Thursday, June 16, 2005

Glimpse of Iraq

In response to my post citing Nihad had to die I received the following comment:

I happened to come across your blog while following links to my own.
I found your comment on my little story rather intriguing! I hope it is not too impertinent of me to ask why you expect the story and its origin to vanish! Abu Khaleel

My post opened with:
This story has been haunting me for two days. I don't want to comment on it. But I also don't want to lose track of it. I expect a time to come when this story and its origin will vanish. A footnote...

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* * *
When I said "vanish" I did not have destruction in mind. It was a whimsical attempt to describe the information storm in which we live. Putting the story into my blog is my way of grabbing a shell from the beach and taking it with me so I can remember having been at the beach. All those shells left behind do not disappear, but to me they have "vanished." But the one that I took with me will always remind me that I was once on that beach, that the experience had meaning, and I don't want to forget.
Thanks to a thoughtful note from Mr. Khaleel, I have added his excellent blog to my already too big collection. At least for a while I will try to pay attention as he writes. I spent some time last night visiting the site and being impressed again that I have found another of those people of whom I became aware years ago that I think of as "trans-national citizens." They can be found all over the world, living orderly lives of quiet understanding, not dependent upon false notions of class, nationality or economics for their being. These are the people able to see clearly into the hearts and minds of other people, and by doing so they are able to connect with others in ways that most people cannot imagine.
I have met people like him everywhere I have been. I have read and heard about them in places where I have never been. I have been privileged to meet some who came into my life from other countries, from Europe, Africa, Asia or South America...and in every case I have sensed that in addition to their individual national identities, they are also -- I know it sounds trite, but it is really so -- citizens of the world.
If you spend some unhurried times reading someone's blog you get a sense of who is doing the writing. Between the lines you will discover qualities about the speaker -- peace, pain, tension, frustration, nervousness, power, quiet confidence, patience, whatever -- qualities that help explain what you are reading in a deeper way than just the flow of words. Take a look at this:
Ever since I was involved in farming decades ago, I repeatedly came across what country folk referred to as "Arab Reckoning".
The use of the word “Arab” in this context has nothing to do with race or ethnicity! In colloquial Iraqi, the word is used in three different modes in addition to the normal ethnic usage:
• People talk about "The City" and "The Arab" - meaning the countryside.
• In the countryside people would say "someone lives in that Arab" - meaning that village or settlement or tribal 'deera' (home or area).
• "Someone comes from such “Arab” or "What Arab are you from?" or "He is from our Arab" - meaning "tribe".
The phrase "Arab Reckoning" (or Hsaab Arab) refers to one of two distinct things:
• Approximation in arithmetic calculations and, most frequently, in multiplication or division and area calculations.
• Farmer's almanac.
We all probably do this at one time or another. Say, for example, that you wanted to multiply 2.5 by 3. You would say: 2 times 3 is 6. Then half of 3 is 1.5 so, the result is 6 plus 1.5 which is 7.5. Some people can do complex arithmetic mentally, sometimes using their rosaries as an aid. The division of tribal money dues, fines or income of say 3 million dinars (around $2000) among the members of a small clan of 237 members can be done in a few minutes.
It is always amusing to watch two elderly fellows in the process - one reminding the other of things, bickering and then agreeing on a final figure.
In settling my own farming accounts with my share-croppers in the early 80's, I soon gave up using a calculator when going over the individual accounts with some of them. They could not catch up with the speed of electronic calculation. So, I would do my calculations at home with the aid of a calculator (and later using my desktop) but would go over them using their own method, verbally.
It goes something like this: "You cast three and a half "wazna" (100 kg weight) of wheat at 12,000 dinars a wazna. Three waznas are worth 36,000 and the half is worth 6,500... which means 42,500 dinars". I then pause and wait for him to nod his agreement. "What was the last sum?" The figure is recalled, the new number added to it and mentally stored again before proceeding to the next item. This is performed for all income and expenditure items, including any sums received in advance, returned items, etc. It can be quite tedious and may take the best part of an hour. There was a time when I had to do it with more than 25 people, 8 or 9 of them couldn't read or write.
The speed varied with the person concerned. One particular wily character, Na'eem Jabbar, who is still working on my farm, keeps an updated account of all items memorized in his head. I can ask him at any time about his income or expenditure account and he would give me a figure that always agrees with my books. On "account settlement day" I just give Naeem his balance sheet and the money due. The whole process takes less than a minute... unless he challenges one of my figures!
The highlighted part tells me that I am reading the words of someone who carries his authority very lightly. These are the words of a man who has power over others, enough power to erase them from his life should he choose. And yet there is something in his spirit that balances that power with the need to be understood and respected by those with whom he deals. Just as it takes time to read the example to grasp an idea that is bigger than a soundbite, he is willing to invest whatever time it takes to insure that those whth whom he is dealing do not feel jerked around or taken advantage of.
This, to me, is a revelation of character. There are other treasures among his posts, but I leave them for others to discover. (Here's one, for starters. Don't miss... Before leaving the main gate, a girl soldier leaned out of the side window, face flushing red from the heat, smiled and shouted: " Hey, we want to be your friends!" and waved. After translation, one of the younger men there remarked that he didn't mind being friends with her!)
. . . .
In the meantime, the poignant account of Nihad's tragic death is the shell I have taken away from his beach. It represents for me a parable of our time. It causes me to peer into the sky, shake my head and wonder how long, how long before we see that too much innocent blood is being poured out in our name? Too many people who are not enemies are being killed. And too many more are being inoculated against ever being our friends.

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