The other couple of weeks made me realize there’s a lot that could be integrated to my free time, it’s very fulfilling to know that my talents are being used and my brain is drained out of ideas and new ideas should be put there. It doesn’t need a special education, work or any kind of preparing, it’s just the experience you had, which differentiate from person to person, collected and organized with the appropriate talent great things could happen, very realistic achievements. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is in here, more of a half-way there kind of arrangement. Keep in mind the following is all from the personal perspective of mine and it will involve my personal engagement.
So I’ve been busy with school and mid-term exams and before that the time I had was a killer and I had no idea how to use it, anyways I used it and didn’t feel much better, just better, I was following my friend’s activity on Facebook, he was making events of all kinds, I had no idea what it was except that the whole fuss was under the name of Fikra Space and it involved students, from all around Baghdad and from different ages as it later appeared.
Exams were over and I was free, very soon I was invited to one of their “build nights” (getting out of my life routine was a blast), an NGO gave them a place for the night (it appeared they had no specific place, just other organizations doing them a favor), small gathering, 6 students one graduate, my friend and three other undergraduates, wonderful ideas and that’s it. And there’s the problem, I appreciate the effort they’re putting into their ideas, it must take a lot of research or may be just be curious enough to find out what’s happening in the world, how other people are solving problems that we have not experienced yet and thereby avoiding them saving precious time and energy, the thing is these ideas are taken as one major dose which are out of these entrepreneurs league, ideas that are purely copied and molded into their environment, considering me being there for the first time I thought I wouldn’t share anything and just watch what they were talking about, I couldn’t, it seems they have stopped just after finding the thought and I was spontaneously building up the steps for these ideas to work and I was pretty impulsive because all they had to share was agreement. For a moment the oldest guy raised an important subject, he talked about how other people asked him about Fikra Space and what have they done, his answer was that they were a group of students that love and want to apply technology in every aspect (that’s how they started out anyways) and they provided workshops and classes to teach others technology, but the question rebounds: What have Fikra Space achieved? He had nothing to say, too bad, too many ideas and no action plans. When I was with them I put an action plan for their ideas, none been followed, commitment is hard and being in a very depressing, least motivating surrounding is discouraging, so when I got back home that night I thought why don’t they have a manager so they add up to their talents and maintain a specific reputation and quality to their name. Later I had the chance to talk with my friend and it turned out that it was all him doing most of the work of organizing, he just didn’t want to say, calling himself a representative was enough for him.
After few days he called me and there was a musical workshop, they were hosting a Grammy Award winner bassist who was coming into Baghdad because he was interested in the middle eastern issues. I remember asking him if it was worth it, he told me I should just go. I went. It was difficult to find the host place. Aaaaand the event was boring, sitting there with a bunch of wannabe guitarists that I couldn’t care less about and the Grammy Award Winner was the least interesting to me. After the workshop was over, the Grammy Award winner Mark LeVine, some other guy, me and the “representative”, Mujtaba slid in his car and he drove us around Karada streets in Baghdad, they had plans to go to the house of an Iraqi civil activist, Hanaa Edwar, a small, vivid women, in her late sixties I suppose, two other men were there, I recognized one of them as an Al-Hurra interviewer, she had three dogs. When I entered the house I was shocked when I saw them, it’s unusual to have dogs in this community, Muslims think they’re dirty and the only use for them is protection, but as fluffy pets like the ones she has, not so much. So as a Muslim myself, I was hoping to see a cross hanging somewhere in the house, I really didn’t like a Muslim family to give up their beliefs. So I saw Mark asking Hanaa all kinds of questions and I was blown away with how much he knew about Iraq and how much he’s involved in the middle east, the contacts he has, how he spent some time in Egypt, Palestine and that he was here in 2003, he speaks Arabic too. Staggered. Hanaa wasn’t much less interesting, she had a big influence in the women rights movement and accomplishments in Iraq. Mark was listening to her almost the whole time and just typing on his laptop asking general questions from time to time to keep her going revealing how much people in other countries don’t know about Iraq. It was late when he was finished with his meeting, they exchanged cards and we left hungry. I didn’t care very much about food from amazement, kidding, that’s all I think about. Me, Mujtaba and Mark slid in the car and went to search for the nearest falafel shop, but it was too late for that, fortunately we found a take away place still open, Mark was a vegetarian, we only bought him starters, for him it was more than enough, not for us, we got burgers. Before that, on our way to find the take away place a checkpoint caught a look on Mark, he was obviously a foreigner, they had a good time with him, he knew Arabic and it was funny to see the soldiers crowding around him, I was impressed how he handled the situation and slipped a strong conversation with a smile here and a word there, remembering that he’s in a strange land, it’s admiring the ability of this man to improvise whenever, wherever, however and get away with it, keep in mind these soldiers wouldn’t have given a shit about him and would probably make a big problem out of the situation.
We returned back to his hotel, Al-Mansour Melya, I remember my dad taking me there a couple of years ago to see if we can use their swimming pool, we never passed the reception, he also told me that he spent a lot of his early marriage going there. Anyways, we carried our food and decided we should eat in the back garden, which might be the prettiest space I’ve seen in Baghdad, green and voluminous, found a bench and sat down, low lights, silence and midnight, I loved it, and the talk was even better. He had too small kids that he was just getting back to after his visit to Baghdad, I don’t remember much of the talk, but he said to Mujtaba that it was his job to make connections between people with mutual interest and different resources, like he knew Mujtaba and Hanaa but the last two didn’t know each other, now they do, he was typing a part of her story t put it out there and now it’s up to Mujtaba to organize and put the whole story out, in addition to what’s next. It’s obvious he was here to do some research that would be advantageous to his university, thus I asked him if what he does makes sense, he answered with a nod and “of course it does”, I told him it sure adds meaning to life working on this field, for me that was enough, it made sense to me, he travels around the world, meeting a hell of a lot of people, gathering stories, no routine, with some friends sometimes and contributing to the society. What is more there to ask for? I have a couple of ideas. One word for that night, just great.
Next day Mujtaba told me there was another gathering at a place in Al-Rasheed street, one of the oldest streets in Baghdad, full of heritage and history, he told me other Americans were also coming and they were going for an exhibition and meeting some people. Nice place, hard to find, has a great view on the Tigris and the other side of the once-had-been city, after thinking about it, sad view. The place belonged to an important Iraqi figure since the beginning of the twentieth century, I have no idea who he is. It took sometime for everybody to come, in addition to Mark there was Brian Reynolds, a supposedly Iraqi professor named Nabeel, he knows little Arabic, and the most mesmerizing personality I have ever seen John Gole. No, sorry, it was Juan Cole, amazing person he knows very much about Arabs, the middle east, very good in Arabic and knows so much about how Arabic accents originate and travel. Sitting next to them, listening while they discussed these matters made me feel like I’m a chocolate flake in a beans gravy (all I think about is food), as an Arabic, and also as an Iraqi, I knew shit. They met with an Iraqi director and his people, he introduced himself, his people, his movies, the typical, the problems in the movie industry in Iraq, the community, the upper hand, the never growing support and a lot of other difficulties, the greatest thing is listening t the Americans displaying a modest sample of their knowledge. It was the night we were introduced to these amazing people, not much more happened, we had typical Iraqi food for dinner, that was fun and reared off to the hotel.
Things were getting less interesting, another arrangement was made with Mark the following day to meet an NGO guy in Sadr city, the meeting was then held in the hotel lobby. I know people from Sadr city, I have some college colleagues from there and they’re not that interesting or special, they’re mostly involved in community religious Islamic events several times a year, not very bright people, have little engagement outside of their society, I didn’t know why Mark was so into that meeting, Mark was asking if there is youth organizations or movements happening in Sadr city and they guy answered with soccer clubs and stuff not even close to what Mark implied. Juan later joined and throughout the conversation he opened up a subject very important to me, he said that in Iran, Shia have muta’a marriage for the youth, is that the same here, spontaneously I had the answer and replied immediately “there is, some Shia believe in it some don’t, but it is socially unacceptable”, both Mark and Juan looked at me with interest and nodded in understanding, I don’t know what they thought of exactly, but I was happy I shared. All the time I felt like I can give them so much more, but my problem is I’m not that initiative, so unless they ask I don’t have any thing to put out there. When we were getting back home that night me and Mujtaba we just confessed that the last two night weren’t much exciting.
I was occupied for the next three days or so, there was a translation conference going in the same hotel, I couldn’t go, Mujtaba did and on the third and last day of the conference I decided to go, I had nothing else to do so. Anyways, I got there, entered the lobby, Mark was sitting wearing a suit with two people, a woman and a man, I felt awkward running into them like that but I didn’t know what to do, so I sat with them by saying Hi’s to everyone and later on during the chat Mark made me introduce myself. Those two people were Iraqis from the US embassy in Baghdad, there was a big talk going on, and then Juan, Brian and two never-saw-them-before professors joined, I could see how much the US embassy guy was astonished with how much all of these Americans knew about us, more than we do that’s for sure. And then the conference began, I went in the hall, it was the first time in a conference for me, I didn’t think there was anything special about it. Commencing with an Iraqi researcher working in a Swedish magazine, she gave a mild presentation that made us interested in what the other academics had to offer, which was substantially informative, the subjects are diverse and revolutionary in the right hands. Unfortunately, the people responsible for the event weren’t much of organizers, actually yet a child would have done a better job, here’s how it went, the researchers had ten minutes to complete their presentation, ridiculous, I saw the papers they were supposed to talk about and they were massive, an average of 800 pages, that’s definitely can’t be summarized in proportionally infinitesimal 10 minutes. Ridiculous. The first person was embarrassed when she was notified and interrupted in the middle of her presentation, she was so nervous that the closure to her presentation was aphasic. Seriously ridiculous. More of those mistakes happened and kept going throughout the event, foreigners had to speak a single sentence and hold so the interpreter would explain in Arabic, reducing the time of presentation to half, five useless minutes, when it was Mark’s turn he thought it was better to screw it and try to improvise in Arabic instead, it was very good but he didn’t know it, the audience sympathized with him and I think they even gave him more time, Mujtaba caught up with the event just before Mark’s impressive show, now we were waiting just for Juan Cole and leave, but his turn wasn’t till after lunch break, so after a couple we left and then interesting people made the day funner. It’s unbelievable how people overestimate themselves here, like they live in a third world country and blame it on the government, it’s impossible for the government to deal with these idiots, but still they don’t even try to look for those distinctive people, those people do exist, the question is: when will the responsible people find and create up-to-the-challenge decision makers.
During the lunch break people started talking and discussing all kinds of topics from science and technology to politics, at some point a women introduced herself to us, she was an interpreter, she thought she recognized Mujtaba’s mother and started her chatter, mostly criticizing the other interpreters who were at the event, after a while she wanted to show us what she did and how she works, so Mujtaba flipped open the laptop just like she wanted him to do, they opened the English Iraqi ministry of education website and she pointed out a description of one of the faculties in Baghdad University, it was a paragraph of three lines may be, in English of course, understandable but wrong on different levels, she asked us what do we think about it, we didn’t know what to say, was the paragraph for some other translator who she wanted to judge and criticize? Or is it hers and thought it was good and wanted some flatter from our side? So after a long pause Mujtaba answered with a confused “it’s alright”, soon enough it turned out to be hers and all we could do is nod and agree to everything she said, she also told us that her job is to translate three similar paragraphs a day, so after she got the compliment she craved for she got up to do her business. Me and Mujtaba waited for her to go out of sight, once she was gone we burst out laughing, I couldn’t believe it, three frigging paragraphs a day, to eventually end up with barely comprehensible three-line description, how fucked up are we? People are actually getting ridiculously paid by the government and providing them offices and may be a full time job to do what we understand as a simple fifteen minute favor. That’s what I meant with people overestimating themselves. Ridiculous. Another incident which I didn’t encounter myself but Mujtaba told me about is that on a previous day on the conference Brian Reynolds was presenting his search which was on how certain translators didn’t fully interpret texts, because they used to neglect the sexual content, like in the Shakespearean mention of sex positions and so. The interpreter at the conference had a prepared pre-translated papers containing what Brian is about to say, so what happened is as Brian was talking he improvised and the interpreter skipped many pages to the near end of his presentation, the scene was that while the interpreter was talking about squirrels and weasels Brian was talking about anal sex and stuff. Hysterical.
Lunch break was over now, Mujtaba’s mom gone home after saying goodbye to Mark, and we thought the conference started again but it didn’t, they were just closing, giving certificates to the researchers and academics for attending the conference which made Mark throw jokes on why they give certificates (the guys is funny we couldn’t stop laughing) especially when they were calling Juan, John Gole, throwing a party for an on-the-go wedding which is the fastest wedding I’ve ever witnessed, and finally having a famous old Baghdadi band, the atmosphere was spectacular, I sat down with my new friend Mark and listened amusingly to the old Baghdadi melodies, one of my most enjoyable memories.
A couple of uninteresting things happen until me, Mujtaba, Mark, Elliott and American staying in Egypt, a Tunisian hacker, and some other guy whom I don’t remember sat around a table in the hotel lobby planning on where to eat, the guys from the ministry of culture came to tell the Americans that they prepared the secured vans to take them to a fancy restaurant, Mark all of a sudden improvised while he was drinking tea telling them he was sick and couldn’t go anywhere in Arabic, raising the glass of tea and acting all tired and stuff, because they wanted to go somewhere local and simple, a people’s place. I want to comment on this behavior for a moment, this guy has been all around the world, has been in countless situations with officials, officers, police, and even soldiers in the Middle East, which in my opinion are the hardest to deal with, so he developed a complex behavior suiting his personality where he can absorb all the tension from a situation and not getting in trouble in any way, like the way he did at the checkpoint, masterful. Elliott was as much interesting after all, it’s upsetting we didn’t have the chance to meet him again after that night. So as soon as the ministry guys got out of sight, we sneaked out to Mujtaba’s small car and piled in, all six of us.
Not to go any further with my talk, that falafel was unforgettable, and this was one of my most interesting and eventful weeks. Mujtaba still reminds me when I asked him at the beginning if this was worth it. It was man.