Tuesday, October 03, 2006



It was quite sometime ago, in the early days of explosions in Baghdad, maybe a couple of years ago or more; I don’t remember. Those days almost seem to have been peaceful compared to nowadays. The scene was not particularly the most violent of what has become routine daily life around here. Yet, for some reason it continues to haunt me and always comes to my mind. There was this explosion near a house in the middle class neighborhood of Harithiya, West Baghdad. It was reported on T.V. and the reporter was near the house interviewing the neighbors etc., as this kind of event still made news then. The house itself had suffered some damage though not very extensive. It was one those typical villas of this part of Baghdad, with a nice garden and the kind of usual quite good hardwood furniture made by local carpenters out of teak wood. No doubt the owner of the house spent the better part of life in building a family, acquiring the house and furnishing it. You entered the guest room to see all the little trinkets and souvenirs that were collected for many years exhibited proudly to impress the guests, a valuable Persian carpet on the floor, and the inevitable sofa set which has been there most likely for many years. To cut it short this was the kind of family very similar to ours.

And there was this boy, he must have had ten years or so, quite decently dressed and handsome looking; and he was talking rapidly in an agitated way as boys do, trying to describe the explosion and how he was somewhere in the house and how he ran out to the street and then came back to the house and a lot of excited babble like that. “There was no one in the house, only Bibi, only Bibi” ( Bibi is the equivalent of Granny in your slang ), “only Bibi, only Bibi,” he kept repeating almost nonchalantly. “Bibi has died, Bibi has died”. I don’t remember exactly the rest of what he said but his bewildered face and excited tone, almost like when kids go on blabbering about something that astounded them and that they saw for the first time. This image keeps flashing in my mind ever since. This Bibi, clearly the grandmother of the boy, most likely on his mother’s side, is so typical of Iraqi households. Both parents, probably, were middle class working parents, usually government employees; and the boy typically brought up by his grandmother from his earliest childhood. Therefore Bibi, was the human being closest to this child; she held him when he was still a baby, fed him his milk bottles (the Mammiyah’s), changed his nappies, wiped his face, washed him, cleaned him; spent many a sleepless night by his side and all in all, was the real mother. The violent death of this old woman must have been a real trauma for this boy.

You see, we have in the house our own Bibi, may God protect her, she is the mother of my wife. We are indebted to her for bringing up all my children and looking after us for many years. She is now very old and senile, and no longer able to do anything. My children, now grown up, still call her Mamma. We would never abandon her for anything in the world. We could not go anywhere without her. She is just the most precious member of the family and in any kind of relocation or travel plan for the family she is a major consideration. I think you can understand why the incident of the boy affected me so much. I shudder as I try to avoid imaging him as one of my boys and his Bibi as our Bibi. It is a kind of nightmare.

I don’t think the Bibi of that boy died from any wounds, because there were few signs of any serious damage in the house. I imagine she must have been startled to death, shocked by something which she did not really understand, something so out of the ordinary. All these years of routine existence, cooking in the kitchen, washing dishes, hanging up the linen, looking after the children, waiting for her daughter and her husband to come home from work; all this ordinary uneventful existence, filled with the worries, little problems and tenderness of family life; all this came to a sudden brutal and violent end. And the little boy, what scar he is going to bear for the rest of his life, if he survives, that is! And how many other Bibi’s, and how many other children and parents and all sorts of ordinary people have suffered and met with such rude and violent end to their lives! You know, it is violence against the weak, the delicate and the frail that really pains the heart.

One of my favorite American writers was the playwright called “Tennessee Williams”. I never had the opportunity to watch any of his plays on stage, but I did see the films and also read some of his plays in print. What touched me most in his work was this compassion for the meek and the frail; for the suffering of the vulnerable and the weak. Violence inflicted upon the helpless is one of the most painful things in the world. Is pity a weakness that we should be ashamed of? One line in one of his plays (Night of the Iguana, if I remember right), has remained engraved in my mind and always remembered in difficult times. This was a verse of a pathetic poem written by one of his typically pathetic characters. The poem addresses a tree, admiring its perseverance and strength in standing erect and high for so long in the face of storms, tempests and hurricanes. I would like to conclude with these verses, hoping that I remember them correctly:

“Oh Courage, would you not as well,
Select a second place to dwell,
Not only in that Golden tree,
But in the frightened heart of me.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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