Everyday Life in Baghdad

Compulsory picnic in progress

A familiar face. Could it be?? YES!!

My cousin …………!! I haven’t seen her for so long.

She leaves her car and hurries towards me.

“Hello Habibti! How are you doing??” We sit in my car and catch up on family gossip.

Suddenly she jumps out of the car, “I’ll be back!” With that promise she runs to move her car some ten meters forward, and returns before I have a chance to move my car the same distance.

We are, of course, standing in the petrol line.

“What will you have?”

I motion to the roaming “drinks man” to give us two sodas, “All very cold, Khala (aunty, honorary title given to family ladies)!! Take your pick.”

We drink and chat, our conversation interrupted by jumps to move her car forward every fifteen minutes or so.

So hot, so thirsty and so hungry. So tired and so angry.

I can hardly keep my eyes open.

Hundreds of cars, waiting in line like beggars in front of the King’s gate; waiting for his bounty.

One line (hundreds of cars) for men.

One line (tens) for women.

One line (tens) for holders of “badges”.

One line (tens) for friends and acquaintances.

Which two do you think move forward more swiftly??

I fuel up twice a week, once for the generator and once for the car. And I’m one of the lucky ones – a lady – able to fuel up after only three hours wait, many of the men take a turn today… and reach the filling machine tomorrow.

It is already seven thirty and danger awaits on the path of those who heed not the call of prudence, and get home before this time.

We chat on, as do groups of women and men, who leave their cars in search of a shady spot.

Here comes the ice-cream man; OH! And there goes the sandwich man!! COME!!

We buy sandwiches – tiny falafel sandwiches and more soda to assuage our insatiable thirst.

So hot.

So infuriating.

Some cars fuelled up and have come back to fuel up again – they smile at us smugly.

At half past eight, just about to cross the bridge on my way home, my phone rings, “Where are you, Sahar??”

“Yes, Baba (father), I’m only just crossing the bridge.”

“So late!! And I thought you had forgotten me!”, “No, I’m on my way.”

Driving across that bridge in semi darkness was not why I couldn’t see my way; the cool air from the a/c as I sped on, made me more aware of the continuous trickle of tears. Flowing hot, they cooled and fell onto my clothes. Beggars … Beggars … Beggars …

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