On arrival to beautiful Baghdad i felt a surge of happiness, driving through the streets on the way to my grandparents house from the airport i felt like i was home. It is always nice to unite with family after spending a year apart. That same evening Iraq's Mesopotamian Lions played Kuwait's soccer team but unfortunately lost, had it been any other country other than Kuwait it might have been okay. But none the less Iraqi's were still out on the streets cheering and dancing, the same streets where death lurks amongst the rubble and inbetween the cars. Our soccer team may have lost that night but the peoples spirits were lifted, you could see it in their eyes, even if it was just for that night. Iraqi's could forget the sectarianism that has bled us dry and unite for once, unite for the love of Iraq, for the love of a land long lost, a land we yearn for.
Intact Iraqi families are now a rarity, at the airport mum ran into some old aquantances and we heard yet another story of a broken Iraqi family, half here, half there. These stories always remind me of Eid, when people call up the TV channels and send their eid wishes, the calls from outside were flooding in and every person had a story to tell and a family back in Iraq to wish a happy eid. As long as the government refuses to form or forms along ethno-sectarian divisons, sectarian violence will grow, and the Iraqi diaspora will continue to grow also. Long live the days where people of occupied war torn lands could share a meal with their entire family. Now families of the oppressed are characterised by long distance phone calls and emails.
Initially i had thought things in Iraq were better than last year, i told myself that things were better because people were smiling. Things were better because there were more shops and more people on the streets, the city felt more alive. Things must be better, right? Wrong. On a superficial level things may have improved, yes there are some new houses being built and yes there are a couple of new shops here and there that have opened since i was last here but the streets of Iraq are filled with stories of broken families and faces full of despair, faces that lack hope.
Driving around within Bagdad you will see that people are tried, their faces full of sorrow and sadness. From the man who sits outside his house all day selling bits and pieces hoping to make a bit of income to get him through the day or to be able to have dinner that night, to the women who sit outside the mosque with no place to go, hoping that those who have just come out of Friday prayers can spare them some change so they too can eat that night. As for the streets, rubbish is scattered everywhere, just like the broken hopes dreams of Iraqis. Old cars are left to rust on the streets, some left burnt after explosives placed in them, burnt like the hearts of Iraqis.
In Baghdad a ten minute journey turns into an hour long journey waiting at checkpoints (which are to prevent explosions but are essentially pointless), weaving in and out of cars and giving what you can to the man who stands in the middle of the road without a leg selling tissues or the woman with no place to go but to sell chewing gum on the street, whatever she can get her hands on. Checkpoints are supposed to provide safety and security but more often than not the soliders or police officers are not even checking the cars that go in and out so the wait in traffic is for nothing. And so we must then always expect the unexpected, at any moment a roadside bomb or a bomb stuck under a car can go off and kill dozens, leaving families waiting wondering, most of which goes unreported in Western media. People try and lead normal lives, but their hands on their hearts each time they leave the house, hoping they will return.
The streets of Baghdad are filled with stories of the fallen and the forgotten. The brother kidnapped and tortured, his family unaware of his whereabouts. The uncle that was assassinated for his name. The mother who died giving birth to a baby born with deformities, a baby barely able to breathe and dies soon after its mother. The father whose car blew up on his way to work, his family left to pick up the pieces. The sister who was kidnapped, raped, and left to rot in an old cell. The boy who went to buy some groceries but never returned. The little girl in the yellow dress, shot dead by occupation forces driving by for no reason at all. Every person you encounter in Iraq will have a story of a fallen family member or a forgotten friend. There are also stories of the brave. The hundreds of widowed women who keep their families going. The young men who are studying and keeping out of trouble, praying and hoping they will be able to find jobs when they graduate. Family men who work the entire day in order to put food on the table. As it stands, the stories of the fallen and the forgotten triumph over the brave, but i hope that one day the stories of the brave will overwhelm the stories of the fallen and forgotten. One day.