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

Blog Archive

February 06, 2005

11. First Step Along an Inauspicious Path

It was only two weeks following my graduation, around mid-July, at the climax of the blistery weather in Iraq. ‘General Summer’ was ruthlessly invading the Iraqi soil from north to south, mellowing the proudly hanging clusters on towering date-palm trees, quenching his thirst with the Mesopotamian immortals, the Tigris and Euphrates, shoaling their waters and disgracefully baring their banks, and proclaiming his elemental scorching dominance through the obdurate and relentless bronzing of bodies, thrown into relief by the pale rims emerging from underneath watches, rings, and clothing.

I was too deeply immersed the night before in a novel to notice the hour verging upon three. A habitual late night sleeper on holidays and weekends, I would never turn in earlier than two or three in the morning, and therefore woke up only when the sun was amply high in the sky. The long nights went mostly in devouring a book whilst enwrapped in the tranquillity and peacefulness of the deep hours of the night. On occasions I would sprawl in bed, oblivious to the world, delighting in some of my soft musical favourites. Or I would pass the time on certain nights chitchatting with mum through one of her wonted late night sittings, sipping on cups of sweet tea—Iraqis’ unchallengeably favourite beverage and their all time entertainment gatherer. Or I would be having, more often than not, one of those intriguing girlish gatherings with my maternal auntie Dina on her holidays or customary weekend stay-overs

I was profoundly asleep around eleven next morning, when the sonorous ringing of the phone jolted me awake twice—it was wispy and distant at first, more like in a dream, but closing in as I was slowly roused by its shrilling persistence. Still half asleep, I turned my head, and squinted with heavy lids at the bedside clock; the hour was closing on ten. July’s intense sunlight was stubbornly diffusing through the thickly draped windows. The air-conditioning had been engaged all night in repelling the invasive heat, turning the house into a real oasis that was separated from the inferno outside by only a wall

The phone rang doggedly. A fervent hope that mum would pick up and choke the bothersome din went disappointed when I heard her showering. Dad, at such an hour, would usually be at work. And my two brothers were similarly sound asleep in the adjacent room. Only a third world war bombing would have, perhaps, awakened them

I pushed the comforter I was tucked in slightly aside, and groped with lazy hands for the receiver. The remote shrieks of one of my best girlfriends, upbraiding my notorious morning laziness, sobered me enough to realize I was holding the receiver wrong side up.

It was Mai who kicked off calling first, and Frieda trailed her ten minutes later. The girls’ voices could barely stifle their excitement, as they exuberantly broke the news of an ad that had appeared earlier in the morning newspapers: one of the governmental businesses in Baghdad was inviting fresh graduates to apply for scores of jobs of all descriptions.

Work had been an eagerly anticipated prospect long before graduation. The unforeseen news seemed to expel the residue of sleep. Imbued with satisfaction, I delectably stretched my limbs and listened to Frieda while she unfolded her tidings

I was verging on my twenty-first summer when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Baghdad University, illustrious throughout the entire region for its honourable academic history. The world then in all its vastness seemed way too small to contain the exultation of my young heart. I was inebriated by the sense of success and achievement, not to mention the extra indulgence from beaming parents who were getting me just about every thing I asked or wished for. And that pressed somehow on my younger brother’s nerves. ‘It’s only a bachelor degree, why so haughty and smug’, he remarked miffed. ‘Wait and see; I’ll beat yours with one in medicine’. Rani’s seventeen years of birth and upbringing in a male dominant society couldn’t put up easily with the extra attention mum and dad were showering upon me. And I would laugh, further irritating him, ‘Get it first and then brag you little boaster show off’. Although he proved his was no idle boast; as he lived up to his word and acquired a degree in medicine seven years later, with Danny, the youngest, too, following in his footsteps.

Still warm in my mouth, the taste of success was incredibly delicious, nurturing some fledgling sense of ‘independence’. My graduation much as it thrilled both my parents, it also compensated, first and foremost, for a big lost dream of my father, who had sailed his life’s boat differently and shifted his course far against his better judgement. And, decidedly, no less recompensed was mum, who deemed female education, in particular, a necessity that was not open to compromise and essential as a buttress for women in a society notorious for giving them far fewer social rights than men. Mum always emphasized the significance of female education through endless exhortation dinned through time, and which I absorbed through their reiteration: ‘Education is a perpetual weapon that arms you not only with knowledge and wisdom, but also shields you against any likely social or marital abuses’.

I was proud and gratified with such a qualification in hand and with work coming shortly into sight. On top of the benefits of privileged birth into a highly respected family, of being lovingly nurtured by wonderful parents, and of the blessings of financial security, health, education, youth, and beauty, I was now on the threshold of a new phase of life, which I hoped would emancipate me from the family’s incubator and provide me with some fractional independence, financial of course, nothing beyond that.

My life right up to this blossoming age was sheer felicity—simple, smooth and rosy. I was the incredibly prized daughter of two parents who answered my every desire and wish, but only after first filtrating them through the rigorous social protocols of an outwardly contemporary but inwardly traditional society, which still clung sternly to its inherited rules and codes of behaviour, especially in regard to the restrictions placed upon female freedom and independence.

The axis of my interests orbited throughout the entire academic year largely around studying, and partly around the pleasures of social and household occasions. This pattern varied during the three-month summer holiday when I travelled within or outside the country. Plain sailing through an elementary and innocent life, I was tied nonetheless, financially and socially, like my fellow females, to the strings of my parents’ apron. Any sort of venturing beyond the family arena would have verged on the outrageous in a culture that moved with every step forward two steps backward, claiming back with its left, half of its right hand’s giving. Here in this infamously paradoxical society, it is also true that women from every walk of life work in their thousands, dress up fashionably and, no less, modestly, drive cars, maintain commercial aeroplanes and even fly smaller ones, join society’s stronger sex in sports, art and other social activities. This is not to speak of the thousands more women studying at numerous academic institutions, acquiring degrees in various fields of science and knowledge, while yet others pursue postgraduate work in the country and abroad, qualifying to hold positions head to head with men, as doctors, engineers, teachers or judges, enjoying equal working rights and retaining, above all, their last own names after marriage. However, the fact persists that our society was, and still is strictly male dominant and its conservative dimension stands unchallengeably in command.

To Be Continued.......