Saturday, July 28, 2012

25th Hour

The title for this blog seemed apt given how I spent my last hours in Iraq, my return and my next locale: New York. The movie is a classic, a Spike Lee Joint about friends, family and his own how a man spends his last hours before heading off to prison.  Edward Norton is brilliant in it, dealing with putting his affairs in order among family, friends and in his own head.  The story doesn't quite take place on the margins of time, but still somewhere close.



 After my morning in the market mazes, I met my friend Omar. I had previously blogged about meeting Omar, an Iraqi Christian doctor from Mosul now living in Kurdistan. Omar and I were introduced by Dr. Bradley, who wrote well about the things that have befallen Omar and his family.  Omar and I had randomly bumped into each other the day before (although there is no such thing as random occurrences) at the market, but we had both been planning on contacting the other.

Since it was Ramadan, we drove our way through a tremendous grey sandstorm over to Christian area of Ein Kawa to have a drink.  We stopped at the Sun Palace, where after three days I had become a local.  I was greeted royally by the proprietor Ahmed.  We spent the afternoon sipping cold beer and eating salty pistachios, almonds, macadamias and pumpkin seeds.  Omar told me about his family's ties with the Jews of Mosul, and how his grandfather kept a chair given to him by the Rabbi of Mosul for decades.  He also told me about how his family was Chaldean Christian, but since he attended a Catholic school, he had grown up Catholic.

Since I needed to stay awake for my late night flight, Omar and I drove to a little coffee shop outside the fortress U.S. Consulate called Black Beans Cafe.  The place was a little portable trailer that had previously been a coffee trailer in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and was called "Green Beans Cafe."  We sipped coffee as we chatted with the folks running the place (An Indian from Goa, a Nepali and a Baghdadi girl) about the difficulty of providing good coffee to American consular folks sequestered far away behind security walls.

I had plans to meet a USC MPD friend doing intel in K-stan, but the bombings the previous day had him quite busy so I continued with Omar and we went back to his house for dinner.  His lovely aunt prepared us a feast of rice covered in toasted almonds, onions and raisins, and a delicious macaroni and lamb dish.  We watched the title of this blog, and also bits of the semi-inane "America's Got Talent."  We spoke of the rise and fall of his family, through the various convulsions of Iraq.  His family lost its savings as Saddam revalued the currency and put his own visage on the bills in 1991.  His family lost its land and holdings as it was taken in various confiscations.  They rebuilt and started a factory, only to lose it in the tumult of times.

After dinner, Omar and I returned to the hookah cafe next to my hotel.  The place was packed with old men playing dominoes.  There was nary a hookah to be found, so I pulled my wasta card and got a kid named Faiz who I had become friendly with at the shop to get us a hookah.  As we waited, we sat and watched Kurdish bingo inside.  Surreal.  Every few numbers called out in Kurdish, I would exclaim "bingo!"

Finally, my wasta played out and Faiz got us a tall bubbler with lemon-mint molasses tobacco.  We sat pulling the perfumed smoke and sipping sweet black tea spilled into the cup.

Omar and I discussed Ramadan, and how he as a Christian fasts on one day every Ramadan.  He does so, because when he had to move to from Mosul, he was helped by friends who were in the midst of fasting for Ramadan.  He fasted with them, and does so on the same day every year.  He asked me to let him know when Yom Kippur falls, so he can fast that day as well.

We talked about where we fit in the world, and of our cosmopolitan class that connects us.  And we talked about Omar's future in Iraq.  Omar is part of the club "We, the eternally damned," those of us who fall between worlds.  As a Christian, he will never truly be accepted in Muslim Iraq; as an Arab, he will never truly be accepted in Kurdistan.  Sadly, he doesn't see a future for himself and his family in Iraq.  He will leave because he has no place here, it is only a matter of time.  A new Iraq needs those like Omar, but his otherness will ultimately drive him onto to new shores.

1 comment:

Omar Faouk said...

Thanks Paul!

P.S: Orthodox not Chaldean, not that it makes any difference! I prefer the WE church ;)