Spring 2010 | ArteZine

Baghdad Offline


I probably made the right decision to rescue my family from the infernal sectarianism and hate that prevail in our society. I heard that the house where my family and I used to live was burned by the militias a few months after leaving the country. I heard many stories from my neighborhood; frightening stories.

My friend Emad,

Let me remind you of our rendezvous under the eucalyptus tree at Abu-Nowas Street at five in the afternoon. Don’t forget that I already asked the fisherman to prepare the fish and to buy some ice to cool the bottles of beer. Don’t let the beer get warm and don’t let the cats eat the fish. I’m waiting for you.

       – Ziad

Emad didn’t show up. None of the friends showed up, and neither did I. The ice melted over the bottles of beer and its water got hot, and the fish found its way into the guts of the cats. I can’t stand the procedure of the residency application in Sweden anymore. I miss my sons and wife; I’m almost throttled. The situation in Baghdad is very bad and my wife is not going to work anymore because the roads are too dangerous, so they stopped paying her. Ziad, my children are growing up while I’m away from them. Tell me, what shall I do?

– Basim Hajar

My friend, prepare yourself to be indulged into the second spiritual experience. I will send you the script of the film and you’ll like it, and don’t worry because the shooting won’t be in Baghdad. We’ll be able to shoot Baghdad’s scenes out of it. I don’t want to risk the lives of the crew. By the way, I sent you a picture of a sculpture I made. You can find it in the attachment.

 Oday Rasheed


I read the script and I like it a lot, and I saw your sculpture and I thought it’s a reflection of a disturbed desire to run away to the arms of the mother. Do you agree with me?   

– Ziad

Congratulations Ziad! Our series “Hometown Baghdad” won 3 Webby Awards.

– Fady (over the phone)

What a great feeling that our series wins international awards!  Congratulations to you Fady and to all the friends who participated in it, and congratulate the colleagues at Chat the Planet.

   – Ziad

My friend Nezar,

I don’t think that we can do the successful experience of holding the short film festival again in Iraq, because I think the coming days will be horrible and there is no chance for any cultural or cinematic activity in the midst of this bloody noise. I’m leaving the country soon and I’m preparing for this.

 – Ziad

Yes, if the quality of the festival is not better than the first one then there is no reason for risking anything. I dislike not being able to take things seriously. So we won’t find you again in the Baghdad neighborhood of Bataween?

 – Nezar

Hello, Ziad? Basim Hamed, the sculptor, died in a car accident. Tell the friends.

  – Barie (over the phone)

Basim returned to Baghdad from Syria five days ago. He was in a hurry to return to Baghdad as he was in a hurry to his final departure. I will leave Sweden and go back to Baghdad. I heard it’s gotten better and I can’t stand missing my daughter and wife any longer. They made the procedures to return. I will call you soon from Baghdad.

– Samer

The situation is better now.

– Samer – (from Baghdad)

The situation is dangerous and disgusting. I will try to come to Syria.

  – Samer – (a week later)

We are like this now: tottering voices in the void and there is no land to gather them. Baghdad is not and will not go back to how it was. The problem is not with Baghdad, not with an irresponsible invasion, not with insolent militias; the problem is with generations that lost the way. There is no road that can take me anywhere. All the roads that I know in Baghdad are now lost to others. Children are lost, women are widows, the old are licking bitterness, weakness, exhaustion, and longing for the days of the past when they were stronger. Some friends now walk the backstreets in the heart of our homeland. Others walk between their rooms and immigration offices in the countries of asylum. Only the evil strangers own the main streets in Iraq. I now know it very well. I am proud that I have learned to talk about it and about its people well. I was mostly accurate in explaining its historical happenings, so I like Damascus and I feel it is amiable towards me, but by the end of the day I do not have any source of support under its sky. It also consolidates the idea of being the polite guest: do not talk about politics, be polite, have the kindness of these beautiful people, respect all including the people who make you listen to insults, and try as much as you can not to eat in cheap restaurants. So bear the hunger until the streets of Damascus farewell you as you go home to count another night in your rented house.

I wanted to do my best to get a refuge through the United Nations, so I went with a friend of mine to a big cage in the UNHCR’s yard in the suburbs of Damascus. We were surprised that they locked the gate of the cage, which contained around six hundred men all under the direct sun. All of us were Iraqis and most of us were Yazidis. I squatted like the rest waiting for administrative orders to deal with the big group of people locked in this BRC cage. To distract myself from the feeling of detention I started talking to other Iraqis with big mustaches. “What is bothering you in your areas in the north?”, I asked and they said, “We are threatened of extinction by the Kurdish militias. We even think that the Al-Qaida people would be more merciful than the Peshmerga.”

Me, my friend and those poor people waited for about three hours under the spring sun. I noticed the presence of a few cameras from TV channels and the guards were trying their best to keep them away from the cage because that would reflect badly on the image of the UN.

I remembered the following: the genocides, the military prison in the army, and the war prison cages; a feeling of humiliation that most Iraqis experienced. Here I am again helpless and imprisoned like the rest of my weak brothers and sisters. And what made bad things worse is my claustrophobia. I cannot stand imprisonment or elevators because as long as I do not get to hold the handle of the door I feel furious.

Finally, I received a far date for an appointment, and so I started counting the days and the months to get the chance to find a sky that can give me some peace and to relieve me of the weight I am carrying. Because however hard I try, I will never succeed to help my four children if we stay in Damascus, my children whom my wife delivered in very hard times and where we used to count how many pieces of bread we had left till the end of the week.

I waited for six months until I got the registration appointment. Then forty days later an employee called me to tell me that in case I do not object to applying for citizenship in the United States, I have to go with my family to be interviewed by another employee who would direct my file to the States. When I was younger, I used to have the innocent dream of studying cinema in the US. So I have to accept to go to this appointment to “win” a life in the States, a nice thought. But then this thought somehow died inside me. Some people do not know the difference between the arrogant American soldier in Iraq and the free American citizen who likes to help. I do know the difference and I think I would accept to live in the US to achieve two things: to secure the studies of my children, and to get a passport that enables me to enter any country. This would be better than my Iraqi passport that I barely use even inside Iraq. However, the problem are the letters, the names of the Iraqi passport; the problem is and will always be my suspicious original nationality.

We finished the boring three-hour refugee interview with redundant questions and answers. Someone told me before that by repeating the answers they are more likely to believe that we are honest about the information. Do I have to repeat what I am saying to seem honest? Was that what Umm-Kulthum, the famous Egyptian singer, used to do all the time?

Now I am sick of the repeated singing, of the waiting for a feminine voice with a Syrian dialect – which I like – asking me on the phone if I am Ziad and if my family’s names are xyz. “Yes!” I say and then she tells me that I have an appointment the following day at seven in the morning and that I should bring all my documents.  By the way, I am still waiting for the last part of the repeated verse. I am not enthusiastic about going on with the repetition anymore, and no to an impossible return.



This text first appeared in Navigating the Space Between Home and Exile: a publication by offline:media listing Karim Fael and Sheryl Mendez as editors.


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