19 April 2017

My first visit to Baghdad since 2006

The first thing I noticed when the plane landed on Iraqi soil was the huge Iraqi flag, hanging from the control tower all the way down to the bottom. I felt the pride of Iraqis, the feeling of belonging was so intense. I was so existed to hear people speaking Iraqi accent everywhere, I truly felt at home. Then the drive to my grandfather's house started- May god rest his soul in peace, the house where I grew up and had the most precious memories of childhood. I was trying to look everywhere and absorb everything, I couldn't get enough of Baghdad. Then we reached that beloved home, I stepped through its big rusty white gate and I felt magic, the feeling of tingling in your chest and butterflies in your stomach. Memories rushed through my mind and I really didn't know what to look at and where to start. My parent's were busy talking to the taxi driver and I just wanted the world to stop so I can keep his moment forever. The house, although occupies by people using some of its rooms to protect it from being stolen, was just the same and the unoccupied rooms were just the way we left them 11 years ago. My room was full of snow white posters dated 1999 and beautiful dolls and pink girly stuff that belonged to the teenage me. We spent the following week organizing stuff and preparing the ground floor of the house to be rented while keeping our stuff tugged away in the first floor. I went through old books, radios and pictures and I was in pain trying to decide what to take with me back to Dubai because I cant take it all. I ended up taking vintage printed photos and things that have personal value- things that belonged to my parents and grandparents. The week was also full of gatherings and meetings with old friends and distant relatives. Then the magic was over and reality came crashing down.
Baghdad looks like a ghostly circus, the architecture of the once dazzling houses and mansions is terrible. Bizarre decorations with absolutely no consideration for the context and surrounding vintage buildings. It is very obvious that the Mayoralty Of Baghdad is not doing its job, or the designs are not going through it for approvals before construction. The streets are dirty, the infrastructure is destroyed, there is no greenery and no public services. And the traffic, if I thought I had seen crazy traffic in Dubai-Sharjah during the rush hours, I was in for a big surprise. I have always considered myself an excellent driver but truth be told, if you haven't drove in Iraq, you know nothing about driving. There are no traffic signs and cars enter the intersection from all sides- it is a mess. Most of the beautiful luxury places are burned such as the Officers Club (نادي الضباط). I won't even start talking about the urban context of Baghdad.
I wanted to see the royal palaces but I couldn't for obvious reasons- they don't belong to the people anymore. You can't drive by and see the gate as before. I did however visit the most popular shopping place in Baghdad (Al Mansoor) area, it was almost the same as I remember. I used to go shopping for Eid in these streets, as usual I have memories everywhere.
My grandfather had Baghdad in his mind till his very last day. He wanted to come back, he wanted to see his house, his precious vintage car, his belongings and his dear neighbors. This is one of the many cruel outcomes of war. Grandparents are supposed to retire in peace among sons, daughters and grandchildren. Watch the lives of their babies as they grow up and become doctors, engineers, architects and lawyers. Instead they sit outside their homes, watching helplessly as the war takes away their homes, their past, their children and eventually, their lives.
I realised in this visit that Baghdad as I remember it, is gone. The things I used to write about in my blog are mostly gone. I used to dream about coming back home, while now I wonder where home is.