Jetlag, busy schedules and attempts to cram seven months in a space of a few days through taking snapshots of quality moments and showing off my rudimentary culinary attempts are my only concerns because I know I am running out of time. I cannot get enough of my brother’s presence. One of the best bits about this trip is the fact that I could actually see him, talk to him and reminisce the old days. Our stale jokes now sound funnier. The all-time favourite music sound as good as new, but there’s a sad part of him that I don’t want to venture touch, but I could feel it and on my part, a big chunk of worries over his life that I wouldn’t venture show.
I have always hated planning and now that I am in Baghdad it is out of the question. If only life was normal after sunset, things would have been better. Traveling across one side of the Tigris is not easy, let alone both. I figured that it might be a better idea to leave things as they happen, so I did.
First Errand – Shaima’s House -- Kadhimiyya
Shaima and I agreed to meet at her place early in the morning so that I could check everything on my shopping list before it’s too late. I tried my best to be on time, but traffic in this country is as unpredictable as its politics and football scores. I found the right bus. Everything was normal, people still have manners, men still leave their seats for women [one of the advantages of inequality], but they no longer talk politics, which is good but not fun. Everything was fine until we were stranded. I had no other choice but hop out of the bus and take the first cab I saw.
I sensed some kind of progress in the air; a cab driving through a once Al-Qaida-infested area on its way to a still Badr-controlled one. Last time I was home, this was unheard of! I was amazed by the new changes; all checkpoints have tacky artificial plants as if to divert the beholders’ attention from the camouflage and rifles to the fact that the young servicemen mean no harm. Whereas the city housing one of Iraq’s famous golden-domed shrines proved that Iraqis are still creative; a motorcycle with a metal box, locally referred to as Sattuta, which looks risky, but commuters seem to be happy, I can almost see them stick their tongues at me for taking the old-fashioned cab.
From Shaima’s house we decided to go to the old Mutanabi book market. It no longer looks the same, neither are the bookshops keepers. I have been dealing with Mutanabi dealers for years, but never been ripped off, today I have and twice!
Then I moved to the once booming silver market. The bracelet I have been dreaming of is no longer there because the renowned silversmith who created the idea has immigrated to Australia and the ones left lack the talent. From there we headed to the trash-strewn Shorja marketplace, where I was almost run over by a porter with huge boxes, but it’s alright I found the stuff I was looking for, I could never be happier.
As I was promised, Shaima’s treat was a cruise across the Tigris. It was BREATH-TAKING! For the first time in my life, I was able to take pictures inside my city, on a boat though, pictures that scream I WAS IN BAGHDAD!
The last stop is my favourite place Kadhimiya marketplace, which seemed to have survived. No rip-offs, cheery faces and the good old Iraqi spirit seem to be buzzing with life.
Henna --- check
Souvenirs --- check
Books --- check
Jewelry --- check
It’s about time to satisfy my hankerings for Iraqi delicacies. I felt like a royalty today the Kubba, Kabab Tawa and Dolma I just said in passing that that I was craving in an online chat with Shaima are actually right there on the table.
I haven’t had tea in a cosy house in years. The last time I did it was in my aunt’s old house, from which she was displaced. With every sip I took I prayed for her to return to her old house, where my happiest memories are.