Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I know it has been a long time since I last posted. I'm torn about returning to Iraq...I want to, but I'm not sure when. In the meantime I will be screening an excerpt from the doucmentary and other short videos from Iraq.

So come out on November 20, 2004 to the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago for a special show I created called: VIDEO BABYLON

Here is the description that Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming of the Film Center, wrote:

2002-04, Usama Alshaibi and various directors, USA/Iraq, 52 min.
Chicago filmmaker Usama Alshaibi presents a provocative inside look at street-level media in Iraq, including calculatingly entertaining Ba'athist propaganda pieces, and music videos with titles like THE SADDAM RAP, which often take the form of cheap, widely-disseminated and unregulated VCDs (video compact disks). Alshaibi screens and discusses BOMBSHELL: IRAQI SECRET VIDEOS AND ARTIFACTS FROM A FALLEN REGIME (16 min.), his edited compilation of VCD clips, and his own new films shot in Iraq earlier this year. Films by Alshaibi include: THE MESSAGE (6 min.), and an excerpt from NICE BOMBS (12 min). The program also includes: YA KHALA (7 min.) by Fa'iz Agob; THE SADDAM RAP (6 min.) by Joe Guitar; and BA'ATH MUSIC VIDEO, 5 min. In various video formats.

Director Usama Alshaibi will be present for audience discussion.

Saturday, November 20, 7:00 pm

Gene Siskel Film Center
164 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60601

Film Center website: http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org


I still want to bring my cousin TW down to the good ol' USA!

Hey look Salam Pax is around and he may be coming down to USA. He has been producing some great videos ----

This is my first year voting. Do you know who I want vote for? To tell you the truth, bot canidates piss me off.
Here is a nice summary of our trip to Iraq by http://www.ausgang.com

Saturday, August 21, 2004

I received this in the mail today- if you have any information please contact them:

Dear Iraqui blogger,
we are italian bloggers worried about the fate of the missing Italian
journalist Enzo Baldoni. Enzo wento to Najaf with a humanitarian convoj of
the Italian Red Cross carrying water and medicinals for the Najaf’s
population. His family and his frends wanted help to know if Enzo is alive
or kidnapped. Do you have the possibility to help us?? Do you have contact
with bloggers in Najaf or Kufa? Please ask them for news. We are grateful
and we pray God for you all.
Please send possible informations to email Caruso_153@hotmail.com or

Thursday, July 29, 2004

email from my cousin in Baghdad, tw

hi usama

congratulations for samers wedding .. give him my regards

two days ago we were dining in the garden of the hunting club

about 10 pm with my wife and kids with some friends.

we heard the sound of a nice explosion..not near about 2km or 3

but you know we were in the garden and it sounded very clear and 3d stereo.

after that we heard hysterical shots .. and i knew the sound of the US soldiers gun after any explosion.

i dont know if the shot was very thing near because the they are hezitated or its there orders to behave like that and take somthing like revenge.

any way .. i was watching near by table in the club a man my age with family and friends.. after 1 second of stoping fire the man just rested his head on his chest and still sitting the same way ... with blood going out of his head .. he got shot with a lost bullet in the head

and you wont imagine the horror that people and kids and my wife have been through..

all the night the children were frightened because they saw a dead man near by .. and it could be any one else

they felt unsafe and unjustice.

but i still prefer voting to bush

it wasnt a nice bomb


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

okay here is my 'trailer' from my Iraqi documentary.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Long Live Iraq?

from my cousin:
Congratulation's for our Iraq independence day   
I'm feeling optimistic our this first step
for political & social & economical in dependency
... you should be optimistic too
we have hopes for voting
we have chance to be really free

one day ago...

Iraq's US-led administration this morning transferred sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government in a surprise move that came two days ahead of the scheduled June 30 handover date.

The transfer of power took place in a ceremony in Baghdad's heavily guarded green zone, where Paul Bremer, the outgoing US governor, signed over control of the country - and its escalating security troubles - to the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

"This is a historic day. We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation," Mr Allawi said after the ceremony, which was followed a few hours later by the swearing in of members of the new government.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

my memorial weekend terror story

I forgot to tell this story, about memorial day weekend, yes I must relay. I'm walking in downtown chicago and the weather is a mixture of dark clouds and blue skies competing for the spotlight. I have my digi-video cam and I'm shooting tall buildings and the dance of trains, cars and people. I walk towards the federal court building and pull out my camera and start shooting. I'm not specifically aiming for the federal building but I was conscious of the fact that I wanted to get that building on video-tape for a project I had in mind. Then I hear: HEY YOU! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

I look back and there are two security guards wearing black with guns and walkie-talkies. YES, DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG? They kept telling me that I could not video-tape the building and I kept asking why? COME OVER HERE! They were very threatening and gestured with their fingers pointing at me. They stood around me so I would not escape? Who knows.

One big guy looked like he wanted to punch me out. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was a filmmaker and I'm just shooting some scenes for an upcoming movie. I told him that since it was memorial day I wanted to get some shots of federal buildings and the various American flags around them. He was not impressed. He asked me where I was from. Now I know I could of have said many things but I was curious to see where this was going to go: I'M FROM BAGHDAD, I said. The big guy looked like he wanted to hurt me and gave me a confused look, ARE YOU TRYING TO BE FUNNY? he said. No I'm not trying to be funny, that's where I'm from. Now he was getting all worked up and demanded to see my I.D and wanted me to give him the video-tape. I refused to give him my tape.
I asked for his I.D and he would not show it to me...I knew he was just a security guy with a gun and a pea brain (or penis). He took my I.D and called somebody on his walkie-talkie. His partner just stood there staring at me. You should have seen his expression when he saw my name. I was getting fed up, DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG? I asked. He kept giving me this dumb look like I was fool. I kept asking him for my I.D back and he told me that if I did not cooperate he was going to handcuff me! We argued like this, back and forth. I kept asking him what I did wrong.

Finally two Chicago police officers showed up, asked what the problem was, I explained, the big dumb guy stood near by. They checked my I.D again but this time asked for my social security number and were doing some check on me. Lots of walkie-talkies and some people were watching this whole event. I remember at one point an Indian looking attorney glanced at us and I gestured for him to come near. I asked if he could help me and he just sort of shook his head and hurried away.

So I'm standing holding my video camera surrounded by two police officers and two security dudes. The cop asked to see what I shot. I showed it to him. He seemed satisfied and I guess my name was not on the Al-Qaeda greatest hits list. The cops were actually really mello and cool. They let me keep my tape and I was free to go. I gave the big security guy a sly smile and walked away. Fucker.
Across the street there was a protest/memorial for the 10,000+ Iraqis and 700+ Americans that have been killed since the war. There were these fake make-shift coffins and they were reading each name of the dead on a PA system. I kept on shooting.

Friday, June 04, 2004

an email from my cousin in Baghdad, today he wrote me:

hi usama

i'm sorry for waiting for a reply for so long

in 3/5/2004 i was at work in the company and a car boom exploded at the street very near by .

so i got hit with a nice boom at last.

i had 10 minor wounds in my chest , belly , arms and they are healing now

all the wounds came from windows glass

i came back in a hurry just to picture my self with the all over blooded shirt

to show it to you

but i could'nt find my camera . the blood on my eyes confused me

the shirt is clean now



Thursday, June 03, 2004

Welcome to the USA

Feds STILL unable to distinguish art from bioterrorism
Grand jury to convene June 15

Three artists have been served subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury that will consider bioterrorism charges against a university professor whose art involves the use of simple biology equipment.

Early morning of May 11, Steve Kurtz awoke to find his wife, Hope, dead of a cardiac arrest. Kurtz called 911. The police arrived and, after stumbling across test tubes and petri dishes Kurtz was using in a current artwork, called in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Soon agents from the Task Force and FBI detained Kurtz, cordoned off the entire block around his house, and later impounded Kurtz's computers, manuscripts, books, equipment, and even his wife's body for further analysis. The Buffalo Health Department condemned the house as a health risk.

Only after the Commissioner of Public Health for New York State had tested samples from the home and announced there was no public safety threat was Kurtz able to return home and recover his wife's body. Yet the FBI would not release the impounded materials, which included artwork for an upcoming exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

While most observers assumed the Task Force would realize that its initial investigation of Steve Kurtz was a terrible mistake, the subpoenas indicate that the feds have instead chosen to press their "case" against Kurtz and possibly others.

The subpoenas are the latest installment in a bizarre investigation in which members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force have mistaken an art project for a biological weapons laboratory. While most observers have assumed that the Task Force would realize the absurd error of its initial investigation of Steve Kurtz, the subpoenas indicate that the feds have instead chosen to press their "case" against the baffled professor.

read more about this case

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

wow I just heard on the radio that 52% of Americans think that Saddam is linked to the attacks on 9/11.

For the record I will repeat this: SADDAM HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH 9-11! We invaded Iraq under FALSE pretenses and the uneducated and naive public bought it, swallowed it and now we have to pay for it and eat our own shit.

Yes I'm glad they got rid of Saddam and when I asked Iraqis, what about the Weapons of Mass Destruction? And some would tell me that Saddam was the WMD. hmm...

In fact Iraq now is more of a threat to the world and the USA as a direct result of the US occupation. I believe the next attack on the USA will not come from AlQa'ida or any organization but will be an individual operating on their own. You will never win the war on terror Mr.Bush because we are against you, not with you, therefore we are the terrorists.

Let us hope for the best for Iraqis.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

from my cousin tk from Baghdad,

Date: Mon, 10 May 2004 01:48:37 -0700 (PDT)

long long long time usama and no see
even your blogger is getting slower.
and the country is falling down with no reason !

and all the news is talking about is abu graib and US slodiers.
already said that these things happen .
in the middle of the US
in iran
in kuwait....every were
maybe car accedent kill more people every day
the world should not focus on abu graib
it should focus on the business in Iraq that is going down
the burglers are returning and rising
the kidnaping of rich or foriegn people began to be a habit
the life is geting worse and we are thinking of abu graib
we should not focus there
well dam all that
it is a sad letter
how are you ?
tk your friend

My cousin tk wants to come here to Chicago and visit me. I am looking into finding the best legal route for him. Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I watched it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

This Abu Musab al-Zarqawi guy that claims to avenge the torture of Iraqis by beheading the American citizen is a scumbag. I repeat Al-Zarqwai has no claim or right to speak for Iraqis. He is a sham and using this US occupation to declare war on Shia's and anyone cooperating with the US. Whatever you may think of the Abu-Graib pictures do not applaud this fuckhead. He has killed so many Iraqis by his various 'resistence' methods.

here is the article:Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq beheaded an American civilian and vowed more killings in revenge for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, an Islamist Web site said Tuesday.

A poor quality videotape on the site showed a man dressed in orange overalls sitting bound on a white plastic chair in a bare room, then on the floor with five masked men behind him.

"My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael... I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah," said the bound man, adding he was from Philadelphia.

After one of the masked men read out a statement, they pushed Berg to the floor and shouted "God is greatest" above his screams as one of them sawed his head off with a large knife then held it aloft for the camera.

The Web site said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a top ally of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was the man who cut off Berg's head. The statement read out before the killing was signed off with Zarqawi's name and dated May 11.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

When I was in Baghdad and discussing the Coalition, the US government and various members of the Coalition Provisional Authority my Uncle said: they are all looters, all of them...they are all thieves and liars.

yes they are. All of them.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I've been disgusted and freaked out with the recent Abu Ghraib images of prison abuse at the hands of the US. Here in the USA it is getting much publicity and Bush has made some lame statement about how this is not representative of the USA. Yeah sure Mr.Bushie. Anyway this is a micro incident of many atrocities that go on in Iraq at the hands of coalition. But as my cousin has stated in the past, these soldiers, any soldiers are going to behave in this manner during war. Can we compare this to what Saddam did? Well to make the parallel would be sort of ironic considering that this is what the US claims to have ended, all the torture and brutality of Saddam's 35 year regime. Can we ponder this a bit? Any Iraqi can tell you endless stories of what Saddam or his henchmen did. And they got away with acts that are much worse than the Abu Ghraib prison US photos. And why do we need to see photos to be outraged?
Why not be outraged at everything that is going on? 10,000 Iraqis dead since the occupation and rising. I think in a way that some Iraqis will automatically be silent. But please do not be silent dear friend. These sadist need to be punished. A buddy from work who is in the US Airforce told me that those soldiers should be executed for what they did. Well that seems a bit harsh, he said it, not me.

However, following the publication of the photos by the CBS television network one wonders whether U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, were aware of the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

If they were aware of the fact but failed to prevent it, then they should be tried in court according to Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions.

This article enumerates the rights of people whose countries have been invaded and occupied. It states that the occupying forces do not have the right to torture the occupied country’s nationals and if they do, the occupying country’s highest-ranking political official and military commander are to be held responsible for the crimes.

And this from Zmag.org :

"Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

It's not really so much the torture. But the humilation that these photos protray; the female soldier in front of the naked Iraqi prisoners is going to give rise to more anger and hostility toward the US all over the world. Be prepared for more violence.

Go read that full article in Zmag. This has been going on for a while now and our US media that was once a cheerleader for Bushie has recently been a little critical now. Look, Bremer, Sanchez and the rest of those bastards all knew about this. They are only making a fuss since the pictures are out. Anyway, I have no idea who to vote for this coming election. Not Bush, Not Kerry (pro-Israel lover), so what? Nader...ahh Nader.

I wonder what my cousin thinks of all this? I should write him. In other news I showed a short video piece I made called BOMBSHELL: IRAQI SECRET VIDEOS AND ARTIFACTS FROM A FALLEN REGIME. I showed it at few places here in Chicago and it has raised discussion and I was even accussed of accepting money from the Republican Party! haha. These were clips that I bought from Baghdad when I was there.

The documentary is still is in the early phases. I will keep you posted.

Friday, April 02, 2004

the scene in the Sunni area of Fallujah is disgusting and hardly representative of the Iraqi sentiment. these Fallujah folks are the ones that have the deepest sympathies with Saddam and they hate the US with a passion. Anyway http://www.juancole.com/ makes a good point in relating this incident as a reaction to the illegal assassination of paraplegic Sheikh Yassin by US backed Israel.


K says she really doesn't want to return with me back to Iraq.

Maybe I should cancel my site seeing tour in Fallujah?

Monday, March 29, 2004

The documentary is in the infantile stage. I'm just dubbing the tapes and looking at footage. I've applied to one grant asking for more money to help me with post-production and a possible trip to Basrah. Soon my friend...

Friday, March 12, 2004

So I was re-reading a bunch of my older posts, and realizing that I was quite homesick and irritable at times. Part of it was being sick, and part of it was culture shock. I almost erased many of my entries out of embarrassment.

I just want to apologize. And I want to publically acknowledge that for any fault that I may have harped about regarding Iraq, I could find the very same fault, and probably ten worse faults here in America.

- Americans eat WAY too much sugar. The ailses at your corner store are filled with disgusting junk that we consume in mass qualtities, and sugar encrusted breakfast cereals are peddled during every children's cartoon.
- Americans have silly wives' tales - and many do believe that you can get a cold from being in the cold.
- American feminism is a little ignorant - it tends to focus on the most superficial aspects of being female, and forgets about real issues of equality.
- Americans are complacent. Half of us don't even VOTE!
- Americans smoke too much, even though they are aware of both the health risks and their own enslavement to feeding corporate giants a steady flow if their cash.
- Americans are materialistic - happiness is based on how much stuff you can aquire. It's particularly evident among children.
- Americans as a result of being materialistic, shackle themselves to horrible jobs that they hate and have no pride in, but which take up the largest portion of their lives.
- Americans pop pills for every possible ill, physical or mental, but don't maintain their bodies & minds so they don't get sick. Medicine is all about treament and not about prevention.
- Americans as a whole tend to be closed minded, and possess a heard mentality.
- Americans are hopelessly ignorant of other cultures. In fact they tend to be very culturally insensitive.
- Americans watch too much TV and believe it's reality.
- Americans don't read.
- Americans are hypocrits about issues of morals and ethics.

I don't ever want to come off as if I'm not critical of my own culture. As I said before, I am not really a typical American. I'm not even sure what a typical American is, but I do know that masses of Americans fit at least some of the above descriptions.

And this does not mean that I'm not critical of myself, either.

I could eat better, use curse words less, be warmer toward my fellow human beings, be less greedy, less self-centered, less irritable, less superstitious, and... last but not least... much much less critical of everything around me.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

This is horrible. We were there, in Kadhimiya, at the spot where the blast occurred. This is where my Grandmother is buried and Kristie and I spent a day at the holy shrine. Our Family are the gate keepers for the Kadhimiya (spelled Kazimiyain this article) shrine. Now this...from the Gaurdian:

KARBALA, Iraq (AP) - Simultaneous explosions ripped through crowds of worshippers Tuesday at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and the city of Karbala, killing at least 143 people on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar, a U.S. official said. It was the bloodiest day since the end of major fighting.

The attacks, a combination of suicide bombers and planted explosives, came during the Shiite festival of Ashoura and coincided with a shooting attack on Shiite worshippers in Quetta, Pakistan that killed at least 29 people and wounded more than 150.

Tuesday was the climactic day of the 10-day Ashoura festival, which marks the killing of Shiite saint Imam Hussein in a 7th century battle. It is the most important period in the Shiite religious calendar and draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and other Shiite communities.

Three suicide bombers set off their explosives in and around Baghdad's Kazimiya shrine, killing 58 and wounding 200, U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters. In Karbala, at least one suicide attacker blew himself up and pre-set explosives detonated, killing 85 and wounding more than 100, he said.

A fourth suicide bomber whose explosives did not detonate was captured at Kazimiya, and four people were arrested in connection with the attack in Karbala, Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad. Another bomb was found and defused Monday night in Najaf, the holiest Shiite city, police said.

I called my father and he says he is sure these are outsiders, most likely Al-Qaida related. How disgusting to do this, from one Muslim to another. My father says there are more dead and counting and the numbers will go up.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Click for photos of our trip.
Reflections on Baghdad...

I am back and trying to fall into my routine and start working on this documentary. I have urges to compare and contrast what I have seen in Baghdad in comparison to living in America. But you get into murky territory when you begin to hold up 'Western' vs. 'Eastern' cultural differences. K has elaborated on some of these. And since she is 100% All-America born and raised in Kansas I think her perspective is enlightening.

I've been asked by some friends and co-workers the same question: so what was it like?

Well, it's a hard question to answer and I'm not sure if I have just one answer for you. One thing for sure is that Baghdad is not your typical Middle Eastern city. It's one of the oldest cities in the world and you can feel and see a direct lineage to it's ancient past. Many of the customs, culture, food and music pre-date Islam. 12 years of harsh sanctions (thanks Bill Clinton for your slow death) and constant war had it's toll on Iraqis and the landscape. And yes you can blame Saddam for most of the damage. While Iraqis were suffering Saddam built extravagant mosques for millions of dollars. But the recent US occupation and bombings have had the most physical impact. For example, the Iraqi National Museum, was left unguarded and looters stole many priceless artifacts. And it got a giant missile hole right in the front of the entrance, go look at it. This pissed many Iraqis off. That US soldiers did nothing about the looting until a few days later.

There is very little in terms of law or regional policing. I mean there is really no established government yet. All you have left is people self-governing themselves. And I must say it is uplifting to see a whole society rely on itself to maintain order and harmony. True, there are many gripes and an endless list of complaints that deal with everyday life. But folks are managing and there is a friendly approach to conflict, even when things get heated. We laughed every night. People really do help one another out. They watch out for their neighbor and look out for each other. Something we can all learn from. The West must have seemed like a cold place to some Iraqis visiting here for the first time.

Is Iraq dangerous?

Yes it is. Although whenever I interviewed my Father about the state of Iraq he would elaborate in great length on how everything was 'normal' and that we never had any problems (true). But almost everyplace we visited had some form of an attack and even the open markets, like the 'thieves market' there was a robbery of someone my cousin knew. But my Father is correct in that Kristie and I were able to walk around and shop on our own with ease. The only thing that would freak me out is when there were US troops with their military vehicles and such.

But while we were in Baghdad we heard many bombs and we were near some of the places that got hit:

--Jan. 31: At least nine killed, 45 wounded by car bomb outside police station in the northern city of Mosul.

--Feb. 1: Two bombs explodes in a house occupied by many Palestinians. I believe two people died. (This is one of the first bombs we heard. It woke K up and freaked her out. The circumstances for the bombs are questionable. The next day there were a couple of car bombs aimed at Iraqis police officers in the neighborhood that my parents lived, no injuries.)

--Feb. 10: A suicide bomber explodes a truckload of explosives outside a police station in Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, killing 53 people. (We were there, this was near the open Market where K was a celebrity)

--Feb. 11: A suicide attacker blows up a car packed with explosives in a crowd of Iraqis waiting outside an army recruiting center in Baghdad, killing 47 people. (This made us jump out of bed. The sound and thunder of the explosion was so intense. You knew it killed many people, it had this dark residual silence after the blast...evil and meaningless.)

--Feb. 18: Two bomb-laden trucks blow up outside a Polish-run base in Hillah, killing at least 10 people, including the two drivers. Some 65 people are wounded, including Iraqis, Filipinos, Poles, Hungarians and an American. (this happened right after we left)*

(*Source: associate press)

I miss the rituals. When I would wake-up in the morning I could smell the tea brewing and the bread being warmed up. Maybe some eggs would be frying but we would always have 'gammar' (a type of cream) and 'dibbis' (date syrup) to spread on our bread. There would be cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and fruit. Breakfast would last maybe an hour or even longer since we may be talking about politics or religion. There is always talking and sounds from the many vendors on their carriages selling things on the street. You may hear one of the many stray cats outside the door meowing for scraps of food that my aunt would hand to them. Most of the cats are sick and look horrible. My aunt says all the cats after the war started getting ill and dying.

I do miss all my family in Iraq and the warmth that comes from that. Everyone is always ready to help you, take care of you and especially feed you! It's a whole side of my family that has been so far away from me. My cousin T is like my older brother, and my Uncle K is very much like a grandfather figure to me and Auntie S and the Luma's were always ready to feed me.

Bye sweet Baghdad.

I do encourage American citizens to travel to Iraq and to see for themselves what our foreign policy is doing. Go spend some time in Iraq but avoid the restrooms at the border of Jordan (yuck).

Iraqis are so generous and kind...

End of broadcast from a fever head-dream.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Okay. So. Having flaunted my ignorance, and shamelessly exposed being stuck in my Western mindset, as well as venting my pet peeves about my trip to Baghdad, I thought it would be a good time to list the things I liked and saw as advanced, positive, amazing things about Iraq.

1.) Healthcare: when I was sick, doctors were friendly, knowlegable, and accessible (they even made housecalls). When I needed any kind of medication I needed only visit a pharmacy and list my symptoms. High quality perscription medicines were extremely cheap (as I said, they were as little as two cents U.S. per pill), and hassle free. I was able to treat my acne which has been bothering me for over a year (it's all gone by the way!), as well as get Valium to help me sleep, and an antibiotic for my broncile infection. This is a million lightyears beyond healthcare in America, where, if I need a doctor, I have to assess whether I would rather pay my rent or get a check-up. Yes, it's that bad here. And a sipmle bottle of topical antibiotic for acne can cost up to $100.

2.) Childhood: Kids are very important in Iraq. As I mentioned, they are one of the reasons for living. And to top it off, they get the undivided attention of both parents, since divorce rates in the Middle East are very low. Family is important, and that can only be an advantage to a young child. But, as a side note, I do have to mention that I saw some child labor. It was usually children working in their parents shops. To be honest, I did the same as a child in my parent's store. It's a simple side-effect of entrepreneurship, and kids learn a lot from it, so it's not so terrible.

3.) No such thing as lonely: If you need someone, you will always find a cousin, friend, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, or neighbor to keep you company. For people who love people, it's a fantastic place to be.

4.) History: There is an awareness of history unlike I've ever recognized elsewhere. It's the cradle of civilization so they say, and you can feel it, see it, smell it. The place itself remembers and in some cases remains unchanged. Even the contemporary pop music is based upon long standing tradtions, styles, beats, melodies, instruments... Even in downtown Jordan I saw an ancient Roman amphitheater.

5.) Global Awareness: Along with common knowledge of history, there is also an awareness of woldwide current events. There are 125 newspapers in Iraq now!

6.) Dance: Iraqi's love to dance! From bellydancing to Chobie in a big circle, music and dance is everywhere! I got pulled into a celebratory boogie down at least once.

7.) Persistence: Even in the face of crisis, Iraqi's are determined to go one with their lives. Through three wars in a single generation, they just won't stop moving on. And there is a positivity which I see everywhere - a hope for what comes next. They have a great sense of humor about things. I will never forget how U's cousin would laugh and say "it's a nice bomb. When I hear a bomb I sleep better at night." But even more amazing is that even though the electricity is going off every three hours, and communication lines go down regularly, many internet cafes are springing up, and setting up shop. They can't wait around for things to be perfect. They just jump in and start advancing.

8.) Frankness: If there's a problem, Iraqi's perfer to get it out in the open and face it head on. They may discuss it and argue for hours, but their passion about a subject never dimishes their love for one another. Especially among family. Blood, as they say, is definitely thicker than water there.

9.) Satelite TV: 700 channels, and all you need is a $100 dish and reciever. No monthly service charges. It's as easy to set up as a simple antenae. Here i pay about $40 to rent a DirecTV dish and get around 500 channels. And if I want all the avialble channels it costs a ton more.

10.) Work days: A typical work day for someone who works in a bank for example is like this. Start work at 8:00 or 9:00. Come home at 2:00 PM. Have the rest of the day and night for family, friends, or whatever the heck you want to do. Other scenarios include working from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, coming home for two hours for lunch and a nap, and then going back to work from say 4:00 to 6:00. Oh, and Thursdays are halfdays and Fridays you get off... If only the US would follow such a model, I'm sure we'd be every bit as productive as we are now, if not more. And for proferssors... 12 hour work weeks are considered full-time. Now that's a life!

11.) Food: When you buy a chicken, they kill it right there and clean it for you. That is fricking fresh! Plus you're more connected to what it is you're eating. If you see it there clucking around, and see the process of how it becomes food, it seems to me that you're not so detatched. People in America think chicken comes from the grocery store, if you know what I mean. They are out of touch with what they are putting in their bodies. That's why people can get away with such inhumane practices toward livestock. Plus, there's far fewer processed foods, which we all know are not good for you, anyway.

12.) Lack of materialism: People are ten billion times more important than things. I don't know how many times someone said to me "if you like it, you can take it," offering me some item that belongs to them. Iraqi's aren't greedy, and are generally very generous with what they do have. I feel an Iraqi would give you the shirt off his back to make you more comfortable.

13.) Moral stability: Even with no laws in place, the Iraqi people function respectfully toward one another. I'm afraid that in the same situation, Americans would rob, rape, and kill each other without regard. Even with no consequences, Iraqi's have a good moral fiber.

14.) Architecture: I have never seen buildings as beautiful as some of Iraq's mosques. Truly fantastic to behold! Words have no power to desribe them!

15.) Tolerence: For the most part, I saw little predjudice among everyday Iraqi's toward other religions. When I told people I was Wiccan, they were more curious than condemnatory. I never felt that religion was pushed on me, though it is such a big part of everyday life.

Okay... I'm sure there are more... but you get the idea...

So, despite my bad, and slightly ignorant, attitude I did see the good things.


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

U. had an interesting conversation with his father on our last day in Amman. It was about Shari'a Islamic law. According to my father-in-law it is normal and acceptable for a man to see a prostitute if he's single, however if a woman lives with a man whom she is about to marry and has sex with him it is a punishable sin. She can be arrested. His wife agreed that this is normal and ok, and that women are basically responsible for being sexually moral and chaste outside of marriage, wheras men are not. I was surprised to hear this from a woman.

This morning I was reading a spoof on the argument against gay marriage found here. It's critical of the antiquated notions of marriage in Christanity.

Now, hold on, because these two are connected. It made me wonder. Is there any scathing self criticism of Islam by Muslims? Is there anyone who says, "hey these things may have made sense in Muhhamad's time, but they don't work now?" Is there progressive Islam?

I remember Uncle K., the religious scholar, mentioning that in his studies he has found certain "holes" in the Quran, but that he would never write about them, since he would lose his status as an acedemic, and may even be persecuted. Or perhaps it was his brother who mentioned this about him.

I also remember someone telling me that the job of the clerics is to make suggestions and sort of "ammendments" to fit the times. Kinda like the pope in Catholicism, I guess. So I'm just curious if it is possible for Islam to shift with the needs and circumstances of a contemporizing culture?

You see I had done some research on the Vodoun religion. The thing I love best about it is that it's constantly in flux. It shifts, changes, adapts. Since the rituals are based upon everyday things, of course it has to. It is a flexible religion, based solidly in African traditions, but always progressing. And then there's my religion, Wicca. It seems suited for the times. The doctrine of live-and-let-live seems to harmonize with post-modern America. It fits. And it's ecologically/earth conscious, which is a much needed awareness in our contemporary society.

It just seems to me that a religion which is incapable of flexibility, reinterpretation, ammendment, or which has no awareness of comtemporary issues that may never have been a concern in the past, can only clash with a changing society. I think that religion can hold on to the power of it's roots, the wisdom of it's longevity, the traditions that people hold dear. However, it has to remain alive. It can't stagnate, or it will become irrelevant, or worse yet force people backwards in human spiritual evolution.

So if anyone has any information regarding a "progressive" Islam, I'd be very interested.

You have to understand, being in the Middle East, it was strange for me to see religion woven so tighly into the fabric of everyday life. It was facsinating, but also a little like a sci-fi novel. It seemed like a persistent sort of conditioning of the mind, to always, no matter what, be aware that you are in a Muslim country. From the call to prayer echoing off houses, to abiyas in the streets, there was a certain in-your-faceness of something that I regard as personal and private. I respect it, but that kind of conformity always unsettles me and my powerful need for individuality.

I can't get over my amazement of this clash of cultures between East and West. I don't know what I expected. Did I expect Europe with a different alphabet and better food? I think I did. It's was something I needed to experience. I know this. One can never fully have a feel for something until one is inside it.

I am now painfully aware of my Westerness. It's almost embarrassing. And yet I'm sort of embracing it.

Today, I am wrestling with a strange sort of at-home-ness whilst my existensialist angst reemerges. I feel I need more education, while wondering why I need anything at all.

Maybe it's time to apply for that PhD program now... I need to occupy my brain with things outside myself again.


Monday, February 16, 2004

Yes we are back home in Chicago. I am discombobulated and exhausted. Part of me is scattered in Baghdad and near the border of Jordan. I'm not fully here yet.

Okay, now some tea would be a good idea.

I called my sister S and tried to explain the intrict details of the situation in Iraq. She said I should write all this down.

I'll try.

Dear Iraq, thank you for your warmth, your morning alarm bombs and traffic magic-madness car rides.

Stay well and goodbye.

Love, U

Ah HOME! Superhighfastspeed internet access, and damn I forgot how nice our place is! How "us" it is with all the art on the walls and the clean and best of all - RATS! Yes I got to snuggle buggle my little rattie pets as soon as I got in!

Let's see. I've been sick. For a day and a half I suffered from vomitosis. Everything that went in - even water - came right back out. It was vile. I was driven to the home of the doctor who first helped me with the mosquito bites. Driving late at night in Baghdad is kinda cool and spooky. Anyway I dragged my self onto one of his divans and he took my blood pressure (which was very low), and gave me a medication to stop the vomitting. He ten gave me cumcumbers with salt, and my appetite returned. I sucked cucumber juice all the way home.

Everyone speculated about what I may have. Everything from strange food to sitting outside in the cool air. I knew what it was. U.'s little brother's had had the flu for several days before. And it began with vomitting.

Anyway, I threw up one last time before collapsing into sleep, and then waking up with a nose full of goo and a cough. I still have the cough.

Over two days I got two housecalls from two doctors, both friends of the family. Yes there is still such a thing as a housecall in this world. How cool is that?

I was perscribed an antibiotic. I don't think I need it, but I've been taking it anyway. Nobody really told me how long to take it, so I got enough for ten days. What is a little disturbing, is that anyone can go in to the pharmacist and ask for an antibiotic, and get it. I know from various articles I've read that if you overuse antibiotics the bacteria becomes resistant, and the medication ineffective. Mutated super germs begin to breed and then they have to create new drugs to kill them.

The lack of real solid health eduacation is a bit of a problem in Iraq. No one seems to make the connection between the rampant diabetis and the incredibly large amounts of sugar everyone is pressured to injest, for example. And I noticed a tendency to leave food out in the open for long periods of time (overnight even) and then serve it again the next day. Whereas here there are things on the local news about how long is safe to leave food out before it can grow harmful microbes. And young children are given caffeine and candy as if it's a necessary staple in their diets. It would be a big benefit I think if there were some required course in school that taught proper nutrition and such. Especially to the girls, who seem to grow up to be the ones in charge of what people eat. And why does everyone still seem to think that cold air can cause a cold? Doesn't anyone know about how viruses work?

But I suppose when things are actually stable and they have essential things like electricity and trash pick-up again, there will be more time and energy to spend on such things.

So it felt nice spending some time in Jordan before coming home. Amman is gorgeous! Especially covered in snow. It came hard and fast and melted just a quickly. I joked that it only came to cheer me up. Truly the landscape was breathtaking in places. They call it the white city, because every single building is white like sand. It is the most dreamlike environment I've ever seen.

Spending time with children also has been an excellent contraceptive. Sitting here in our quiet calm apartment we both know we're not anxious to change our lifestyle by adding a dependent being to the mix. Don't get me wrong, U's little brothers (age 2 and 4), are cute, wonderful kids. But they are also normal kids which bring a whirlwind of cries, spills, and chaos into any room they inhabit.

U and I spoke reflectively of our trip on the way home. We highlighted the positives, the negatives... We spoke briefly with a man who just came back from Palestine. An interesting conversation, which perhaps my husband will expand upon later...

As I remember my trip, I think I will write more... But now, I am simply delighted to be home.


Saturday, February 14, 2004

We are in Amman, Jordan. K is trying to recover from some nasty Baghdaddy virus that has kept her in bed and nasally dripping for the past two days.

But let me back track a bit while we were in Baghdad.

First, there was the area , Al-Mahmodia town, that we drove to on our way from Babel to Baghdad. The place where K was a star. Near it there is another town called Iskandariya. The day after we left a bomb blew up in front of the Iraqi Police station killing 71 people (I believe, I will fact check all this stuff when I get home.)

And then later on in the week there was the bomb explosion that literally shook me out of sleep. K and I both looked at each other wide-eyed and fully awake at 7 in the morning. We were frozen anticipating…what? Another bomb is what I waited for. But no, just a massive blast, sharp and with a short echo. It felt and sounded so close. My cousin Tareef came in a few hours later grabbing something from his closet and hurrying to work. I was still lying in bed thinking about what the hell was going on out there. I asked Tareef about the blast and he casually remarked that it was just another bomb. I found out it was a recruiting center for Iraqi men to sign up in the military. It was maybe 4-6 miles away from my Uncle’s house and we had passed it many times. 28 people died and about 80 people were injured. A man from Jordan left a note taking responsibility and claiming that he is targeting Americans and Shia’s.

Was there any point in worrying about this? Either we are dead or we are not dead and we continue.

You Iraqis, the ones living in Iraq, you guys really have had way too much war. I would not be able to deal with the constant terrorist attacks and various questionable bombing incidents. I think it creates strength in some and in others a morbid sense of humor. Others, mostly brush it off.

A joke. Why did they call Saddam our Father? Because he fucked all of our Mothers.

I’m sorry if this site has been down. I’ll check on it when I get home.

At the border of Iraq there were several American soldiers checking cars leaving Iraq for contraband. I interviewed a couple of the soldiers. There is something unsettling about a niave looking 18-year-old kid with a giant machine gun strapped to his chest. It was not a very thorough search of cars. Mostly they were making sure that the border patrols were not taking bribes. And then there was the soap. You see anyone with soap may be hiding ancient Babylonian ruins in them. So no soap! We had soap. Actually they searched two of our bags barely checking anything and let us go (we had about 8 more bags that went unchecked). I asked one of the soldiers why not check the other way around? You know from Jordan into Iraq. And he said that they really had no jurisdiction over those borders, but sometimes they do. Huh? It seems to me that half the problem with these looters, car bombs and Al-Qaeda assholes is that anyone with a car or a donkey can enter Iraq. Anyway, I asked the soldiers how Iraqis have been reacting to them. And the dumb looking kid replied that Iraqis do not know what freedom is. Of course this pissed me off a bit, especially coming from a soldier with a giant machine-gun on his shoulder. What exactly does he think ‘freedom’ is? Although, I have heard this statement from Iraqis as well. To some people they may associate ‘freedom’ with some form of sexual or expressionistic type of gesture. To others, it may be religious. I would say that in a sense the Shia’s feel totally free to express themselves now and consider that a great freedom. It varies in meaning. I wish my Arabic was better but from what I can get a sense of, the press has freedom of speech. But still, there are some that are careful in what they say, I mean they are afraid. But it’s changing. Everyday Iraq is changing. And besides, I think Iraqis have the right to do nothing as a form of expression or personal freedom. I mean just living, working and raising their families in post-Saddam Iraq is an expression by itself. They need to have that right.

More on this later…my thoughts are being derailed by loud children.

I have shot over 45 hours of video. Do you think I have something?


Monday, February 09, 2004


It's in me. Iraq is in me and all the memories of my past, my childhood the things I've wanted to return to are once again swarming in my blood. So the cycle, to be cheezy for a second, is complete. Salam says why not go hang out in Beirut first or spend more time in Jordan? And he is correct. I have not returned to the Middle East in 24 years and I come back to Baghdad today? Yes, not the smoothest transition but that is never my personality. I've always been a bit extreme and will continue to be.

The troops are still outside. I want to approach the US soldiers and say what's up? But I don't want to appear as if I know them or anything. Besides they look jumpy and they are targets.

Please no more tea for me.

A few more days Inshallah and we will make the hellish drive back to Jordan.

Ya Allah...

Good afternoon. Just for the record, I got my mom to forward me the very first e-mail I sent her from Baghdad. Here it is:

30 Jan 2004, 04:32:32 AM
Subject: Greetings from Baghdad

Hello! So I am here is busy bustling Baghdad. We are staying in U's Uncle K's house, which is very large and nice, in an upper middle class neighborhood. K is one or Iraq's most well-known scholars, so he lives well. The floors in typical Arab style, are made of marble, and covered in huge rugs. The rooms are so BIG! Everyone tries to feed me all the time, offering my tea and houbous (bread) every hour of the day. Iraqi's complain that it is very cold but it's about 50 or 55 degrees. Compared to Chicago it's quite nice. Very sunny and pleasant.

The houses have cracks in the walls from the American bombs hitting Baghdad. Life goes on as if nothing is wrong, but there are tell-tale signs of war. The electricity is on for three hours and then off again for three hours. But everyone has a battery that automatically turns on as soon as the power goes off. The battery runs a few florescent lights in the main living area. At night they use cerosine lamps to move from room to room. In fact there is a prevalent smell of cerosine in most places from small gas heaters and lights.

Last night we heard lots of gunfire, but we found out that it was not violence, but celebration. Thursdays are the typical day for weddings. Just like in Chicago on New's Year's, Iraqi's shoot into the air to express jubilation. A little unnerving, but I got used to it.

The road to Baghdad was mostly desert - flat and bare and patrolled by big black American helicopters.

Things feel pretty safe, and as I said, the city is alive with people going about their daily business.

Jordan was gorgeous. Amman is in the mountains and looks like Southern California. Both in Amman and here I go to bed about the same time as they sing out the first call for prayer. You would have to hear it to believe it. A chorus of voices from all over the city, filling the still morning air with the melodic chant.

It's a different world here, for certain. But Iraqi's are all very sweet and accomodating. The worst that has happened to me is a mean bout of car sickness from the 11 hour drive from Amman.

So much to tell... On the road I tried to get used to what my father-in-law calls "Eastern toilets." They are not typical in the houses, but in the roadside markets along the highway, they are merely ceramic holes in the ground over which you squat. Next to the hole there is always a plastic watering can with a spout, much like what we might use to water plants. You use that to wash yourself off afterward (no toilet paper). But as I said the bathrooms in the houses are American/European style, but with the addition of a bidet. Very clean. Wish I had one in my apartment.

Ah... what else? Easy to get into Iraq... We had a driver take us in a big SUV. We are to have lunch now with U's stepmother's family. The food here is AMAZING. Love it love it love it! The music too... Everywhere you go, there's music on the radio...

I'm in an internet cafe at the moment. They have their own generator.

I'm learning a few new words of Arabic every day. U's Arabic came back to him quickly. He understands almost everything people say...

U and I just walked a little ways up and down the main drag but felt uncomfortable. There are army tanks and a police car on the corner, close to this very cafe. Last night they were looking for car bombs.

But most importantly.... today we met Salam! Yay! We talked about media, politics, and blogging. And I shared with him the fact that I've been blogging for five years. Yep, I'm an old-timer at this thing.

Should I talk more of pet peeves and emote about my homesickness, or just let it be? I'll vent. I'll bitch. I like to bitch. Today I was shooting U and Salam and U's cousin talking - serious work for the documentary. Someone brought out sodas on a tray. I had my mind on the conversation and on my composition, and trying to get good angles in the harsh mid-day sun. Several minutes later Ua's aunt came out and put the soda glasses on the tray and ordered me to take the glasses inside and wash them. Oh sure, like I'm not doing anything important at the moment. I'm just playing with U's camera... ARRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!! I waited til their was a pause in the conversation, then did as I was told. As I walked in the door she said, impatiently "YES, PLEASE!" Gah! I have to rein in my wish to start being passive aggressive. She's not going to have anything nice to say about me after I leave, I just know it.

Salam asked me if I got mad about having to wear an abiya in Kadhamia. Pshhht. That's the very least of my peeves.

Anyway, I really enjoyed meeting him. He's very nice. I like him.

U's cousin asked me, why do I like to write in a blog, but I don't like to talk in person. I've always been this way. I like expressing myself, but not with my mouth. I love to listen to people, but it takes much familiarity for me to speak my thoughts out loud. As well as a sense that I share some of the same references as the person to whom I am opening myself.

But here. On the web. In writing. No problem. Like I said, I like to bitch. It keeps my head from exploding.

What have I already written about? I just wrote last night...

Oh we had curtained rice today. YUM!

So... bye bye. I look forward to home... I'm losing my perspective on this spot in the world. And I think I may be catching a cold...

K and I have finally met Salam Pax! We hung out in my Uncle's yard with my cousin and I interviewed him on camera for a couple of hours. We had a good time and it was just really refreshing to meet a fellow Iraqi that has the whole East/West hybrid thing going. Do you know what I mean? We understand one another. Anyway I showed him my American version of his book and he signed it for me.

After eating lunch today we decided to go walking around Al-Mansoor area by ourselves. We went to the photo shop where I bought some more miniDV tapes and then we walked further down. And there they were. Two large American armored vehicles with maybe 6 or 7 troops. And around us a couple of Iraqi police officers. What's going on? I'm really not sure. Something about a car bomb in the area. We walk around some more and I'm eyeing each car suspiciously. You never know what will happen in Iraq.

Tonight of course we are invited to dinner at one of my father's friend's house but we declined and decided to stay home and chill out.

It's gorgeous out. Sunny and the sky a rich deep blue.

I go back and forth like a yo-yo with my feelings toward the American military presence and occupation. I'm also a bit frustrated with some of the really silly conspiracy theories that come out of Iraqis mouths. It's so hard to explain America to many Iraqis. US pop culture is everywhere and that is the only thing most of the Iraqis are exposed to. That and Jim-Bob in a uniform.

One thing for sure though, is that the longer I am here the more I realize that there is a serious cultural divide between Arabs and Americans. Many of the customs are tribal here. This explains some of the problems I have had with members of my own family that live in the Arab world. I've already been told I behaved rudely to so and so...and vice-versa...I have interpreted certain gestures as being aggressive when I am told they are being super polite. Ah well. To tell you the truth I am an alien and belong nowhere.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Okay, so the fact that Iraqi's are so damn sweet and nice and hospitible offsets any pet peeves I may have. Sometimes I'm a little too hard on this place.

I hit my breaking point when I was told I could not go somewhere because it was "all men." The "Theives' Market" they call it - lots of blackmarket bargains, and one place I thirst to experience. I blew up. In front of family I screamed "It sucks to be a woman here, it really sucks!" And then they calmed me and said, "listen, this isn't normal." It's just because of the lawlessness here. It's just because Saddam let all the prisoners out before he made his exit. Imagine New York City in a black out with no police, and no more punishment for crime, and someone just unlocked the prison gates. Would I, as a female, or as anyone, want to walk around in the streets?

Good point.

Annnnyyyway... Enough about gender issues. I'm over it.

Today we TRIED top go to Babylon. It's now property of the Polish army, so to speak. No one can go in.

On the way back we stopped at a roadside market where I, with my camera, became the center of attention. Hoardes of boys wanted me to photograph them. Then they wanted U. to snap their pictures with their arm locked in mine. It was quite fun. Actually there seems to be a common phenomenon in Baghdad. The moment people see a camera they want to be in front of it. They wave and pose and show off. I've never seen anything like it. In the West you can get punched in the face for snapping someone's pic.

Had a great conversation with Uncle K, the scholar. I explained Wicca (for those who don't know it's a religion which sort of showed up in the 1950s in the West which is earth-centered and polytheistic - my religion) to him. He was excited and delighted that there is a resurgence of the worship of the old gods. He was especially happy to hear that a friend of mine worships Innana. "Very good!" he said "Our mother!" I love this man. He knows so much! He's so hip he doesn't even know it. He is going to publish a paper on Wicca now, all because of our conversation. Have I brought neo-paganism back to where it all began? Perhaps. I'm sending him tons of books when I get back.

We met two Americans who work and live here in Baghdad. Very cool. There experiences are quite different, in that they seem to be carefully guarded by the companies for which they work. They can't go many places. Having family here I'm tossed out into the middle of it all, to swim among the native fishes as if I were the same. But it was quite nice to hear American accents, compare notes, and like, you know, hang out, man... hehe The Iraqi hospitality possesed me and I wanted toinvite them to dinner. But then, it's not my house, and I think it might be rude to have U.'s aunt cook for strangers.

I just lost my important thought... I know I had one... oh well...

I think being a child of an educated Iraqi family must be the best childhood ever. So much value on family, so much nurturing... No privacy of course, but still... food and children seem to be the reason for living here... which makes being a kid pretty cool. Iraqi kids are the most well-mannered children ever!

More Masgouf today. I watched the fish go from floppin' to grillin'at the roadside b.b.q. Fresher than fresh. So fresh it wasn't quite dead when they gutted it.

Umm ummm ummmmmm... Everything is a blur since last I wrote. Copper market... driving, eating, tea, driving, eating, driving, eating, tea...

Trying to explain the value of hip hop to one of my favorite cousins... Seeing the new Madonna video which would never dare air in the US (it is SUPER critical of America)...

And I'm happy to announce that yes, Red Bull is sold EVERYWHERE!!!! There is no corner of the civilized world which is not graced by it's addictive form of tart energy. Also, the grapefruits are sour like lemons and the lemons are sweet. The grapefruit took me by surprise one morning, to the amusement of ther relatives.

Home sick... yes... for toilet paper, and superfoods, and breathing air (instead of car exhaust and cerosine), and my rats, and the absense of social activity. I'm a loner. This is the biggest part of the culture shock. Iraqi's do not know the meaning of lonliness or isolation. For an introvert like me, it's quite a challenge.

I'm spoiled.

You know what I remembered my important thought. Here it is: I love America. We have the luxury of taking things for granted. Maybe I love Holland more than America, but damn it, my country is fucking awesome. I will always be critical of it's politics, and of the often shallow nature of Capitalism, but Americans - you don't even know how good you have it. Use it! Fucking use your freedom damn it! It's valuable.

Lots more. In ten years this place will be very different. I'm glad I've had the chance to see it in transition, so to speak. From being comparably untouched by Western values, to being a thriving international center of commerce. I feel it will happen, and in a big way. For better, and sometimes for worse. One thing I do notice is that postmodern thought has yet to make itself known here. At least among the people with whom I have had in-depth discussions. Consumable fast food versions of postmodernism proliferate where I come from, and I feel it's absense.

Okay, now I have to go and win a bet. Cousin T. says the eighties tune "Don't you want me baby" is a duet with David Bowie. HA! He is about to lose the wager when I print out the lyrics and the band's name... if I can only remember the name of the band...

She was working as a waitress in a blah blah blah...


P.S. forgive my spelling and typos. I simply don't care.

P.P.S. Pet peeve # 206: cigarette smoking in internet cafes. I need air!!!
Baghdad, Iraq
Feb 7, 2004, ...I think. I'm a little out of it. It's almost 7pm.

There were American tanks right here on Al-Mansoor street where we are staying. In fact it was right in front of the internet cafe. Something about a car bomb in this area. I saw a tank moving slowly with soldiers surrounding it. They were searching every car. I pulled out my camera when everyone in my car yelled at me: put it down!! They may think it's a gun and shoot you!!

okay okay.

Yes I know, shooting American troops and vehicles (ahem...with video) is always a risky and slightly stupid act on my part. I aim, start recording and hope they don't mistaken my camera for a gun.

Last night before bed we heard a giant explosion. I went into the living room and asked my cousin what the bomb was, he smiled and said it was a nice bomb.

We hate Bush, we love Bush. That's what I hear. But many of the Iraqis I have met have said some very positive things about the Americans and are very happy and appreciative that they got rid of Saddam. Especially the Shia's. But the US has turned this country upside down. I mean just because Saddam is gone it does not mean that all is well. And in a weird way they are replacing one form of extremism with another...Islam. But not all! okay. There are 25 million people here and I am in Baghdad with a specific view of this area.

We drove to the ancient city of Babel (Babylon) today. We got up to the gate and noticed more troops. There was another car in front of us with a Hungarian reporter. Apparently the troops fired warning shots above their heads to scare them away. Some Iraqis were hanging out near the side of the road warning people to go away. I decided to talk to the troops anyway. So I went alone and waved my hands and said I was an American. They had accents, they were Polish soldiers. After climbing over the barbed wire and slowly moving closer to the gate they aimed and gestured their guns at me, STAY BACK! I told them I was from Chicago where we have a lots of Polish folks, they smiled and laughed a little. It was okay. But nobody was allowed into Babylon. So that's the story, us Iraqis are not allowed into our own ancient city. Ah well. We tried. Driving out of Baghdad I saw several more skeletons of bombed out Iraqis tanks.

I'm a little home sick and all the kerosene, exhaust and chaos is breaking me down a bit. But the food keeps me going for sure...

Today one of my younger cousins said I LOVE BUSH AND I WISH HE WILL TORTURE SADDAM. My other cousin said I THINK BUSH IS STUPID.

We went to the 'Thieves market' the other day after being warned that K would be kidnapped. But we went to the market and we were okay. It was mostly men ( I would sau almost 99 percent men) but still she felt and fine and bought a book that teaches Arabic to English speakers.

In general all the Iraqis we have been meeting have been more then generous and kind. Very friendly and open. We also visited a really sweet American couple, Tyler and Jamie that work for a satellite company. They have been here for almost 8 months, live in a nice big house and have had no problems. Of course they have guns and security. Everyone is armed in Iraq.

K and I have been walking in Al-Mansoor area by ourselves during the day and we feel safe and fine...no problem.

You can buy anything in Baghdad!

We just don't have time to do Basrah to reclaim our old house. Also I am told that that it is very difficult to apply any kind of law here. Because there is barely any law here. I will have to come back and maybe go through Kuwait or something to go to Basrah. It will be part two of this documetary. We want to do many things but we are limited with security and time issues.

Tomorrow I meet Salam Pax...Inshallah...yeah...and maybe Raed? Where is Raed?

You get used to the helicopters flying right above your head every so often.

Almost every family we visit has a horror story about a missile that almost hit them, or one that went through their house...many gruesome details and the evidence of a missile shell, bullet holes, large chunks of their house that has been re-patched. My Uncle's Kamal's wife's sister husband was taking a nap on the couch in his living room when a small American missile blasted through his wall, bumped the side of the opposite wall and bounced back and landed right next to the side of the couch. He woke up in a daze and asked: Is something burning in the Kitchen!? I know it sounds funny but they showed me where it happened, the holes have been sealed but you can see them. And they still have the shell of the missile. The only reason the whole entire neighborhood did not blow up was because the missile did not have it's war head on it when it went through. When I asked him what he remembered about the incident he said he preferred not to talk about it.

Yes we are glad we came and it's really difficult for me to get into all the details right now. But many of my impressions of what this war was all about are changing. The Americans need to be here. Apparently when the first months of occupation/war happened there was more of an exchange and intimacy between the Iraqis and the US troops. But now, with new troops and more US isolation in the Green Zone, and such, there is less interaction and more paranoia. Iraqis are taking care of themselves even with no law or police. They all watch out for one another. Everyone is helpful and I have never felt any animosity or hostility from Iraqis. The only people I fear to shoot (on video!) are the US soldiers. But I do it and sweat...

If I pull out my camera in the streets (depending on where I am) I may have some boys all trying to get in front of the camera. Everyone wants to talk and tell their story and their opinion for my video.

They want freedom and they are SO HAPPY that the US got rid of Saddam. They could care less about weapons of mass destruction. In fact many Iraqis say that Saddam is the weapon of mass destruction. Some Iraqis even say: take the oil! Just give us our country and let us run it.

The Shia's seem to be the most appreciative and very warm and welcoming to us. But I have to admit we are getting a little burned out on eating meat, and sweets and bread and drinking tea so many times and day. I miss many things from the US and I feel ashamed to even mention them.

I've also been having some horrifying nightmares...maybe it's when the jet planes or helicopters pass by it brings back memories from the Iraq and Iran war.

We have about 4 more days here and then we make the long trek back to Amman.

I miss Chicago.

Baghdad is so freaking crowded. Cars are everywhere. Trash is everywhere. But there are some really gorgeous homes and new ones being built daily.

There are many rumors and suspicious talk of politics and what this or that person has or may want to do.

Everyone loves K. On the way back from Babylon we stopped at this small fruit market with many poor-farmer kids and other older farmer-men. And my God, they went crazy over K! Almost 15 kids and people surrounding her. One guy held a white chicken near her face and demanded I take their picture saying in Arabic WHO IS MORE WHITE THIS GIRL OR THE CHICKEN? It was a small mob scene. Everyone wanted to pose with K. It was funny and sweet. We love you! They say.

We love America. Some will say...but they are watching...

Ahhghh. I feel a little grumpy today. I miss our privacy and the fumes from all the various kerosene and cars are slowly killing me. And as Tareef's wife said: then we are all dying.

But the future is happening in front of us. Iraq is changing rapidly. Baghdad, if everything goes okay, will be one of the most amazing cities in the world. The technology here is booming. And the kids are brilliant. I was speaking French, Arabic and English to a 12 year old kid today.

My Father keeps bumping into childhood friends and is almost always in tears when he greets his long lost buddies. I mean I just met my half Uncle that I have never seen in my whole entire life. A large part of who I am is here...and another part I suppose is back in Chicago.

Okay friends. I'm not sure if I will have time to write again in Baghdad. Maybe Amman. I will try...

Love to all of you. And a message to America, the Iraqis thank you, but don't fuck with them.

Allah be with you.


Thursday, February 05, 2004

Today is Feb 5, 2004, Baghdad.

11:30 am

Last night we had some Heineken beer, yum. Anyway I was talking about Pacha during the Eid dinner. Pacha is tongue, eyes, brain, feet, intestine, and basically the whole sheep head. At one point I was given the tip of a sheep tongue on my plate and instead of contemplating whether I should eat it or not I just stuck it in my mouth and chewed. Really it was delicious ( my Dad and I used to eat Pacha when we were younger as my sisters and Mother ran away from the food in disgust)

Aghh so much food. Last night was total Eid celebration in the streets of Baghdad. The whole city was out honking their horns, banging drums, blasting music, dancing right in the middle of the road. And I thought I would have trouble video shooting people...ha! Everytime I pull out my camera everyone motions for me to shoot them. Waving and laughing and being silly. Although last night a kid that looked about ten years old had a gun that he cocked and wanted me to video-tape him. I even saw American soldiers driving in their humvee-tanks blasting heavy metal music. The traffic is totally insane! I can't even to begin to explain how chaotic it is. But somehow they all manage.

I am uncertain about the Basrah trip. Not so much a safety issue anymore but we really do not have time.

Things are cheap here. One dollar is about 1300 dinars. Food is cheap, everything is pretty cheap. And we are able to buy almost any drug we may require at the pharmacy.

Oh, and I was able to buy some minDV (digital video tapes) for my camera, so no problem.

We were going to go to Kerbala and Babylon today but because of Shia Haij it may be too crowded right now . We may have to go this Saturday.

Also, just to make something clear. Iraqi women do not have to wear Abayas. Kristie only wore it when we were in the holy area of Kadhamya. Some Iraqi women dress in jeans and the latest fashion, and of course some ware Hajib's. Iraq is not an Islamic state (not yet at least). I mean things are mellow for women here. We may even go to a night club before we leave.

We we are staying in Al-Mansoor and there are several churches all over. My Uncle Kamal was telling me about all the religions here in Iraq. You know there is even a sect that worships Shaytan (Satan), seriously.

When I said earlier that some of my Anti-American positions were changing I did not mean that I support Bush or anything like that. I mean that there are some really good things that go on here thanks to the Americans. They are helping the Iraqi police and generally leave most people alone. But the behavior of some soldiers toward Iraqis is extremely disrespectful. At one point my cousin Tareef and I were trying to enter the Green Zone (the American controlled area where they all hide) and they looked at our passports and then when they asked for Tareef's ID (which was in Arabic of course) the soldier said I CAN'T READ THIS SHIT! Many stories like this. Or soldiers just aiming their guns at Iraqis, some to just to mess with them, others fire shots around them to scare them, and saying things like MOTHER FUCKERS. One of my relatives asked me if MOTHER FUCKER is an insult, I said yes it is, and he said I thought so I gave him the middle finger! hee hee.

It goes on. Much of this is in my documentary. Anyway, we did not get into the Green Zone and the General (not the soldiers) that helped us was very nice. I talked to the soldiers a bit and asked them what they thought of all the Eid celebration and they did not even know what the hell I was talking about. They said, oh like it's Christmas? umm...not exactly but yeah, okay whatever. They look so young. Maybe 18 or 19 years old. But I have to say they are freaked out. I overheard them joking that they will get blown up today. One of them said something like, yeah I can't wait to get a bomb thrown at me. They are stressed and afraid. I could not shoot them with my camera and didn't really want to push it. But I did manage to video tape some tanks at the side of the road. Let me explain that a car full of Iraqis, heading toward American tanks with a device that has a microphone on it that may resemble a gun is a little freaky. And I'm aiming at directly at the soldiers. It's very risky and the soldier looked directly at me...my heart was pounding...but I got the shot.

Everyone has a gun in Iraq. Every Family has some sort of firearm. And I'm realizing more and more that most of the machine gun fire and explosions are kids and people celebrating and playing. It's everywhere. And the US helicopters are everywhere. You hear them every couple of hours and they shake all the buildings.

I'm getting used to it. Maybe because I was in Basrah during the Iran war I'm not really so freaked out about the bombs and explosions. Although I did get nervous being so close to the American soldiers.

Baghdad is very hyper because we are in Eid week. And there internet centers opening up everywhere. I can see the future here.

K said something that I think is really relevant about Baghdad. She said: the future and the past co-exist simultaneously here. I mean, you have sheep herders sacrificing the animals in front of mobile and internet stores. Technology is booming everywhere.

The American army are not seen as much anymore. More Iraqi police. These soldiers are really stressed. But they have done some awful, horrible things to innocent civilians. My God the stories I hear...
anyway.. more later
A little homesick today. Last night I spoke to D.,who was born here, but spent a lot of time in Sweden. As a woman she's not very happy here. She misses the freedom she had in Europe, and feels there is little here for her beyond her husband. Also, Aunt S. criticized me a bit to Usama. She had the impression that I think that I am better than her, since I don't speak often, and I haven't done any housework. I did not know what was expected of me, and frankly, I resist doing what is expected. I can't help being rebellious here. But I would be happy to help around the house if I am asked. I have no problem with that. I have no idea how to cook, and am totally out of place in the kitchen, so I'm not sure what help I might be. But I will do anything I'm asked to do. The men are never criticized for sitting around and listening quietly, and nothing is expected of them. By virtue of having a vagina, I am supposed to serve people, even when I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Don't get me wrong. At home I am the one who cleans and does laundry. But we both work hard, and so we both share in household responsibility. He cooks. I clean. And we like it that way. It is what makes us happy.

You know all those years I resisted the label of feminist? I take it back. I am a feminist. I still think that American feminists focus on all the wrong issues, but I feel so frustrated in a culture where I see such inequality in the home. I have to try really hard to just accept that Iraqi women like their role in the household, and that they don't mind dawning the costume when required. But the Westerner in me feels that they have no choice in the matter, and simply do what is expected.

I don't know. I just began to feel awkward last night. I'm a little tired of sticking a piece cloth on top of my head just because I will be "safer." Not because I am a devout Muslim and I feel that is important to do so. It's not a matter of choice here. In certain areas it is obligatory if I do not want to be harassed. As if men simply cannot be responsible for their actions. Are they really so weak?

If I come back, I'll need a sex change first.

Sigh... Sorry. I also have PMS and am venting. OPverreacting. I apologize. I feel bad when I catch myself thinking these things. Other than this, everyone is completely friendly and sweet to me, going out of their way to make me feel at home. Perhaps I'm a terrible guest. I know I have offended at least one person...

I should shut up.

Let me just say this. I love the people. I love the food. I love the architecture. I love the liveliness of the streets. It's only the strict gender roles that bother me. And not really even the gender roles. It's more the lack of flexibility. I don't mind if a woman wants to to stay at home and take care of the house and children, and if her husband is never responsible for household chores. I repect that very much. But, only if this is what both partners truly want. If it makes both the man and woman happy. This idea is a given in the US, or course. But not here.

Again, I'll shut up. Today is my bitchy day. I knew I would have one.

Okay, we need to go shopping now!!! YAY!!!


Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Live from Baghdad-

today is Feb. 4, Wed. 2004

The time on these Blogs are from Chicago so ignore that. It's almost 12:00 pm here in Baghdad.

Let me describe the typical Baghdadee breakfast we eat every morning. There is always tea brewing and warm Samoon (Iraqi bread). There is cheese, some oranges that we pluck from my Uncles yard. Some dates and of course there is always Libna (yogurt with olive oil) thay we dip our bread in. But my favorite is Gamar (a kind of white cream you spread on your bread) and Dibis (a syrup made from the date/palm trees0. Very delicious!

The day before yesterday we went to my cousin's Tareef's wife's family house to have the first day of Eid dinner for Shia. There were large plates of Pacha. let me explain Pacha to you. It is basically the head and feet of the sheep, usually with Khabooz soaking in

oh shit power is about to go


So much sugar! Allah! I cannot eat another kleche without being sick. hehe...

I'm posting an e-mail that I wrote to my family and friends (edited for anonymity). I have others I wanted to post, but my webmail is acting funky:

02 Feb 2004, 05:21:54 AM
Subject: Still doing well...
Hello again. Salam Allakum.
A book's worth of experiences to tell about. We went to Kadhamia, the site of one of the most holy monuments of Islam. Pilgrams from Iran and Turkey literally filled the streets and there was a huge market. You have to actually physically push people to get through the sidewalks. U's family are related to the gatekeepers of the tomb of two of the Imam's - holy figures. So we got the VIP treatment. We were invited into one of the sitting rooms for tea, and they gave me a mini koran. Photography is strictly forbidden, except for when it comes to the A. family. ;) So I got some nice photos which no American journalist could ever be allowed to take. U's grandmother is buried in one of the surrounding tombs, and the A. name is inscribed on the entrance to the tombs of the Imams. Everything is covered in gold.

The strangest experience was walking through the inside of the tomb. All women, including myself wore Abiya's covering their whole bodies, with just face and hands showing. We looked like a heard of black ghosts. These women were SOOOOOO passionate. We were all crushed together inside, after having removed our shoes and seperating from the men. The women wailed and cried and pushed to get to a spot where they could rub their hands on the tomb, praying loudly. One woman held a jar of rosewater. She would touch the tomb and then put her hand in the water, presumably so that she could take this blessed juice home to Iran with her. It was chaotic, crazy, amazing...

The abiya was only slightly uncomfortable (you kind of have to hold onto it so it doesn't slip off your head), but I felt secure looking more like everyone else. Women would pass me and stare at my face and say "hellua" which means beautiful. According to U some of them said I look like a doll. Another man smiled and said (in Arabic, of course) "Do you wear the abiya because you think we will not know you are Western?" I get the feeling they like Americans here, actually. As long as I respect Muslim culture (covering my head in a Mosque, for example), people show me much respect. A covered woman will never be searched. It is disrepectful to touch a Muslim woman without her permission - not even to shake hands. It's just amazing how prtotected you are just by virtue of having a piece of cloth over you. We girls can smuggle any number of things underneath our convieniently shapeless cloaks. I'm beginning to see the advantages.

Funny note: In my vanity, I began to notice the differences in abiyas - "Hey, hers has lace around the sleeves! I want one of those!" And "how come the turkish girls get to wear such colorful fabrics?" It was a veritable fashion show of modest Muslim dress. Style is insideous, and will creep in where least expected.

What else? The mosquitos here dine on my fair skin as if I were a delicacy. We just went to visit one of my father-in-law's friends, who is a doctor. He lives in this fancy, very well protected area where the heads of the new temporary governemnt reside. Her gave me some itch cream and something like benadryl. If I don't get some DEET I will be nothing but little welts. They don't bite arabs for some reason. They are prejudiced.

Today is the second day of Eid (a big Islamic holiday which involves visiting all of your relatives, slaying a sheep or calf, and eating all kinds of food. The kids shoot off fireworks. It's a little unnerving. Several miles away a building was bombed two nights ago. I was getting ready for bed when I heard it. It shook the floors. I ran out of the bedroom, my heart pounding. U's aunt and cousin giggled at me. "Oh you are not used to our war!" they said. Then they reassured me that the blast was relatively far away, and that had it been close, the walls themselves would feel like they are falling in. They smile and laugh and make jokes. They have been through so much, what else can they do? U's cousin had the building where he works in downtown Baghdad crumble around him, and he crawled out and went home without a scratch. This was when the Americans were bombing. Now it's mostly bazookas from foreign radicals. All Iraqi's are extremely pissed off about this. People come from neighboring countries and shoot their police officers because they cooperate with US soldiers. Iraqi's want peace, not more death.

In talking with most people I am finding that they are happy that the US ousted the ba'ath party. They hated Saddam with a passion. They couldn't even speak about it because they were afraid to be overheard, when he was in power. Now they can say whatever they like. They feel relieved, free... Still, they say, that no one deserved the brutality of the American attack. This was totally unnessesary. I agree. Why so much destruction?

It's so complex, this place... It is like the past and the future all rolled into one. This is where civilization began, and you can still feel it. A little glimpse of how the world was when it was young, but peppered with internet cafes and crowded with cars.

OH MY GOD, the thing I fear most is not guns or bombs, but the driving here! INSANE! One must be agressive just to cross the street. Cautiously move out into the street and force the oncoming traffic to stop. And miraculously, the cars stop. I haven't seen a single accident, even though the cars nearly push and shove each other out of the way. God must be helping (haha).

They are feeding me so many sweets, every house I enter. Kleche, candy, sweet tea, soda... The older children bring it out on fancy platters, and they are insulted if you refuse to eat it. I think I will never eat sugar again when I leave this place! U's uncle K is nearly blind from diabetes. I saw U's step-mom put sugar in her baby's milk. This would be almost unheard of in the US. And I thought I had a sweet tooth! Amazingly though, no one is very overweight. No one is thin, mind you. If you are thin they try to stuff you with more, more, more... or in arabic: ba'ad, ba'ad, ba'ad!!!

Anyway, that's all for now. I have to go to yet another relative's house for lunch. These Iraqi's are a very sociable bunch.


Anyway... Yesterday we visited four different houses. Family obligations/invitations may taper off soon so that we can see the city.

My mind is pudding today. Don't know why... Thinking gramatically in English is difficult right now, since I must make very simple statements when I speak, so as to be understood. I don't mind, but it does reconfigure one's brain after a while.

I really like U's cousin T, who has been driving us around. He's quite sweet and entertaining.

I feel a bit manly here. Lately I have been contemplating the differences between myself as a non-typical American woman (I would never say I'm status quo at all) to what seems to be the role of the typical Iraqi woman. I must say unconditionally that women, even in a two income family are expected to manage everything in the home. Women are expected to be married and have children. And you know, in all fairness, they seem to thouroughly enjoy this role. I am not being judgemental. Afterall, the divorce rate here is maybe one in 2000 as compared to one in 2 in the US. There are many advantages to this model. However, my brain is so Westernized that I could never see myself in this role. I could not see myself serving tea to guests, who sometimes pop in unexpectedly. I especially could not picture myself doing this with a baby on my hip and a toddler running about. I'm sure I would lose my mind.

Two of the women told me the other day that men and women never have sex before marriage. Why do I think this is propaganda? Why is that so hard for me to believe? T says this is true and it is a big problem for young people, because they have no way to express their sexual energy. He is outside the norm, however. Others would say that chastity is a virtue. Me? I just got back from acting as second camera on video shoot in the Carribean last month, where topless women walk around the pool without a care, and this month I'm walking around in an abiya. I feel I have seen the full spectrum.

I look at the Iraq Today newpaper and see that the sex slave trade is flourishing. 15 year old girls are forced into prostitution. The compliment to mainstream chatisty, I suppose, is always a seedy underground. Polarity. Pure social physics.

Let me tell you about T's heard theory. He says in the West autonomy and individuality is highly valued. We are like lone wolves. He says in the East you stay in a heard like sheep. If one sheep moves away from the heard the rest think he has a disease. My postmodern thinking makes me feel that this is an oversimplification, even though he is always always pointing out examples of this to me. In general American culture is very similar. Individuality, though commodified, is also resisted at first. True autnomy is rare. And conversely, I believe that individuality shows itself here, perhaps in more subtle ways. Just like in the US, if you can find enough people to agree with a new idea, it eventually is accepted.

Speaking of being unique, being a semi-vegetarian makes me a little bit of a novelty. I am amazed at how accomodating everyone is regarding my food preferences, however! I feel very welcomed, and everyone makes me feel comfortable. I saw a sheep slaughtered for Eid. It was not as difficult to watch as I thought it would be. In fact it seemed fairly humane, in a way. The spinal cord is cut immediately, so it feels pain for maybe two or three seconds at most. The head, when severed made one last attempt to cry out, the mouth opening in a "bahhh" gesture, but no sound coming out. After I watched how quickly it turns from sentient animal to food. H. skinnned it with great expertise, and I was glad to find that all of the body is eaten. Even the eyes, brain, and tongue. This dish is called Pache.

My favorite dish -- MASGOUF!!! Fire smoked and grilled carp. Huge fish cut down the back so that when you see it from the side it looks like two fish kissing one another. YUMMY! I'm told that this is a purely Iraqi dish.

I hope I don't sound negative about anything that I have experienced. It's just that everything is unfamiliar and different here. I don't criticize, I only try to compare and contrast. If there are Iraqi's reading, bare with me. I am an alien, and mean no disrespect.

I do like the pharmacies here. Yesterday we picked up Valium for 2 cents (US) per tablet !!! (for my anxiety). Everything is cheap and accessible. It seems if there is something you want, there is somewhere to find it.

Lots more... yesterday we saw a school that had exploded. Saddam had hidden weapons in the classrooms, and then looters came in when the war started and vandalized and then torched the place. It blew up. The kids still go to school there, with no windows, no electricy, and no running water. The guard and his family have made themselves a kitchen, and a living space inside. He let us inside to look around. I cannot express how desperate it looked.

Okay... this is all my pudding brain can manage... so much more to tell... this messy war torn place is also beautiful and warm and there is hope and good humor on every face I see. More later.