TUESDAY, 8 APRIL 2008
Sixteen years is a long time, many things happen, many things change, waistlines stretch, hairlines recede, and there is grey everywhere.
But it was nice to see some things remain the same.
For the past three days we have been touring London, visiting all the places we have not seen for fifteen years, acting as guides for friends from college days visiting from Qatar.
Hours of reminiscing, chatting and laughing, smiling at the innocence of times long ago, laughing at the antics of youth, and admiring each other’s children.
In memories even times of unpleasantness are reduced to treasured moments of reckless abandon, months at a military training camp dissolve leaving behind only the hours of freedom that followed an elaborate escape through a trench under the barbed wire, and a hike in a vegetable truck to the nearby city to eat, drink and spend a decent night’s sleep in a room in a tiny hotel before being accompanied back to camp.
The day hours seem too short for all the memories, and as the evening draws in and we sit around a table in the basement of the Iraqi restaurant eating lentil soup, Iraqi Kababs, Qeema and Bamia while Nathim El-Ghazaly sings in the background we start the painful process of naming the dead.
It has become part of our ritual now, a solemn almost religious ceremony that must be observed, at the end of each gathering of friends from childhood or youth, an increasingly lengthy list of names, the stories are personal, we have learnt to dwell on the personality, the quirks, the best aspect, and gloss over the final event, we concentrate on their lives and achievements and not the grisly ways they met their end.
We start as is the norm with the older generation, those who trained us, the nationally renown neurologist and his exceptional lectures, the best orthopaedic surgeon, the young rheumatologist, and the list continues, we then move on to our fellow trainees maybe one or two years our senior, the surgeon, the physician, the radiologist, and finally on to our closer friends, friends from university, friends from school, friends from the neighbourhood. This is where it falters a little, our farewells are said to those whose fate we already know, the names of others we have lost contact with are whispered softly, fearfully, hoping for the reassurance of safety in Yemen, in Libya, or maybe even in Dubai, but usually it is from the continued collective ignorance that we derive a little hope.
We conclude our evening with a brief visit to their family on the outskirts of London, a family of the 1970s generation of émigrés, whose grown up children cannot speak Arabic, and whose grandchildren will not understand it.
As we compare notes, and find out who was whose neighbour in Baghdad, and who is living where and how they are finding it, there is a bitter sweet familiarity, all our stories are so similar, so many families have members of several generations living outside Iraq, some left in the 70s, others in the 80s, our generation left in the 90s and many left more recently.
Several of them are dotted around the Arab world, in Jordan, Syria, the UAE, and Egypt; on route they have passed though Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Libya.
What unites them all is that none of these countries have accepted them on a permanent basis, and so they live, work, bring up children while all the time planning, applying, saving, negotiating and waiting for somewhere else, Canada is the dream, Australia a close second choice.
The ultimate we all want for our children is “not to live what we lived through”, what we all want to leave them is security, not simply the absence of war, conscription, visits in the night, accidental bullets, or general mayhem, but the security of belonging beyond the exact duration of the job contract, the belonging that come with the right to settle, to live to have roots.
For cousins, thirty years after arriving in the UAE, the paperwork finally completed, and Canada beckons, thirty years of work, thirty years of investment; in time, effort energy and thought, time to retire, time for the children to start their lives, and time to move on for the last time.
For others, ten years after arriving in Amman, the papers finally arrive, the plane is booked, after ten years of work, ten years of investments in ten generations of graduates, and an additional five years of unpaid work, time to move on, time to settle elsewhere.
When exhausted and disillusioned we eventually find alternative “homes”, our children cannot understand why we try to keep something of Iraq alive in them, we try to convey the sense of the place, but they are accosted continuously by alternative imagery, we try to pass on the language, but they have picked up that we are not embraced by those who share the tongue, and we so fear they will be disadvantaged that we reward them most for their English, and finally we pass on the religion, perhaps the most vital link for some of us to pass on.
I wonder how much of this, for how many of them, will be worth passing on to the third generation.
POSTED BY 3EERAQIMEDIC AT 23:02 2 COMMENTS
ldear 3eeraqimedic, since your post 1991, and you are really writing a posts that are really great. Did you ever thought of publishing them in a book? cause they really disearve to.
09 April 2008 14:42
thanks for visiting, and thanks for your kind words.
In a way we are all publishing much more than books.
Take care of yourself and stay safe
10 April 2008 06:56