Monday, June 27, 2005


Naeem Jabbar

I have already mentioned Naeem in an earlier post. He is a share cropper who has been working on my farm for the past six years… and is worth a more detailed mention!

Naeem is a tribesman from a southern province called Qadisseyya. He is a Shiite. When Naeem first came to work at the farm, I noticed that some people called him Abu Sattar while others called him Abu Qassim.

When I asked him about that, he said that he had been married for 25 years before he decided to get married again. His older wife and her sons were so angry with him that they threw him out! So he had to leave his own plot of land to that wife and her sons and seek employment. He moved from farm to farm for several years until he finally settled down on mine.

His new wife insisted that everybody called him Abu Qassim, the name of her eldest son. People who knew him before kept calling him Abu Sattar out of habit. Hence the confusion!

Naeem can’t read or write. I have already mentioned that Naeem has an affinity to numbers. He constantly keeps an updated record of all his income and expenditure in his memory.

The question of share-croppers’ cattle is a recurring problem. If the share-cropper favors his cattle over the crop (which is a natural thing to do) he tends to feed his cattle on crop that is shared with the land owner. People also tend to neglect the shared side of business in favor of the side they own fully. About 15 years ago I solved this problem on my farm by sharing the cattle with the cropper (If you can’t beat ‘em…). I would buy cattle to equal value of his. He would then be able to feed the shared cattle on shared crop without being unfair to anybody!

When Naeem first came to the farm he was penniless. He wanted to have a cow for fresh milk, yogurt and butter for his family. So he convinced me to buy a cow out of my pocket. A couple of years later, he was able to pay me back ‘my half’ of that cow. And now, six years later, is the proud half-owner of a herd of three good cows! I sometimes tease him by saying that he started this business using my money. He always smiles craftily and contentedly!

Naeem is also a political animal in the extreme. I reckon that he listens to his portable radio around 10 hours a day, with the BBC Arabic service getting a good share of his attention. He is quite fond of political analysis… and usually gives me a good run for my money when we discuss politics. I was so impressed with an analysis that he made once that I told him that he probably had more brains than President Bush! The others present, mostly his neighbors, were furious with indignation. They thought that I was encouraging him to pester them on matters of politics.

I usually have to struggle hard to keep Naeem off politics to be able to concentrate on our farming business. During the past two years, Naeem has been having a good ‘political season’! With literally no electric power or irrigation water at the farm, there is so little to do! I must admit that I enjoy his debates. Had he had some formal education, he would have made a good political analyst. That would probably have made him less useful to society though! He actually manages to stay clear of the rampant conspiracy theories so many locals find as the only plausible explanation to the almost unbelievable things that they see happening to their country and to their society.

Naeem was a bit anxious during the invasion of Iraq. He asked me what I recommend that he did. I suggested that he raised a white flag over his hut. If Baathists enquired, he would tell them that he had a circumcision party (as it still is the custom in the countryside to raise a white flag for happy events and a black one for sad ones). If the Americans arrived, they would automatically take it as a sign of surrender and would probably not bother him! I could see him contemplating the merits of the idea… but he never implemented it.

It was at that time that I made the blunder of predicting what would happen. In response to a question from him, I said that I expected him to live better, but we would not have much collective free will for some time to come. He snapped back: “That should be an improvement. I don’t have much free will now anyway”! He and others never stopped reminding me that my prediction was less than accurate. They not only lost what was left of any dignity that they had… but were also living under worse conditions than those of Saddam’s regime.

There was a time, after the invasion, when Naeem was a supporter of SCIRI – the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (not that he was a religious person… but that’s another story!) and was fond of Mr. Abdul Azziz al Hakeem. This led him into some heated arguments with people who were prisoners of war in Iran and who were tortured by the Badr Brigade people either because they were Sunnis or were Shiites but refused to join them! It was only when Mr. Hakeem became president of the now-defunct Iraq Governing Council and announced that he was for compensating Iran for that war that Naeem turned against those people. At the moment, he is against all imported neo-politicians.

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