Broken-down Poetry: Baghdad


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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Last Friday I met an girl named Shahoda who's a university student in our city. She's one of the first Arabs I've met since being here, which immediately piqued my curiosity. I got lunch with her, Claire, Elise and Sarah Monday, before taking Shahoda back to the office to meet Jeremy and the interns.

I learned that Shahoda was born in Baghdad and lived in Lebanon and Jordan for a few years before moving to Kurdistan. She lives with her parents, but when she graduates college - she's completed two years - she's going to move back to Lebanon, the "Europe" of the Middle East.

For the past week or so I've been interested in the culture of Baghdad, before 2003. From Shahoda, and ESL students, I was reminded of what Baghdad's like now:
  • It's dangerous. It's a war-zone. Shahoda couldn't go to school without a guard.
  • Professionals are leaving. No one with a Ph.D wants to stick around that city - they're all emigrating.
  • Americans are not your next door neighbors - they're soldiers. They've come not to play soccer or drink tea; they're not CEOs of an NGO. 
  • It's hot - much hotter than northern Iraq. (If I've learned nothing else this internship, it's that Kurdistan's summer is nothing compared to Baghdad's!)
But what's most fascinating to me is what Baghdad used to be. At ESL last week I made a list of what used to populate this infamous city:
  • parks
  • museums
  • libraries - once the biggest in the Middle East
  • malls
  • amusement parks
  • entertainment
  • roller coasters
  • buses/trains (efficient ones at that)
I talked to my stepdad Russ about it a little to, since he's so well-versed in ... everything.
The only thing I know is that I remember Baghdad being considered a very cosmopolitan and wealthy during the 70's. When the OPEC cartel formed and pushed itself out strong after the 73 Arab-Israeli war, oil prices skyrocketed.
Iraq was a major producer, on a par with Saudi Arabia. Lots of money. I remember a TV show about it. Lots of construction, parks and running water. Jobs like crazy.
Then Saddam took over completely and decided he wanted to be an emperor also, started the war with Iran which destroyed a lot of the oil fields. War went badly and things got worse because the money dried up slowly. That’s why he started the Kuwait war in 91 thinking he could get away with taking over theirs. We threw him out of course and the rest is history.
I wish I could visit Baghdad. I know there are a million reasons why that'd be a bad idea - see list above. But I don't want to judge a culture without experiencing it myself. Maybe I'd be a target because I'm a little white girl with red hair - clearly Amerikim - but that doesn't stop my curiosity.


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