Liana telling the story in a nutshell

Love is the twin of a beautiful dream that survives birth to reality; but my love was a reality that survived arduous parturition only to remain a beautiful dream

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January 31, 2005

9. The End Relays To The Beginning

IRAQMESOPOTAMIADawn of civilizations… Reverberating voice from time immemorial that defied demise to remain a living attestation of a great heritage from greater ancestors who bequeathed to the world the first script and the first wheel. Sumer, Babylonia, Nineveh, Ur… names canonized in history’s memory for thousands of years. Homeland of two munificent immortals, the Tigris and Euphrates, as well as being, according to tradition, the land of Abraham, and beyond him, the Eden of Adam and Eve. A land hallowed and no less damned, where one prodigious civilization followed upon another, and one war birthed another. Homeland of the Assyrians, the Sumerians, the Akkadians, and the Chaldeans, yet also a land racked by a notorious totalitarianism unparalleled by any other in recent history. And a hapless nation ruled by a vicious megalomaniac who ‘excelled’ in producing three wars and pulverizing every link to civilization in every side and corner of what used to be a country once.

My story gets its reincarnation on the heels of the breathtaking scenes of bringing down the effigy of tyranny. This land was re-egressing from its third inauspicious nail in two decades. People around the world were still holding their breath in anticipation of the backwash from this undoubtedly controversial event which had the world divided and obsessed for months. The ubiquitous heated debates were at their zenith, keeping people amply engaged: some praising vociferously, while others picking apart, and yet others were watching led by suspense and saturated by inquisitiveness. Iraqis were shock-stricken, and the repercussions from the war were augmenting by the day. The patently precarious post-war plan for reinstating peace marred the exhilaration that accompanied the swift deposing of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and so looting heralded the nascent freedom and before long twinned itself to incidents of anarchy, which mounted by the day. Saddam and his fiends were on the run. Iraqis were still flabbergasted, and barely coming to terms with the incredibly fleet demise of the yoke they once conceived as all but invincible. The horrendous mass graves that were aired to the world had it stricken with horror and disgust and imparted evidences of the heinous death machine that reduced a whole nation to silence for decades. Iraqis, at large, whether those inside, or those who the regime’s oppression had dispersed around the globe, were licking their wounds and regurgitating long endured nightmares that revealed such stinging realities as to wipe out the slightest doubt about the brutality of the defunct regime, even among those who had championed it once. The staggering nation was engulfed by overwhelming emotions: agonizing impuissance, thrill, grief, rage, devastation, anticipation, but first and foremost, excruciating memories of loved ones lost to the atrocities of the ever hungry ogre and his preposterous chain of wars. The swooping freedom tasted all the more weird and stupefying. Gone was the oppression, the terror and some of the fear, but in its stead dismaying harbingers of pandemonium and lawlessness were looming alarmingly.

Having personally survived two wars, I could fathom the backwash from subjugating a ravaged nation to the atrocities of another. However, the Arabs of old days said that the last remedy lies in cauterisation, and Saddam was a long-standing fetid organ. Had he been amputated on 1991, it would have made then all the difference, sparing the Iraqis a third dilemma.

I was one of twenty four million Iraqis who suffered through two wars. The first was with neighbouring Iran. It lasted for as long as eight devastating years, winding up with a hefty price that the Iraqi people had to defray to satisfy the dictator’s avarice. This war, nonetheless, was a cruise when compared to the second. We were barraged by around-the-clock bombing, for nearly two months, by a combined force of 35 armies, which ultimately departed from the war zone with half-finished action, leaving Saddam clinging to power for another thirteen years, accompanied by draining sanctions. Having personally witnessed the atrocities of those two bloody wars, terms such as ‘shock and awe’ chilled my spine and brought back obstinate recollections that I had been fighting to eliminate for years. However, the temptation of seeing Saddam ousted was way too irresistible.

Amidst those accelerating events and the surrounding controversy I, too, was engaged in waging another fierce war, striving to obscure my emotions by putting on an unexcited face. Was I less loyal or less patriotic? No, of course not. Nor was my heartache for the maimed people and the shattered country in any way insignificant. Even the loathing I bore in my heart for the dictator and his regime was by no means trivial or infinitesimal. Therefore the perceptibly passive silence with which I greeted the momentous occurrences that beleaguered my beloved country at the time belied my true feelings. In fact, I was sweeping all over with exultation, brimming over with childlike impulses, and sorely tempted to scream at the top of my lungs and jump dementedly high in the air while I watched from thousands of miles away the ignominious downfall of the statue. But what actually hulked behind my seeming nonchalance was the fact of the American involvement in my country that accompanied the event, which had me particularly bridle my emotions and eschew any sort of blatant enthusiasm that could have resurrected some old dormant anguishes and irksome allergy that my household bore for years in its heart towards the Americans. Was I steering myself thus on account of a hypersensitivity fuelled by mere illusion, or was I sensing a palpable verity? Well, whatever the truth of the matter, I had to pull out all the stops for concealing my genuine reactions especially as I sensed my household eyes riveted on me, probing my demeanour for corroborating evidence of some long muffled emotions they had never ever doubted existed.

At this curial point in time Maryann rang up. This was not some unforeseen call though, as we were in the constant habit of calling each other and blabbering over the phone long enough to send sky-high our bills. Naturally our chat at this juncture could not revolve around anything else but Iraq. After a half-hour of chitchat, Maryann eerily brought it up in the most forthright manner: ‘Saddam’s gone, and you’ve got nothing to fear or worry about now. I think it’s time you started writing your story’.

Maryann and I confided privacies. On the strength of our long friendship there wasn’t actually much that we didn’t know of each other’s life. It was the first time, nevertheless, that Maryann advanced such a proposal, and just hearing her say it reduced me to stunned silence

‘Hey, Liana, you heard what I said?’ She asked, eager for a reply

‘Are you serious?’ I replied after a short pause, unable to hide an astonished voice.

‘Never been more serious’.

‘Write a book, me? You must be joking’.

‘Yes, you, and I’m not joking, not in the least. I always thought you’ve got the story. What you really lack is the decisiveness. Besides, don’t you think it’s about time “he” knew what you’ve been through?’

Hearing the word ‘he’ pricked where it hurt most, but talking about hurts even more to make me hush up.

Well, ‘Cherchez la femme’, I suppose is perfectly apt here. And I reckon Maryann, the wonderful unrelenting Maryann, stirred the quiescent jinni and released it at long last out of the jar.

Maryann and I were among the roughly five million Iraqis who fled the exacerbating consequences that ensued the second of the dictator’s wars in 1991. Despite living in two different countries now, we never allowed geographical distance or the difficulties and busy routines of life to come between us.

When one plus one could equal three or even four for the emotional person that I am, it’s never but two for Maryann, well-known for the doggedness and determination she’s often able to summon. She’s a doctor by profession, and talk of procrastination or cunctation is by no means the language Maryann understands, or even tolerates.

Right up to that moment, I had never, candidly speaking, thought of it, or more accurately, never even dared to think of it. And I would have thought totally insane anyone who told me even one day prior to the ousting of the dictator of the least likelihood of my going public someday with the story of my life.

Having listened to her badgering, I spelled out, ‘It’s not only Saddam. Have you forgotten about tradition and culture? I truly live in the western world now, but my life remains basically, as ever, taken up in typical Iraqi household living, and you know how much I mind my family’s reputation. Besides, I don’t see what use it would do after all these years other than inflaming my family’s anguish and adding more salt to my open wounds’.

‘You did nothing inappropriate to be ashamed of talking or writing about’, she held on. ‘And I am quite positive sharing it with others would help to ventilate the festering pain you have long endured. As for your identity, you can always keep it hidden if you wish’.

Well, I reckon Maryann had it all figured out and made it sound just like an easy undertaking. However, it wasn’t just the dictator or his vicious regime, which continued to inspire inexpungeable fear and horror in the hearts and minds of Iraqis, like me, regardless of how far we were from our homeland, and which made such a project sound none other than an act of insanity. Nor was my hesitation entirely explained by my profound consideration for the consequences upon my family’s social standing when such a private experience is perilously exposed. Nor even by the enervatingly daunting task of writing, especially as I suspected that I lacked the requisite courage and self-assurance to sustain me through the process. All these, however, seemed to fade in comparison with the piercing throes of reliving it. I seemed too played out and debilitated by my long-lived agony to be able to re-endure what I had heftily mollified with the finest years of my youth. Living it over minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day seemed nothing short of self-annihilation

Faced with Maryann’s pertinacity, I was in a no-win situation. A few more unrelenting spurring phone calls, and she characteristically triumphed, inseminating adequate resolution to crush any stumbling blocks, evoking, too, the firedrakes of pleasure and excruciation, which just haunted me day-and-night. Taking off my mind was not only becoming increasingly ineffectual, but the concept perversely snowballed and grew heavier and bigger with each passing day

A couple of months later I rang up to express my good wishes for her birthday that was close at hand, and also to ensure she received the gift of two CD’s of her favourite Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri, which I had sent her earlier. It was I, actually, who brought it up this time, further buttonholing her for her moral support and encouragement.

‘I have started my first chapter, and I think I’ll go for it’, I broke the news shyly.

‘Great Lu’, she cried thrilled. ‘Good for you, I was certain you’d do it. Count me in for a copy’.

Henceforth was the terminus a quo, the incipience of the wrenching, yet no less dulcet, recital. The reincarnation of a doomed romance of six surreptitiously stolen, wonderful months, long enough, nevertheless, in their fallouts and reminiscences to alter drastically the course of a whole life.

A fairytale that gathered in love what was once conceived ungatherable: an American male and an Iraqi female. Despite all the beleaguering alienation of the most rigorous political, social and religious rules and guidelines, it survived, so as to reap punishing pain and anguish that exceeded its pleasure by many times, only for daring to blossom inopportunely in two hearts of entirely different worlds and different cultures.

A crazy defiant love that had shrivelled up, perhaps, in the memory of Time, but remained ablaze for many years now in my heart and my mind, notwithstanding the unrelenting struggle for survival, which surfaced above it sometimes, or which pushed it slightly aside at other times. Survival that could by no means be depicted as less than miraculous in a country reduced to ruins, and people afflicted down to the bone by the insanity of a war maniac. Homeland, blessed, like no other, with brimming wealth, yet plagued throughout history with a long series of insane and brutal rulers.

In this land of political oppression, in this land of cruel cultural restrictions, my story was born, and here it lived and endured and ultimately was buried years ago. In this land, too, I was born and raised, not an Arab, but a genuine biological descendant of the Chaldeans. My roots lie among the ancient people of Iraq—the Babylonians—the proud builders of the hanging gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that had been standing sublimely for love and the power of love for thousands of years. These gardens the Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar, built to please Amyitis, the wife he loved most. A prodigious achievement in a land already graced by the earthly law that was born at the hands of the greatest of all kings, Hammurabi, the codifier of the laws of Sumer of Mesopotamia.

I was born Christian in faith, Roman Catholic to be precise, in a region where religion and faith corner-stoned the pyramid of a culture that was appended with honour and reputation. Arabic was my second mother tongue after the Chaldeana dialect of Aramaic, the language Jesus and his disciples spoke and wrote while preaching Christianity.

My birthplace was northerly Mosul, nicknamed the city of two springs and known in the old days as Nineveh, the historical capital of the Assyrians, who were twinned with their traditional enemy, the Chaldeans, as the founders of Mesopotamian civilization. But I lived most of my life, and since the age of ten, in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, four hundred kilometres south

To Be Continued.........


Wynn Bexton said...

This is an incredible blog. I will certainly come back to read more of your story. And I'll pass it on to others too. One of my very good friends here is an Iraq man (Sumerian), an artist, refugee from Sadaam's regime. (His father was killed by Sadaam and he, himself had to flee for his life.)It is so interesting to hear from an Iraqi woman. Write on, please! wynn

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