Sunday, December 26, 2004

Healing Iraq

Zayed is an Iraqi dentist who keeps a weblog. "I was raised in Colchester, Essex and also lived in both London and Bournemouth. We all returned to Iraq in 1987. I was privileged to study at the Baghdad College high school which was originally built by American Jesuits in 1931 and is still to this day considered the best in Iraq. I originally intended to major in computer engineering, my parents wanted me to study medicine, but I settled on dentistry." Yesterday's post describes some of life's little details for an everyday person in Iraq. These snips are taken from a longer post.

Last week we had a total blackout lasting two days, before that we used to get 6 hours of 'scheduled' electricity, meaning one and a half hours of power for every four without. At the moment, it has slightly improved to two hours for every four totalling 8 hours a day with recent promises from the Minister of Electricity to increase the electricity hours to 12 per day very soon as a New Year gift for Iraqis. Jolly! The same minister who, just three weeks ago, advised Iraqi citizens, with a straight face, to go buy electric generators instead of relying on his ministry.

But to be fair, that has improved as well. Now you can get your 30 litres of gasoline (not one drop over 30 is allowed) in just 3 hours, as opposed to 6-12 hours just two weeks ago with queues at petrol stations extending for miles. This was a result of mobilising National Guards to control the stations instead of the police. They started by enforcing the odd number/even number registration plates schedule (one day for vehicles with odd numbers and the next for those with even numbers).

The black market, on the other hand, continues to prosper. At one point the police were brought in to control the chaos at the stations, they inevitably ended up selling black market fuel from their police car trunks in no time. A 3-5 thousand Dinars bribe to the guard in charge of the station gates would some times earn you a favourable position in the queue or even to skip it, of course that is if you have the nerve to refuel your vehicle while pretending not to hear the colourful curses hurled at you from the direction of people that have been waiting for hours in the queue. Usually it's best done by avoiding eye contact and leaving hurriedly, as one smug look at the wrong person can get you quite hurt.

Another clever yet lowly trick is to send a female family member to fill up the tank, since women have a seperate, much shorter queue line. This used to work even if there was no queue for women, as your typical unsuspecting and chivalrous Iraqi male would gladly offer his front position for a lady. This method didn't last long though and nowadays women are allowed to refuel only if the car is actually registered to a woman.

It is also not uncommon to trade your position in the queue with someone far behind for an appropriate price which gets higher the closer you are to the station. This has become a profitable business for a few, and an effortless one for that. After all, you can find all the services you can imagine at the queue, tea stands, cigarettes, soda drinks, tasty Felafel and boiled egg sandwiches, hot chick peas, beans or turnips, beer (at certain hidden locations), even people renting out pillows and blankets in case you need to spend the night waiting in the queue.

A mobile phone is extremely invaluable because it is the only way you can locate a family member if there is trouble somewhere in the capital. Nabil's school is very far from our neighbourhood and if he runs late for some unpredictable reason we can be reassured about his safety by calling him, the same for others. A few days ago I was holed up till dark at my old college because of roadblocks following an attack on an American patrol. I couldn't call home because there was no signal the whole time I was there. When I returned home I found them crazy with fright.

Nokia phones are the most popular in Baghdad, especially the 6600 model. Iraqis have already nicknamed it dabdoob (fat) because of its peculiar size and shape. The classic, cheap 1100 model is called taabuga (brick) because of its durability. Some people claim they have ran over it in cars, dropped it from the roof, or attempted to smash it with a hammer and yet it still worked.

'Phonejacking' is not an uncommon practice these days. Similar to carjacking, a criminal would force you to give up your prized phone at gunpoint.


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