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 27, 2005

18. Had I Just Listened/Part Five

The burning heat assaulted me when I opened the car door; it felt like entering an oven set on a high temperature, ‘Iraqis, good or bad, should go straight to heaven; this bloody summer is our hell’, I said crankily.

The ‘team’ laughed, and we marched towards a huge building of several levels. Caught between the intense heat from above and its reflection from the melting asphalt below, which gripped the heels of my shoes, I felt that the distance to be traversed was endless. But much to my relief, we were greeted by the stimulating ‘neutral’ breeze of cool air. We headed for the reception desk that was positioned at the front-end of the foyer, which was elegantly furnished with velvet, navy blue couches and armchairs, and walled in by tinted windows. We lined up with others queuing up quietly, seemingly there for a similar purpose. Led by Fury, we tentatively approached the desk.
‘We’re here in response to the ad placed in the newspaper about job vacancies’, Fury explained.

Ah-lan Wa-sah-lan, Welcome’, the front-desk lady replied with the broadest smile. She reached out for some ‘forms’, and requested that we fill them out and attach to them copies of qualifications and two passport-size photos. In a few moments we were all gathered around some writing benches at the far right end of the huge marbled lobby, filling out the CV ‘substitutes’.

Fear and anxiety mounted with every query. The application form involved a thorough anatomy of the applicant’s political history and that of the whole family, rather than being a gauge of qualification and expertise, for which only one page was allocated, whereas two or three pages were devoted to establishing that the applicant had no association whatsoever with any person or organization that could or might be labelled as ‘opposition’. ‘What is your political status: Baathist, independent, or other? Have you, or any of your family or relatives, been imprisoned for political reasons? Have you, or any of your family members or relatives, ever engaged in political activities against the government? Do you have any family member or relatives executed for political reasons? Do you have any family member or relatives living abroad? DO YOU HAVE NEXT OF KIN MARRIED TO A FOREIGNER? State names of uncles and aunts, addresses and occupations. State names of great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers and dates and places of birth, and dates of decease!’ So ran the questions.

Proficiency, talent or efficiency, in Saddam’s era, failed in any competition with membership of the Ba’ath Party—the governing faction- foisted under duress on the populace. Members of this party exploited their positions in order to appropriate jobs and secure promotion. From their privileged ranks were chosen those who attended international scientific conferences, seminars, or educational courses, or who were awarded scholarships. They had carte blanche, on the whole, and they reciprocated with absolute adherence, allegiance and blind acquiescence to the regime and its ideology, which was vehemently embodied in their famous slogan ‘Naf-fith thum-ma naa-kish—implement first and discuss later’. But then, the question is who would have jeopardized spilling their own blood by initiating a discussion of their methods.

When compared to other countries in the region, Iraq possessed the largest proportion of intellectuals and prominent scientists, both male and female, with expertise in all aspects of science and knowledge. If one were not a Baa-thist, however, not only did it entail being watched, especially if one were suspected of being reluctant or stubborn, but there was also the prospect of much less competent colleagues rocketing the pyramidal service ladder past one, enjoying excellent positions, attractive incentives, such as overseas trips, let alone power and command. It meant a fierce war with adverse consequences that ceased only upon hoisting the white flag, and yielding to the law of their jungle where survival was only for the Baa-thists.

The weirdest of the questions, I thought, was the political status question: Baathist, independent or OTHER? Somehow, they were more lenient towards independents, than towards those who were dubbed as ‘other’? Who on earth would have dared to disclose being ‘other’?

‘S**t… what sort of questions are these’, I whispered to Fury. In truth I didn’t envisage the least probability of us being appointed since all five of us were independents.
‘It depends on how badly they need us’, Fury murmured. ‘The ad says “urgently needed”; we’ll apply and see anyway’.

We submitted the application back to the receptionist. She informed us, with the same cheerful smile, that we were to be "interviewed" shortly. She gestured politely towards the seating area.

We sat, all five of us, on one couch squeezed against one another. We were consumed by anticipation that was eating away at us like acid while we waited for what seemed an everlasting while but was in actuality only fifteen minutes. I looked at Ban and saw how busy she was twisting and shredding to tiny bits the edges of the tissue she had in her hands. Mai was hungrily biting what was left of her fingernails. Sumer sat with her hands crossed and eyes fixed on her skirt, her mind seemingly far away and engrossed in concerns. Fury and I shared nervous glances. Those forms we had filled exposed it all. Our first encounter with the harsh repugnant reality did not, I suppose, impress us. A world we had only heard of appeared certainly viler than anything we had encountered in college: ‘This is how it works then; catch’ em when they come asking for it’. A sly and devious carrot—who doesn’t need a job? We were trapped, with no way out.

Tension further augmented. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I had no further desire for the job at all, and my impulse was to leave. ‘Are you crazy?’ Fury chided murmuring, while she clenched her teeth and clasped my hand. ‘Be sensible, let’s wait and see how things turn out’.

Waiting multiplied our anticipation. All that cheerful hilarity in the car had evaporated. And this wasn’t actually because of the likelihood of failing to secure the job. Our graduation, after all, had been only a couple of weeks previous, and work hadn’t yet assumed priority, especially for me, with both my parents against the notion. But it was the fathomless trepidation, which the repulsive regime had implanted for decades in the innermost soul of every Iraqi that took hold of us. The bitter reality, which divested the Iraqis of their individuality and their freedom of choice. It was the first time that we experienced the silencing fear we frequently observed in others’ eyes. It was not unlike death—we hear about it every day and we know it’s out there somewhere, but we don’t realize its cruel existence until it strikes close.

I sat silent, immersed in deep thoughts, sorting things out: Fury was Kurdish Sunni, Ban and Mai were both Muslim Shiites, Sumer and I were Christian. In a sense, two of us out of the five, were, ironically, the least questionable. Throughout the history of Iraq, Christians, in their different manifestations, never got involved in politics, or tended towards religious fundamentalism or political radicalism. They never sought power or took sides, or even discommoded any of the successive governments, always maintaining peace and keeping to themselves. Would that have meant a better chance for Sumer and me? Possibly, but those forms wiped out all interest I had in the job.

Caught up in eddies of unpleasant scenarios, ‘Mar-ha-ba, welcome’ flinched me back to reality. I lifted up my head to a tall slim chap with a nice smile, somewhere in his early thirties, wearing some sort of uniform, standing right before us. ‘Ahmad, from personnel and administration’, he said as he introduced himself. A few seconds later, and we were trailing in his heels to the elevator and rode up to…which floor? I didn’t even notice; my mind was quite distracted, present yet not quite there, frantically hunting for a persuasive, ‘non-suspicious’ reply to ‘Why still independent’? Judgment day for not being patriotic enough! ‘Not a Baathist? How dare you come here then, asking for a job?’

The elevator door slid open to a long elegant, tiled lobby with offices on both sides, segregated by translucent glass. Males and females were industriously working beside each other behind desks. Faces registered curiosity observing this parade of five. We were shown, at long last, into some sort of waiting room that had six other females of similar ages, ostensibly there for the same purpose. ‘Ms. Hanna and Ms Eman will be interviewing you soon; you may take a seat please’. He smiled and walked towards the door.

I sat shrouded in uneasiness, pondering the outcome of this hare-brained venture we had foolishly started upon only a couple of hours before.

To Be Continued......