perishables in the fridge, or turn on the a/c, and in the winters, no hot water and people usually depend on kerosene heaters (stinky fumes, not very healthy). And to make matter more difficult, the price of diesel (to run the generators) fluctuates like crazy, at the moment having reached quadruple its normal price. So mostly, people save their generator use for night-time, when they need light.
This is the reality of life for most Iraqis. I'm lucky that we have the ability to co-own a middle-sized generator. This means that when we have our generator on, we can turn on 2-3 space heaters or unit a/c's. We can also turn off one heating/cooling unit and turn on the water boiler or the washing machine. But most of the time, we only turn it on after the sun has set, when we need light. As is the case now, I'm sitting without any electricity and typing away on our laptop, keeping my eyes on the amount of battery I have left. I'm still okay, at 75%, but I can't post this blog until the electricity comes back on in five hours.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I moved to Baghdad two years ago with my husband because of his work. I was born in the US, and both he and I were raised there. Life here is a lot different than it is in America, and for that matter, than it is in alot of Arab countries. In fact, its a lot different now than it was before Saddam was deposed (S [husband] and I came for a visit two years before Saddam was removed from power).
I've been recording some of my thoughts on life here, during the past two years (I lost some of those thoughts when our computer crashed last year). In this blogspot, I'll be posting some of those past thoughts, new thoughts that occur to me, and updates on the situation here.