Thursday, 4 August 2011

Women on a Journey between Baghdad and London


So I go to, or know someone who goes to an Iraqi event. I buy or borrow the book written by an Iraqi offered for sale at the event, and a little while after I have written about the event I write about the book.

On this occasion the book is a novel with five characters, I will try and not spoil it for anyone wishing to read it themselves, but suffice to say it is about Iraqi women in exile and the outcome is not rosy for all.

The five women meet in London, and with time on their hands decide to get together regularly in a café to chat and reminisce, the women are:

Adiba a communist tortured in prison in Iraq in the 1970s, she is alone in London, and has spent the past twenty-five years looking for her husband. He has been missing since they were both escorted off the university campus one ordinary day in Baghdad. She walks with a limp, and has undergone several operations and psychotherapy to help her cope with the after effects of her experiences.

Um Mohammed, is a brilliant cook, a genuine believer and devout Muslim, a kindly soul with a good word to say about everyone she meets, a Kurdish refugee who arrives in London with her son after the “Arabs burnt their homes”, her son finds a new life in London, and she is left to her own devices.

Iqbal is a divorcee, who is also a bit of a communist, she is juggling a hectic life bringing up a child whose classmates are up to no good behind the school sheds, working long hours for modest pay with Arab colleagues, as well as keeping a secret English lover.

Sahira, is another communist, a mother of three grown up children, with a husband twenty year her senior, himself an ex-communist who has lost interest in everything and everyone including his once beautiful wife.

And finally Majda, the mad, bitter and confused widow of an executed Baathist minister. A Baathist herself, whose family once offered a safe house to a young Saddam Hussein on the run.

As a woman who has spent a quarter of a century in exile in London Haifa’s description of London as seen through the eyes of us Iraqis, arriving here penniless and alone are painfully true, I recognised with several smiles and many more tears so many of the situations and circumstances. In fact I recognised myself, or someone close to me in each and every one of her five characters at some point or other.

When Adiba shops for dates she “searched the small print on the box to find out where the dates come from. She did not want to commit the mistake she’d made once before and buy produce from Israel.”
When her psychiatrist asks Adiba if she talks to her friends and family about Iraq Adiba answers “do we talk about anything else?”

When it is suggested to Um Mohammed that she need not take her large bag with her everywhere she replies, “Who knows when we we’ll need our papers? we always needed our documents or photographs or identity card in the past… can I leave the house without my nationality papers?”

When Sahira shows her daughter her Oxfam finds pleased that they are “ beautiful, cheap and have a designer label”, the daughter is shocked that her mother is buying “other people’s rags and rubbish”

In her introduction Haifaa says of her characters
“They live in London, stepping carefully in the streets of a new country, full of apprehension and a sense of longing for their families and country……..They feel lonely in this strange place, and new culture, whose only advantage for them is that it provides a sense of security-a feeling that proves to be false………Most of the time they live in the past, unable to enjoy the present, and not daring to think of the future.

Without giving away too much, life treats the women, as the author would like people of their background to be treated, with the exception perhaps of my favourite of the characters, whose final fate is what all women, or indeed men living in western cities fear may be our own fate every time we pick up a newspaper or listen to the headlines of the local news.

I recognised small elements of people within each of the characters, and maybe that was part of the problem I had with them and with this book, the features were just spread out a little thin between them, as though there was just enough material for two or maybe three three dimensional heroines, but the author had tried to make five people out of them, with the result that the original three women with whom she clearly identified more were portrayed in more detail i.e the Kurdish Um Muhammed, the torture survivor Adiba, and the Communist Sahira, and what little was left was sprinkled over Iqbal a young women with only a whiff of Iraqiness, and Majda the tyrant of the story, and the keeper of all that is evil in being Iraqi.

But the most disappointing feature of the book is how dated it seemed to me, although only published in 2007, it was filled with communists, and with so many more recent waves of Iraqi women in London, I expected a version of this tale to have included maybe the wife of a disillusioned latter day Baathist who gets into trouble driving her massive car in London, who befriends the overworked (organising recitals and wakes) wife of an absent grand Ayatullah, ah well maybe next time?.

saminkie said...
Iraqies everywhere got so much to say...they got to talk....write and draw...they got to express themselves...they got to drain their psychic abscesses that collected in their memories....
I liked the picture of the is is real...superreal...sureal...i hope someday i can be that professional in taking pictures....thank you 3eeraqimedic for let us know about the book...
03 December 2007 14:45

3eeraqimedic said...
"drain their psychic abscesses"
For those lucky enough to have "survived" and then the luxury of being "settled" this sums us all up I think.
I will be honest with you now I am a little intimidated by psychiatrists, I always wonder if I am being analysed!
take care
03 December 2007 22:17

saminkie said...
dear 3eeraqimedic, reagarding the term (psychic abscess) it is an old Freudian term still somtimes used now and then, I cannot give you a prefessional definition now but like the term implies it means all those repressed feelings that may hurt us in someway so that we got to (drain) them by talking, writing, any form of expression...
And belive me 3eeraqmimedic, some young psychiatrist may abuse others by their silly (overvalued) terms in an attemt to analyse (psychoanalyse ) them or to let them feel the power the psychiatrist got....
I don't try never ever to analyse somebody ..and even if I uncontiously do..I do not let him/her know anything...cause that can hurt....
Look regarding me, am a silly person who want to play Jigsaw again with my sister which I miss....I likke your post too much..and not trying to analyse just talking....i need some friends cause I feel lonely and the blog provided me with some cultured nice freinds like you...and I will never ever analyse you..I will just talk with you...and you know what? psychoanalysis is a subspeciality from
Bythe way when i write comments or posts in my blog I never go back to change words...this is my way of trying to be more true and you 3eeraqimedic for your nice posts and comments and be sure that psychiatrist who want to let us feel that they analyse them by gicing some remarks and comments are just showing and are abusing their profession....psychoanalysis is not a toy in the hands of children...take care and byebye...and keep writing such nice posts...
04 December 2007 14:43

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