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 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.


Monday, February 02, 2004

I don't have much time to write...

You never forget you are living in a war zone in Iraq. The other night there were two large explosions not too far from my Uncle's house. K was in the bedroom getting ready to go to bed when it happened. My cousin Tareef and I were discussing politics when it happened. Two large booms that made the whole ground shake. My cousin did not even flinch. K 's hands were shaking. Besides the helicopters, jets and various sounds of gunshots, fireworks and such, that was the largest explosion we have heard so far. My aunt said this is what it's like everyday in Baghdad. We found out that it was a bomb, or some rocket that killed 4 Palestinians and 1 Iraqi.

The same day there was a car bomb when we went to our old neighborhood, where I grew up, University Center (Haight-Al-Jamaiya). In Mosul there was another car bomb. Iraqi police are always targeted. They are easy targets since the Americans are hiding behind the green zone.

Central Baghdad, the Liberty Mural the Double Decker Bridge, Al-Tahrir Sqaure- is still there, but various buildings are bombed out. It's crowded everywhere and traffic is anarchy with no rules. The destruction of the American bombings can be seen everywhere. There are also lots of poverty, bmany beggers and workers on the side of the road with their tools waiting to get hired.

Electricity works like this, you get 3 hours on and three hours off. Most people have generators or batteries that they can just switch when the power is cut. It's sort of sweet when the lights go off since we television is off and we light kerosene lamps and sit and tal and drink tea. Everybody has sattellite dishes and watches various gulf channels and even the Iraqi Channel (boring). We mainly watch Arab music videos (all that belly dancing makes me happy). You can get about 700 channels. The cost is only about 100 dollars to buy the dish, no monthly charge or anything like that.

Since we are in Eid weekend we eat and eat and eat and eat. We also drink tea (chai) and turkish coffee maybe 5 to 6 times a day. My Father knows everybody in this city so we keep visiting friends, famliy, who knows who? And it is always difficult to gracefully leave these situations without having Iraqi sweets (Klaycha) and more tea and candy and Cheer-Up (7-up).

The highlight, so far, was going to my Father's old neighborhood of Kadhamya where K was the center of attention as we walked down the market to the mosque where there is the holy shrine, the burial place of the 7th Iman for Shia, Mosul Kadham and the 9th Iman, Muhamad Al-Jawood. And my God, what a site! K kept on getting looks from the Iranian women, they would say: Koolish Hilwaah! She is very pretty! K would smile. She looked cute in her black Abaya and doll face. After removing our shoes, we had some trouble entering the mosque with my video camera. They wanted me to leave it in this hut and take a number. No way haji. Finally my Father's wife hid it under her Abaya (an Abaya is a black large cloth that Muslim women use to cover their body, hair and only expose hands and face. Every women in Kadhamya has to wear one). But it was okay sine we are VIP in Kadhmaya. Our Family is buried there since our tribe, our last name are the gate-keepers of the mosque of Kadhamya, we are special. After meeting the right people I was allowed to shoot anywhere I wanted. Inside was a sight to behold. Thousands of worshippers from Iran, Iraq some from Turkey all trying to touch the shrine, crying and shoving to just touch it. Men weeping and praying anywhere they can bow. After a while we were inside the arena of the mosque, sitting having tea with one our very distance relatives. One of the men kept staring and smiling at K. He told her that she has a very nice Hijab and that her Hijab and Abaya was better then most of the women that came in. He said she should be in charge of monitoring the Abayas so the women do not show any hair! After that we went back to the market and into one of the restaurants where there are pictures of Ali and Hussein (The spiritual leaders of Shia, Hussein is the first Imam of for the Shia's) everywhere. We had roasted chicken that we ate with our hands and with Khoobooz (bread). Very delicious and after that more tea. Kadhamya is totally safe and everyone was very friendly. Although someone said in a very loud voice, in Arabic to K, we know you are foreigner hiding under the Abaya! No big deal. I bought a dishdasha for myself and my brother.

We talk politics every night. My Uncle Kamel calls Bremer (jokingly) King Bremer. He says we like him as a person and that's it. We also went back to my Uncle Abdullah's house for the first day of Eid dinner and they made chicken and french fries especially for K since she does not eat red meat. Abdullah's daughter showed us a school bag that the US govt gave all the school kids in Iraq. A nice bag with pencils,a calculator, notebooks, that clearly states a GIFT FROM THE US, with a pic of a hand shaking another hand.

We are safe and sound but K has over 20 mosquito bites all over her body. Everyone is telling her because she is fair skin that they love her blood, sweet blood!

I feel at home here. Even though Baghdad is very much devasted by the war.

There is much controversy over our planned trip to south of Iraq, to Basra, to reclaim our house. Many people are advising us not to go. Basra is safe, but on the way there are many bandits, gangs and such that may rob us or kidnap K. We will see...

Did you know there are over 125 newspapers in Iraq?

I am running out of video tape!! Anyone know where I can find miniDV tapes in Baghdad?

We have more Eid celebration tonight at my cousins wife's family house. This would be the second day of Eid. And then it goes on all week until the end of the week. Lots of eating!

We are also going to the holy city of Najaf where Ali is buried and then to Kerbala where Hussein is buried. So far my documentary remains true to my original goal of discussing the history of Shia in Iraq. But of course there is so much more I am shooting.

I feel healthy and sleep deep every night. The conditions of the bathrooms and things like that are a very eastern but no big deal. We are over fed and we are in high demand to attend dinners and visit people.

I'm getting some email's from Western media folks who want to talk to me...Tribune journalists in Baghdad that are interested in our potential trip to Basra...we will see...

Everyone we meet is sincere and has a great sense of humor about the current condition. And one thing is for sure, everyone has a different opinion of what is happening. You cannot say that this person or that person represents all Iraqis, it's impossible.

Some of my views, some of my more Anti-American views are changing as's difficult to explain right now since my Dad is about to pick me up. Kristie is still getting looks by some of the Iraqi men here in SKY NET. Maybe it's because she is the only woman? But nothing scary, just curious.

The call to prayer during Eid weekend wakes me up. A chorus of ALLAHU AKBAR!

I am in heaven with all the great food I am eating, ahhh! you should be here. I saw some graffiti that said FUCK METALLICA! hmmm....

It's a little colder today and rained quite a bit yesterday turning the streets into shallow rivers. But a sweater and a light jacket is all you need.

My Arabic is improving, Iraqi style, Shloonik Einee?