2011
04.19

SYNOPSIS:

We stopped at a few local landmarks, visited the market for last minute shopping and the main mosque in Baghdad.  The blog will focus on what I will remember most vividly of this visit.

There is the scenery:

Even though Iraq is a lot more than sand – there are the green hills in the North and the wet marshes in the South – it is the sand and the yellow-beige color that will dominate my visual memory.  And it is the haziness, the absence of a blue sky, the low visibility – even though for a few days we did have a clear blue sky – that will stay with me.  It is the taste of dust in my mouth and the realization how hard life is in a climate like this for the people there year round.  We were there at the “peach” season.   This was just the beginning.

There are the people:

I expected much more obvious Anti-American sentiments.   But we were greeted almost everywhere (with a few notable exceptions in the South) with friendliness, curiosity, and joy over our coming.  I regret that our restricted travels left us so little room to interact with the population.  The more precious are the few faced which I was able to photograph which I will now remember as representatives of the colorful variety of people and ethnic groups we saw.

There were the posters:

Faded or glossy new, roads and towns were punctuated with posters.  The most interesting ones however, the ones politically or religious most charged always seemed to be displayed at police and army check posts, when we were under order not to photograph.   So I had a hard time getting the full spectrum.  But the ones I have should give you a taste.  Lots of posters focused on the holy imams of Shiah Islam.  These guys are venerated like gods.  Next in line were martyrs and clerics, some quite radical ones like Muqtada Al Sadr and his ilk.  Peace posters and anti-American denouncement, Wedding advertisements and propaganda for the railroad – the country is full of messages of all sorts.

There were the walls:

Road blocks, barbed wire, sand bags, meshed wire-boxes lined with canvas and filled with sand, and tall cement walls everywhere.  Anything of importance it seems – from banks to shops, to entire neighborhoods, government buildings and university campuses – is surrounded by cement wall segments.  Those segments can be put up on a hurry, are hard to penetrate and I am sure protect you quite well in case of an attack.  But they are ugly.  I think we will know when Iraq has reached full normalcy:  These barriers will be a thing of the past.  For now they still seem to have a job to do.

I can’t thank Geoff enough for giving us the opportunity to travel in Iraq.  Of course, this trip was a bit of a love-hate relationship as it is not my thing to get up when I am still tired, to eat when I am not hungry, to race around to see more when I need time to write, and digest.  But who is complaining?!

A dream came true!  Since 2001, I have now covered almost all of the immediate Middle East.  The “Stan” countries are still outstanding, but they are the icing on the cake.  I have now a feel for these places that we read about in the news on a daily basis and that I have been teaching about for so long as the birth places of civilization.  I hope to make something out of this, something that goes beyond the expansion of the humanities curriculum at WCC and beyond some general lectures.  That is a given.

But I am not quite sure what.  Perhaps, I will have to go back to school for a change…?

Good night.

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