Saturday, May 23, 2009

"I thought I would die of sadness." But there are so many other things to die from here.

--- Jane Arraf, journalist, quoting and commenting on an expression of an Iraqi friend

In a fascinating and wide-ranging survey of the situation in Iraq (Christian Science Monitor, 3 May 3009), Arraf focuses on the lives of three friends. While visiting one of them, she meets someone who is still dazed by the killings in 2003. The quote's on page 5 of the web version of the story:

Visiting his old haunts now, Bassim is horrified by the sirens and the security convoys. It's a city he doesn't recognize. The trash in the historic Maidan, the wholesale antique district, almost undoes him. The last time I was there with him in 2005, we wandered through a covered market with dappled sunlight streaming through holes in the roof. Bassim stopped to talk to a cast of characters out of the pages of a novel: an old man behind a stall displaying colored stones that promised to cure everything from heart ailments to heartbreak; a retired prostitute selling local soda while her cat, Mish-Mish (Apricot), kept her company.

Five years later there's been a rare rain in Baghdad, and the markets of the Maidan are padlocked. But then, out steps Bassim's old friend, Hussein Jawad Mohammad, locking up his shop. As they greet each other, it's hard to tell where the tear running down Bassim's cheek ends and the rain begins.

"What happened here after 2003?" I ask, remembering the friends we used to drink tea with, their shops crowded with pieces of history. The thought of Al Qaeda fighters in the alleys and bodies in the streets was unimaginable.

"Shooting. People were shooting each other," Bassim says, still dazed at the killings.

I think of an expression that an Iraqi friend who left uses: "I thought I would die of sadness." But there are so many other things to die from here.