Thursday, 21 July 2011

From the rooftops


We had two roofs, the high roof at the very summit housed the water tank and little else.

We discovered this delightful height and the water tank for the first time in 1991 when we first lost running water. The water returned but the flow was too weak to pump up to the roof (and we had not yet acquired the electric water pumps of later years) and so all night we formed a human chain of bucket bearers, the buckets filled from the tap in the garden, taken through the house up the three flights of stairs and emptied into the water tank on the roof. Thereby storing some water, and allowing the function of the household toilet cisterns.

But the main source of my memories of the roof relate to the lower roof. Above the living room, kitchen and conservatory. It was an L shaped expanse of flat surface, surrounded by a shoulder high wall, except the front ledge which was bordered by the wrought metal swirling designs.

The roof was always dusty, no matter how often we swept we could guarantee vast amounts of the light yellow gray sand would need to be disposed off.

To prevent leaks in the winter rain the roof was covered with some sealant called sherbet (nothing to do with fruit juice) I remember drums of noxious smelling stuff being involved.

The roof was were we took the carpets out to clean when winter came to an end, to brush, vacuum, wash with the dilute vinegar, and then sprinkle with powdered naphthalene moth repellent before rolling them up into outsized sausages to be stored away for the summer months.

The roof was were I sat on the ledge watching the neighbors. Watching the boy from the big house at the top of the road play football. Watching the women chase their fussy children with plates of food, and where I suddenly realized just how many cats our lonely neighbor really had.

But it worked both ways. Our roof was also where given away by his footmarks in the sand the local peeping Tom was caught. I guess with a roof slightly lower than the neighbors and teenage girls (who sat on the ledge watching the boys) it was not surprising we were the targets, but there was much scurrying around and loud heavy handed male visitations to the neighboring house that day.

But clearly the most important thing that ever happened on the roof was the summer night sleep.

Sleeping on the roof is an Iraqi custom difficult to explain to others.

One summer while on holidays we had to go via the operator in the UK to get through to our home number.

“The phone is ringing but there is no reply” he said, “give them a little longer” my mother responded “they may not be able to hear, it is nighttime, they are probably up on the roof” “doing what?” asked the operator “sleeping”, she replied and then started laughing at the mental image the English operator must have had of people trying to sleep while hanging off a ridged slope!

Sleeping on the roof involved a ritual; making the metal beds, taking out the lighter mattresses, the cool sheets, and connecting the mosquito nets.

Leaving the light by the door switched on, watching the moths hover around the light and then fly straight at it making that soft thudding noise.

Being careful to avoid the grey green lizards (one of these silent creatures had once fallen from behind a curtain straight onto my head and left me with a lifelong phobia).

Watching the lizards fixed to the walls by their suckered feet, moving slowly and then stopping still in their tracks at any sound, and being a little upset when they darted rapidly in the direction of the evening meal that was obliviously strolling along the wall.

Gazing up into the sky, so very black, with what appeared to be millions of stars, and the wise moon smiling down from above.

Reading under the sheets with the torchlight, chatting for way too long, until parents realized we were not asleep and came to tell us off.

And then the night coming to an increasingly hot ending with the rising sun, the morning visit from the flies, disturbing the dreams.

Getting up without really waking up, huddling together the pillow and cover and coming into the rooms below where it may still be cool enough to complete the night’s rest.
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
Hello 3eeraqi Medic,
Very nice post..
Lizards terrify me beyond belief..i can understand yr phobia..
I love the memories u mentioned..very nostalgic .. it was in another life ..
11 July 2007 07:11
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
oh, i forgot to say : the photo is quite impressive.. where ever did u get it ??
it says So much..
11 July 2007 07:14
3eeraqimedic said...
Yes the father of brace! what an odd name I hate them all, it is a girl thing say my brother and husband!
I am glad you liked it the photo is of our roof, the panda and teddy mine, and before I got going with photoshop a little 3eeraqimedic was sitting there rubbing her eyes as well!
11 July 2007 18:33
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
sweeet reply.. little 3eeraqi Medic..
i was wondering why would anyone take a foto of an empty bed + shade of the Antenna ..
i salute yr abilities in Photoshop, i know a little myself..but u r good..
12 July 2007 09:11
M.H.Z said...
they are probably up on the roof” “doing what?” asked the operator “sleeping”

I really love this post, It says so much, it talks about days that feel so far from now, I laughed pretty well on what brought you the phobia :D, many of us has gone through this, the long chit-chats going so late at night were the best, I loved your picture too.

16 July 2007 11:32
3eeraqimedic said...
Welcome to my memories, I am glad you liked it.
I am working my way through some old photos, and rather than just post them I try to convey the memories they hold.
I loved the late chats as well, (although I now tell my two off for not getting to bed on time!)
17 July 2007 19:28
Iraqi Jew said...
Your article about sleeping on the roof in Baghdad brought back memories. Difficult to describe to someone who did not live in Baghdad.I remember there were two shady spots on our roof and we would constantly be fighting over who slept there - as that meant we did not have to wake up and go downstairs as soon as the sun rose.I also remember the water kept in a Tinga?(clay jar) that we kept on the ledge. It was delicious.
19 July 2007 12:49
3eeraqimedic said...
Iraqi Jew
I have only recently realised how this description of sleeping on the roof has categorised me as being of a certain age!! and being Baghdadi.
I had forgotten the shaddy parts, and I am afraid the Tunga dates you further!, I slept on the roof after they had become "old fashioned" and before they made a return to active service!
19 July 2007 18:26
Iraqi Jew said...
Oops. I inadvertently revealed my age. Yep. Sixty years old this year. Most probably twice your age.
21 July 2007 03:23
3eeraqimedic said...
Iraqi Jew
Well happy birthday, and much as I like the idea, your assessment of my age is one decade off the mark.
21 July 2007 18:22

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