Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Childhood Friendships That Never Die

[This post is dedicated to those who have known the joy of true brotherly love.]

There were a few of us. Teenage friends, like many the world over. We grew up together. Baghdad was pretty in the 1960's. I didn't know it then but I know it now. Life was brighter then!

We had fun together, we laughed and made mischief and did all the innocent and the not-so-innocent things that go with growing up. On some days we saw each other more than we saw our own families. It was a rare and unique gift of brotherly, innocent, true friendship.

Looking back from present perspective, we were a mixture of Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. We enjoyed all those politically-incorrect sectarian jokes. But that was as far as it went. Those differences did not have the slightest hint of a taint on the bonds between us.

I was the first to leave. I went abroad to study before I was 20. That was when I discovered how attached I was to this scruffy little corner of the world. I was terribly homesick. Only years later did I add some intellectual flesh to that emotional skeleton.

Those friends were so furious at me for being homesick! I was the lucky one going out to see The World! So, one day, they sent me a cassette recording of a gathering they had. It was mostly fun and jokes. One of them, who particularly despised Iraq, quoted and made quite a bit of fun of a famous ancient line of poetry that roughly says:

A man may know many homes on earth…
…But his longing will ever be to the first one.

That particular friend and most of the others are now abroad, spread over four continents… all the way down to New Zealand.

Three of us stayed behind in Baghdad, each coping with his own difficulties and family concerns. But we remained close – each knowing that the other two were there the instant he needed them. That happened on more numerous occasions than I can remember. One of us was killed soon after the invasion. He had lost his wife a few years earlier to cancer. He left a 10 year old boy behind. Part of me died with that friend.

Our paths have crossed over the years. I remember once when I went to Amman, Jordan in the 1980's for a very short visit. I contacted two of them who were closest to Jordan. One was in the Emirates and the other in Saudi Arabia. Next evening, they flew over. I still remember to this day my joy in seeing them again and how my heart danced. We went out for dinner, saw some friends and came back to the hotel. We spent the entire night in a hotel room chatting.

[Actually, the one who lived at the time in Saudi Arabia and quite evidently deprived of easy access to alcohol, spent most of the time with his back turned to us, facing the little mini-bar they had in the room. By morning, he had emptied all its contents, had a look at the card where you are supposed to tick the drinks you had, thought about it a little, and then wrote in very large characters: "All of it".]

Next morning, we all went back on our separate ways.

In another encounter, another friend suddenly remarked in the middle of a discussion: "Haven't you noticed how we just "clicked" and took off as if all those years hadn't existed! He was right. My conviction is that such friendships have that special flavor because they are formed before those barriers of mistrust and self-defense are raised later in life. People who are already ‘within’ are frequently kept in, trusted to the bone and loved without any reservations that are later created by suspicions and undeclared motives.


Most of those friends did well abroad, had families of their own and are now mostly settled in their secure new lives. And yet… I wouldn't swap places with any one of them.

Here in Iraq, I have survived decades of tyranny and oppression and several major wars. I have seen loved ones die too soon through our misfortunes. I have been through endless struggles and indescribable hardships, mentally and materially, that are still hard to express. There were times when I have even seen blame in the eyes of my own children for the course that I have chosen.

Of course, I wish those friends were here with me now… but I cannot join them. This is where I want to live… and this is where I want to die.

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