Thursday, May 27, 2004


Baghdad - Through Foreign Eyes

The following was forwarded to me by a friend. It was a message written by an Australian lady on life in Baghdad. I have no idea who the lady is, so I’m taking the liberty of publishing it without her consent hoping that she will forgive me.


As I head home, I want to give you an idea about what every day life in Baghdad has been like these past six months. The crazy, the comical, the everyday, the tragic.

You know you’re in Baghdad when…
One of the hazards of walking down the street is getting your skirt caught in razor wire.

- When you hear the fourth loud explosion during the night, the response is to roll over and go back to sleep as you mutter:… “Mmmm … that sounded like an R.P.G on The Palestine Hotel….”

- You start using acronyms such as R.P.G (Rocket Propelled Grenade) in everyday conversation with friends, and in your sleep!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…
- Mosques and churches live side-by-side in harmony.

- Most young people (under 30) I meet have a Masters Degree and are working on their Phd. (I’ve heard that Iraq has the highest ratio of Phd's per population in the world.)

- Hot water systems are called ‘giesers’.

- The smiles of children are wide, warm and cheeky.

- A glass of tea is tiny, strong and is served black with at least 5 sugars! Coffee is
smaller, stronger and served with 10 sugars!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…
- You are body searched at three separate checkpoints and forced to walk through a concrete jungle, razor-wire labyrinth just to attend a meeting at the building of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, the polite name for the occupying force). I think someone is paranoid…

- Queues at petrol stations can stretch up to 2 kilometres long, often meaning 8-hour waits. In an oil-rich country? I don’t get it!

- Black market petrol is sold by the side of the road in plastic jerry cans with a 7-up bottle cut in half and a rubber hose used to siphon fuel into cars. I really don’t get it!

- Fancy hotels or any building that houses foreign contractors or media are barricaded with at least 100 metres of massive grey concrete blocks topped with rows of ugly razor wire that make the surrounding neighbourhood look like the plains of Mordor leading to Mount Doom. Not real subtle if you ask me!

You know you’re in Baghdad when…
- You plan your day’s activities according to electricity cuts.

- Children’s Amusement Parks are now military bases.

- There are demonstrations every day.

- University Professors, Lawyers and Engineers are taxi drivers.

- Rumours say mobile phones are bugged, but generally they don’t work because (ironically) the world’s largest capitalist system gave the contract to a corrupt, inefficient monopoly. One of the company director’s must have a relative in the White House?

You know you’re in Baghdad when…
- Crisps are bought by the kilo. They are stored in huge clear-plastic sacks displayed on the footpath outside the shops, the site makes you want to dive into one and eat your way out!

- It's the men who flock to ‘salons’ to be preened and get their eyebrows plucked.

- The tall, tall, palm trees sway with grace in front of the large red sunset when the evening breeze comes.

- Like my country, everyone is crazy about sport, especially the blokes, and especially about football, (what I call soccer!) Which is played around Baghdad on dusty fields without nets.

- Green-grocers take pride in their produce –fat bunches of Bananas are arranged on ropes that surround the fruit shops, oranges and apples sit in colourful neat rows.

You know you're in Baghdad when…
- The screeching roar of generators sitting on the footpaths makes you feel like you're at a lawnmower expo when walking down the street.

- Major roads, highways and bridges are randomly blocked without notice for the convenience of the military, causing traffic jams that make New York peak hour look like a country lane on a slow day.

- A trip that should take 10 minutes can take three hours because of said traffic jams.

- Wild excuses for being late for an appointment such as “five American tanks cut off the bridge near my house” are plausible and must be accepted.

- Successful businesses have closed or struggle to survive because the US has permanently blocked several major inner-city roads. Customers no longer have access to the shops, but there is no compensation for loss of livelihood.

- Cars drive on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, across medium strips, the wrong direction at roundabouts, basically anywhere really. Why? Because they can. “This is my freedom!”, the young boys cry from a battered old pajero that
should’ve gone to the wreckers 20 years ago.

- Said freedom and resultant chaos, means traffic lights, stop signs, and all road rules have long been abandoned so that every trip in a car becomes a ‘demolition derby’ experience and you just pray that your taxi driver comes out on top!

- Said freedom, and resultant chaos, means that crossing the road involves a ritual of making peace with your maker, taking a deep breathe, stepping into oncoming traffic and hoping the drivers care enough about their car to stop. I’ve been hit twice.

You know you're in Baghdad when…
- The thunderous sound of military helicopters ‘coming and going’ drowns out the
conversations in your living room.

- Watching Black Hawks swoop as you eat your lunch makes you feel like you’re on the set of a Russell Crow movie, or was it Tom Cruise?

- You make bets about ‘which variety of bomb or gunshot was that?’ with your friends.

- Every household has a gun. Women carry guns on the street.

- Large reconstruction contracts are always granted to foreign companies rather than local ones.

- Parents are so fearful of lack of security, many don’t allow their children to go to school.

- A by-product of freedom has meant an influx of pornography, hard drugs, prostitution, and a dramatic rise in armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.

And you know you’re in Baghdad when…
- The ancient River Tigris flows with a confident dignity despite its years of neglect.

- You can buy one egg at the shop. But not less than 2 kilos of rice.

- Locals say ‘chicken’ when they mean to say “kitchen’, and vice versa.

- Locals say “hallo!” when they mean ‘goodbye’

- I start saying ‘hallo!” when I mean ‘goodbye’!

- You can get all the latest computer software for free, because there are no laws – anyone need anything?

- Juicy barbecue chickens rotate over hot coals in glass cabinets outside restaurants with tables and chairs set up on the footpath!

- Hommous is always good. So is falafel.

- The domes of mosques shine with beauty and pride.

- Piles of rotting rubbish grow on street corners and encourage the spread of disease because there is no local council to come and pick it up.

- Everyone you meet is exhausted about having to cope daily with the above conditions and wonder how on earth they will cope another day.

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