Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The gift I

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, that’s what I say.
Baghdad’s my home, I was born here, I lived here all my life, my first crime was here, my first jailing, first murder, first gang, and I will probably die here.
Until then, I will rule this city; Tyrants and invaders come and go, but what never leaves Iraq is us, the criminals, the gangs, and the gang leaders: me…

Even from this Café, drinking my tea and watching the passers by in the centre of Baghdad City, I know I have control over all of west Baghdad.

I worked hard to get to where I am today, had to sacrifice friends and family, millions of dollars and dinars to governments and informants, and those damn Americans, but in the end, I rule Baghdad though drugs, prostitution, racketeering, you name it.
No civilian in Baghdad can sit where I’m sitting and have a gun like my Desert Eagle on his table without getting shot or arrested by any of the chaotic police of army forces roaming around in Baghdad. People know me, people fear me, respect me.

The streets are not very busy at this high noon hour, it’s too hot and dusty, but still there are people walking around to things to do. A man in an old suit walks past me, there are shoe cleaners and books sellers lining the sidewalk, two girls walk by, too young to catch my interest, my eyes are always analysing the scene in front of me, my enemies are everywhere, I didn’t get to where I am today by overlooking my surroundings.

Which is why I was taken by surprise when the man suddenly stood over my table, he was a non descript man, not too tall or short, nor is he thin or fat, his hair is not long or short, the sort you’d would see every day, all was normal except for his grave look.
It wasn’t his features that troubled me however, oh no, it was something –though simple- very disturbing to me, and anyone who knows Baghdad.

He had a long white Bedouin dress, it wasn’t originally white and dusted, it was brilliant white, the sort that makes you squint if it was under the sun, which I did.

The weather in Iraq, and especially Baghdad, has been very dry and dusty for years now, nothing white will remain such for a long time. This guy must have been wearing a jacket over it.

Where did he come from though ? did I sleep ? was I looking at something too closely ?

You have 24 hours to meet your master.

And he was gone. I couldn’t see him go, all of a sudden he had gone, ran away, picked up by a car, I don’t know.

I looked around, there were not many people in this coffeehouse, two old men playing chess, and an informant looking man in a leather jacket reading the newspaper.

In a rage of panic and rage, I jumped from my chair, my half empty tea glass fell and shattered on the floor, by the time the informant looked up I was over him with my gun against his nose.

“WHO WAS THAT ?” I yelled at him, no one talks to be like that.

“What are you talking about ?” He knew I meant business, from the barrel pressed against his face, and from his bewildered face, I knew he wasn’t lying.
“Did you see that guy in the white thawb talking to me ?”

“ No ! I swear to you ! I was reading my paper I didn’t notice anything”

Shit, someone wants me dead in 24 hours, I have to know who, “ Do you know anyone wanting to take me out”

“Take out Abu Sami ? No ! no one is that crazy !”

I pulled my gun away from his face, I must find out who. “here is 500 000 dinars, find out who’s rocking the boat, I want an answer by tonight”

“I can’t get news by tonight, Baghdad’s too big, and I need to…”

I threw another 500 000 dinars on his table, “By tonight !”, and walked out. The two old men continued their chess game, in the hell that is Baghdad, devils are common.

Who could have it in for me ? who would be crazy enough to send me a messenger ? I was very angry now, and deep inside I was still troubled by that messenger’s visit.

Talking to myself “have to get him before he gets me”, and with a lot of screeching and smoke, I roared off in my car, looking for my next victim.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Story: Nadia IV

Sitting on the top of the HumVee with wind (and the occasional sand) blowing past my face and hair, under the hot December sun of Iraq, I very easily forgot about everything outside of iraq.
The past week has been quite hectic, with the crashcourse in emergency and war procedures, and the travelling half way around the world. It now feels like i'm in a different world, one filled with mystery and culture, and death, and danger.

The American Marines I'm riding with seem friendly enough, I don't know if I can get over the heavy texan accents, or the seemingly hateful tone they have when speaking of AYEraqees- any iraqis. It makes me worry about what would happen if we did see any "f$#@ng sand niggers"

Next to me is the scout, Captain Connor, (pronouced CAANIRR appearantly), they
let me ride on top because this area is usualy quiet, "HollIRR if you see anyTHAING" Connor yells over the wind and the car.

But for now, I'm just enjoying this beautifull desolate iraqi desert, nothing but sand and hills around us, and the road, stretching for ever it seems.

I take out my camera and start taking pictures of the horrizon we're leaving behind as I look to the back of the vehicle, looking through the camera I can capture beautiful scenes, only it was too empty, no cars, no people, not even horses. Wait ! a horse comes running out of one of the hills about a mile away, I can't see anyone riding it, so I start taking pictures of it.

I finish my roll of film on this gorgeous creature running our track, I hurriedly grab for my bag to get another roll while keeping my eye on the horse, which is getting closer and close. Where is that film roll? that horse sure is fast, what's that on it's back ? a saddle ? did it run away from someone ?

As I turn to tell Connor about it, I catch from the corner of my eye the horse changing shape.

"oh shit" A dark figure rising out of the back of the horse, I half turn and call our "CONNOR !" I can still see the figure, now pointing at us, not with a finger but with a gun !

Connor pulls me down hard to see and starts to yell "CODE RED IT'S A HORSM@#

in the next few seconds all I remember are many jumbled pictures coming fast at me; Connor's throat is all red and half gone, he's down and not moving. I look to him and refuse to belive he was sniped from that distance from a running horse.

The second in command jumps up, I dont' remember his name, takes out his sniper while yelling YOU KILLED CONNOR YOU MOTHEF$@# I'LL F$# YOU UP YOU SANd@#$#@ AAARGH ! !

His shoulder is gone, he's yelling again, all this time I'm staring at the horseman, how can he snipe on horse back ?

Then it all gets too fast to understand, feelings more than memories, bombs, explosion, people thrown, I'm thrown with them, sand all around, loud dinn in my ears, look around there many horses approaching, they're all dead only one marine shooting aimlessly and crying yelling I don't know falls blood squirts falls down more shooting running horses loud NOISEGUNSHOURSESHOOVESGUNINMYFACE !!!

suddenly it's all quiet, there are 10 horses I can see not 5 meters away, the leader-whose gun is aimed at me (like I'd try to do something) descends from his horse and walks towards me, it could be my panic stricken brain, but his bedwin clothing is very intimidating.

Standing over me, he yells at me "MINO INTA ?" I just look at him, my face a canvas of fear, my eyes open wide waiting for the bullet.

after yelling into me a few times, he turns around "MITLIG !"

another horseman descends and approaches, a younger arab, 18. he comes to me, "HEY, WHO YOU ARE ? YOU AMRICAAN ? "

I'm still looking, I feel I wanna talk but panic has totaly taken me, inside I'm imagining a sign (our of order, rebooting).

the man takes out a gun from his garb, that's it, my last few seconds on earth, he cocks his gun, points it at me, my wide eyes watching the infinite darkness of the barrel, 3. 2. 1...


The young one calls out. for a second I think I'm dead, but wait, he didn't shoot !
He makes as if to grab me by the collar, but instead pulls something from my neck and looks at it.

Oh my God ! Nadia !

her name works like a charm on me, just like her charm works on the boy, who looks at me with confusion, he turns to the elder "Hai Elmuqadimma"

"mal Ibn Khaldoon ?shjaabha wiaa? "

they talk that gibberish for a while, watching them I'm starting to get my brains back, what are you talking about ? I don't want to move and remind them of my existence, even if it's 1 minute more to live, I still want it.

The boy looks at me again, and this it's him who puts his hand in his garb, that's it all he wanted was the charm. He pulls out his gun which glints in my eyes from the sun and the mettalic shape of ... not a gun... what ? could it be ?

a PDA ? in in this corner of the iraqi desert ? I start to think I'm hallucinating. He takes my charm, and breaks it in two, but ho doesn't break it. IT"S A USB KEY !

I'm not in more confusion than panick, my eyes are wider now, not with fear but with questions, the boy looks at me and laughs "you think we are dumb ?"

he sticks the charm/usb into the pda, checks it, finds something of interest to him- and me-, talks to the elder again. gives him the pda to see or read something.

the elder reads it. he's got an amused smile on his face

"Wa alaikum alsalam"

The elder looks at it for about a minute, the smile growin on his face, he gives it to the boy. and starts giving orders to the others.

Confident my won't fall out when I talk, I asked softly to 'mutlig', "what's happening" he looks at me "she says you are good man" I'm so confused and scared now i dont' ask or argue.

another horseman comes and hands something to the elder, who gives me things that are not mine; food, a gun, and his horse ! pulling me up he tries his english and his voice on me.
pointing up the road "GO BAGHDAD ! BAGHDAD THERE ! YOU GO!" he turns and gets my charm/usb and hands it to me, shaking me hand he yells again "YOU ARE GOOD MAN! YOU GO SAY GOOD THINGS ABOUT US"

They then salut me in a funny hand gesture, and exactly like the story goes, ride off into the sunset, leaving me alone.

that was my last trip to iraq, now my name is now Mohammad Mitlig Gabriel, I still work for The Current under that name, only I work in Australia mainly because I don't like to write negative propaganda.

Iam learning to read arabic now, a bit from university and bit from my wife, you'd like her, her name is Nadia.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Story: Nadia III

"Mr Gabriel, I must admit we were quite impressed with your resume, the skills you offer are exactly what we're looking for in our next assignment, and our current reporter is... under the weather right now, so really. you're a godsend"

I smiled at the chief editor of The Current, the finest newspaper establishment in Melbourne, and grabbed my seat from fear of flying in a joyous array of laughter, "easy Pete" I thought, "don't lose it now you're almost there!"

She took a breath, I could tell this was going to be an offer I can't refuse, "We would need you to go to Iraq in about a month, and cover parts of the country for three weeks"
I could tell my facial features were giving away my surprise, I could never keep that sort of thing inside. "We realise it's a bit hurried of us to ask you like this. but we're a bit overstreched, and this trip shoudln't be too much trouble, I mean the war's been over for 5 months now"

"I'll take it, thank you" we both stood, shook hands, and that was it !
I was flying, I told my friends, my family, everyone was happy for me, my parents were a bit worried ofcourse, but they're suppose to.

Then I told Nadia.
It was really her opinion I wanted, I could almost hate myself for needing her like this, but she always seems to know what to say, and I hoped to get her blessing as well.
We'd talked about this alot. I knew she didn't like the war, but I thought she might like that I'd go there to see it for myself, maybe prove to her how criminal these insurgents were.

"I don't think you should go" for the first time in a long time, she wasn't smiling anymore, she looked worried, about me ? I was mixedly happy and confused.
"why not ? it's the oppoprtunity of a lifetime, it'd never come again !"
"it's an illegal invasion, people die all the time, and the news makes them look happy, you'd just have to stay with the propaganda" she looked down and said softly "and it's dangerous there"

As she spoke I was getting indignant, and quite angry, how dare she accuse me of propagating and lying for anything ? then my heart went soft again, I was more and more aware of that little lump of flesh these days.

" As for the propaganda, you know me Nadia, I wouldn't do anything like that, these people really are animals, and as fo.. "DON'T CALL THEM THAT "

I was taken aback, she'd never yelled at me before, but I could see she was very angry. I hated to see that anger on her face, and hated myself for bringing it there.

"I'm sorry, but I meant to say I wouldn't lie for anyone like that, money is not everything, and Ill be safe, I'll be travelling embedded with american military"

Just as quickly as she she looked at me with those sad eyes again, there was no anger left in them "that's what I'm afraid of"

. . .

For the next month I saw alot less of her, I didn't know her number so I was just left with no way of contacting her, I was feeling very guilty for getting her so angry, and didn't know how to make it up to her coz I dind't know where she was. All I could do was just say her name again and again, which made me feel better




In my last day at university, a couple of days till I leave the country, I went to the library to return some books, and I saw her again. I ran to her but she knew I was coming, and smiled at me. ThankGod I thought, at least we won't part of bad feelings.

"so when are you leaving ? "
"Friday, where have you been ?"
"nowhere, just thinking, I have something for you"
"yeah ? for me ?" I felt like a little kid, stop it ! I told myself.
" what is it ?"

she took something out of her bag, it was a talisman of some sort, which looked like a book.
what is this ? a charm ? "this is a book called 'muqaddimat ibnu khaldun', it shall keep you safe"

I was so touched and dissapointed, does she still believe in such hocus pocus supersitions ? I didn't want to say anything to sour the situation so I thanked her.

"I'll remember you by it" she held up her hand and I took it, and held her hand.

This was the first time we had touched, and I felt that same electrifying feeling again, I could tell she felt it too, but she pulled her hand away and looked down, then she looked up at me, she had tears in her eyes that were harder on me than a ton of bricks, I wanted to held her and wipe away her tears, but I knew we were so different, and that talisman proved it.

"I will pray for you" and she walked away, for the last time. She stopped and turned around "remember, dont' take it off" I looked at her walking away, and cried inside.

Story: Nadia II

It's been 3 month since I started the year, the whole world is talking about the war, even though it ended a good couple of months ago, it still grabs media headlines, death counts, new facts and new players rising everyday.

This is all felt so parallel to my life, all I thought of these days was my final semester of studies, what jobs to find after I finish, and ofcourse, Nadia.

By all logic I shouldn't be so taken with her, she doesn't smile at me, at least not that sort of smile, she doesn't wear anything that would catch my attention, not that her clothing doesn't look damn stylish, and even her hijab (that's how you pronounce it), looks nice now, is it me ? am I changing ? why am I so like this ? and what do I call this feeling ?

I don't go out anymore, I have my friends and go to pubs and clubs every once in a while, but it's not the same, I don't feel right, and every time I go out I tell her about it the next time I see her, like I'm going to confession, why do I need her forgiveness ? my heart doesn't answer, it's become a quiet spectator these days, my heart.

we talk alot now, while the cambodians are giggling amongst themselves, she tells me of her family, of her relegion, I tried to subtly explain to her that she doens't have to be told what to wear in Australia, but she seems to genuinely want to wear it. And like i said, it's starting to grow on me.

She has alot of culture, even though she doesn't feel like a fob, she radiates richness of spirit and of culture. which is good in a way and bad in another.

I tried to ask her out once, she was shocked, she didn't expect it at all, I don't know why I said it, it just came out I still don't know what motivated me to say it then.

she said no, politely

We have about one month to the end of the year, and as much as I'm excited about Time Australia inviting me to talk about a job offer, I can't help this pang in the pit of my stomach, would I see Nadia again ?