Tag Archives: baghdad

Baghdad Photo Blog

I haven’t been back to Baghdad in over three years.  The last time I went I wrote and posted photos whilst I was there.  This time I will engage in some serious post-visit analytical writing.  Wherever that ends up, I will repost it on my personal blog at CarolineJaine.com.  In the meantime – some photos.  As usual, I focussed my eye away from stereo typical images.  You won’t find a bomb blast, an armed militia or a wailing widow.  But here are some of the scenes I witnessed in Baghdad this week. I’d love your comments below.

(for a more artsy set of photos have a look at my Flickr page)

Baghdad

Baghdad

City Scape

City Scape

Construction in the background

Construction in the background

Shops

Shops

Cafe where we stopped for lunch more than once!

Cafe where we stopped for lunch more than once!

A fun fare in central Baghdad

A fun fare in central Baghdad

A Red Double Decker Bus

A Red Double Decker Bus

Abu Afif Chocolate Shop

Abu Afif Chocolate Shop

The hotel we stayed in

The hotel we stayed in

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Peace on Earth

Original blog on the World Bank CommGap site

I have just finished writing my New Year cards.  I have a troublesome gall bladder to thank for providing me with the opportunity to sit (very) still and reflect on the past year, scribble the names of those close and lick low-cholesterol envelopes.  I made my own cards this year – using a photograph I snapped of Baghdad’s green zone at dusk back in August. The picture is a cityscape dominated by trees, razor wire and pink bougainvillea competing for space and  to the left- caught aflame by the setting sun – a communications tower stands high. Very fitting for a communications specialist dedicated to peace and stability, but not your usual seasonal greetings card (although a clichéd dove is just visible on a branch).  I hope it will find a welcome place on the mantels of my friends alongside fat robins, snowmen and silhouetted camels.  And I hope it will provide some meaning, and a moment’s thought not just for those in Iraq, but for people everywhere for whom the threat of violence is a reality. It is probably ambitious, but I like to aim high – *Peace on Earth* is printed in each of my  cards.

Ten minute Turkey

Ten minute Turkey. Or instant Istanbul. I have only JUST come down to earth. Literally.

My last day in Baghdad was a blast as you will have seen. The training course ended prematurely, so we didn’t get a chance to review and reflect on much save the days tragic events. Nevertheless, some fascinating insight and frank discussion and my passion for Iraq is re-ignited – I plan to return to this place and commit more of my energy to development, not least of the communications skills of the Human Rights Ministry.

So…. on with the travel blog [more analysis no doubt in other online frequented haunts which will be linked here]. I left low-profile style to the airport like a cat slinking off the savannah. Are you saying I’m fat? No. It’s body armour, cunningly disguised under an old shirt. The bombings had produced traffic jams and road blocks and we inched our way towards our target with trepidation as the departure time grew close.

With no air conditioning at Baghdad airport and no real method of communicating gate numbers, my stay was brief and unpleasant. Back in economy class this time I was seated next to two chirpy mercenaries who having been dry for 9 weeks drank eight cans of beer each for breakfast. Class. The whole group were vaguely entertaining, but rude about Iraqis, disrespectful of Islam, and over-emotional about how close “the lads” were. Bodily function and chest shaving was a popular topic of conversation, as was cheating on the Mrs back home by pretending they had been stranded in Istanbul. Quite a lot of oppressed homosexuality going on there I would wager.

Of major concern during my flight, apart from sleeping and tending to my own bodily functions (VERY sorry gut), was the lack of check-in for the Istanbul-London leg of my journey. By the time our delayed flight touched Turkish land there was a mere 20 minutes to check-in and board the next flight. The majority of the mercenaries loitered, delighted that the turn of events meant a company paid enforced piss-up Ottoman style. But one of the more shaven and drunk members of their team was as adamant as I to catch the next flight.

The pair of us sped through Istanbul airport flashing our passports like Interpol officers. We used his superior body strength to gain ground, and my diplomatic skills to push through queues. The Turkish Airlines check-in clerk wished us good luck and told us to “run fast” as we left his desk. We arrived at the gate literally AS the doors were closing. We were red-faced and panting as our fellow passengers tutted us on board. In my mind it was a scene from a movie. A Bond movie perhaps – Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible. In reality I think it was more of a classic British Comedy. Clockwise maybe.

I’m back home now. A cool summers breeze whispers through the room. I am spending the day in bed trying to shake the afore-mentioned gut issue and the nicotine habit. Two days of rich food and alcohol haven’t off course helped. Nor has opening our house to guests this weekend to help us celebrate our wedding. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and it was an utter joy to spend time in such splendid company (and I did try not to bore guests too much with travellers tales). Although we got married on Twitter, I think it’s fair to say we know how to play in real life too – we are still clearing up several days later.

So, I will be back to Iraq as I said, and I will write about it here. But worth noting that this kind of travel experience wouldn’t be possible at all without the wonderful support of my new husband. So here’s to you, J. I love you, mate.

Also with thanks J’s family, my own family and to all our friends. Particularly A&B in Bristol. Thanks too to Albany Associates, the United Nations, Blogcatalog bloggers, My Security Team, my colleagues at imediate.org and the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq for making the experience possible. Lastly thanks to near two thousand of you who read my blog whilst I was in Baghdad and for all the messages of support I have received for my writing.

Ramadan Kareem – May Peace be Upon You all! (which I tried Tweeting in Arabic earlier and totally f*cked up, so I’m sticking to English here)

This is Iraq

Yesterday I took a drive around the green zone, snapping photographs like a tourist.   The Crossing Swords, July 14th Bridge, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, some smiling footballers all imprinted onto my memory card and shared with the world on my blog.  Today I sit pondering the images, shaken but not stirred. 

Ahmed and I had popped out of the classroom this morning to have a cigarette when a huge explosion shook the ground.  It was the biggest one I have heard (and I have heard a few) and rattled every porta-kabin on the whole compound and left my ears ringing for a while afterwards.  We kept hold of our fags and joined three others as we did a heads-down scuttle into a bomb shelter [There is something so undignified about seeing non-sporty adults running].  We began to speculate straight away.  Was it a mortar?  No, too loud.  Why hadn’t the alarms gone off?  A car?  A person?  We stayed in our sweaty hole for a while (the shrapnel from a bomb can continue to land up to three minutes after an explosion). 

The story quickly began to emerge from our security team and from Iraqi news channels as they sprung into action and broadcast the carnage live into our classroom.  Mobiles started buzzing around the room and humorous ring tones  took on a sense of the macabre – as the Iraqis I was with unravelled the whereabouts of loved ones.  I tweeted a message of safety to loved ones and spoke to my husband briefly to let him know I was ok.  I thought better of explaining the networking opportunities afforded by Twitter  to my students – for I know in those moments I stopped being teacher and started being a good friend.  Then my phone started buzzing.  Other Iraqi friends checking I was safe.  I was touched.

The attack was very close to the Green Zone and there were reports that “a barrage of mortars” had been fired into this supposedly safe area.  We heard none however.  The five coordinated bombs struck on the 6th anniversary of the bombing of the UN Headquarters.  Truck bombs used again.  The target – Iraqi institutions, not international ones this time.   The crater left behind by one of the bombs is 10 foot deep.   My friend J, although safe, was even closer than I was – in that plush Rashid Hotel I was bragging about earlier this week – now minus a few windows I’ll wager.  And my favourite blogger’s home has been wrecked.

I wonder how they are over at the UN camp today?  I was there last night – bizarrely committing Murder on the Dance Floor to the tunes of “I will survive” with a merry bunch from all around the world (ok…. as one would expect from the United-Nations).  The UN bar (wittily named “UNdercover”) is nestled amidst sandbags and twelve foot tall Maori security guards at the heart of their compound.  Their DFAC (dining room) served air-conditioned international delicacies to a bustling, lively staff.  We passed neat gardens edged by white picket fences, sipping Mexican beer as we breathed in the sweet night air, it was an idyllic evening.  It even crossed my mind as I starred up at the blackness, how nice it was to be outside at night in Iraq and not to be afraid of the sky as I was in Basra several years hence.  Today I imagine the scene was a little more glum. 

You might think that this experience would lead me to stray from my mission of recording some of the recovery here in this country.  As a friend in Basra used to say (with irksome frequency) – “I remain a stubborn optimist”.  No-one has stepped forward yet to claim responsibility for the worst terrorist attack for months.  Speculation is flying around the city.  Was it Iran? (unlikely as the Iranian Embassy was damaged).  Was it “other neighbours” ? (said in a whisper).  Iraqis have told me that this doesn’t have the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack (actually they said “thumb nail, not hallmark, which made me inappropriately smile).  The mortars, the trucks, the coordination many have said means this is an inside job.  Political infighting.  The people behind it, some say are those in opposition to Maliki – wanting his government to fail and for Iraq not to flourish.  With the election not due until maybe February, it seems a little early to be pre-election violence (unless they got the country wrong – god bless Afghanistan tomorrow as it goes to the polls).

But someone made a good point to me this afternoon.  Despite many saying the infrastructure is weak, Iraq is Iraq is Iraq.  No-one can take that away.   Bombs go off in Spain, in London, in India and it doesn’t stop the government from operating.  These bombs will only really make a difference to the poor innocent souls caught up in the nonsense.  And without an ideological declaration – it’s just cold blooded murder, with no purpose.

Iraq WILL recover.  Just as other countries have (Nazi Germany springing to mind here).  It is full of sensitive, poetic, clever, peace-loving people.  And by the power of Greyskull (and the mass media) they will overcome.  These past few days have revealed to me, not just barbarism, but resilience, strength, good humour and initiative.  And although I climbed the look-out tower to snap a photo of the rising plume of smoke from the bomb, I chose to illustrate this post with my favourite photo from yesterday’s photo-shoot to remind me.  Take another look at all the pictures.  This is Iraq.

Photos from Baghdad

Although I have LOTS to talk about (as usual) some photos today instead…
sunset in the green zone

sunset in the green zone

double swords

double swords

iraqi footballers

iraqi footballers

 war memorial

dome

dome

wall

wall

hand of sadam

hand of sadam

hospital road

hospital road

former government building

former government building

razor flower

razor flower

tomb of unknown soldier

tomb of unknown soldier

july 14th bridge

july 14th bridge

my dinner

my dinner

More on FlickR here http://www.flickr.com/photos/4imediate/sets/72157621956896569/

Multi-cultural Cosmopolitan Baghdad

Lady at the Chinese Restaurant

Lady at the Chinese Restaurant

Oh yeah!  I just managed to drag my notebook and all its cables from the desk back to the bed, so I can cuddle up in bed whilst typing.  I feel a bit like a hospital patient with a life line drip to the world (or maybe more like a victim of the Matrix).

I am sooo tired.  At least my head ache had gone this morning.  As I went to bed last night it pierced my brain so much I started having an anxiety attack about dying of a brain haemorrhage and trying to work out how the British Embassy would get my body back to the UK.  But this morning I’ve got that lovely tired teenager feeling, where I just want to stay in bed, cloaked in bed clothes, and relaxed but not asleep.  I did a good amount of ceiling-staring before I properly stirred – I think my poor brain is completely overloaded.

What is really taking it out of me is spending all day speaking through a translator.  I can’t imagine how exhausted he is.  Translating my English into Arabic isn’t a problem, but it is tougher for him going from Arabic to English and he is doing so with a classroom of up to ten students (who invariably all speak at once).  But we have a great rapport and everyone is good humoured with the situation and very patient.  I have learned that by barking “shabbab!” (guys!) it grabs their attention.   The most exciting thing is that I think we are really making progress – and although everyone is usually exhausted when they first arrive – having been through long waits in the hot sun and faced aggressive security to get into the Green Zone – by the time they leave in the afternoon, they remain enthused about the work ahead and every one of them contributes with passion to the discussions we have.  I have total respect for their resilience and for their treatment of me.  I wouldn’t be comfortable coming to Iraq to train people if I didn’t think I had some unique skills to share.  Frankly some of the “capacity building” provided by the international community is a bit patronizing and pushes out-of-step values that aren’t relevant to Iraqi society .  But the gang I am working with are very receptive to some outside expertise in a foreign language – and I am very excited about continuing to work with the team in the future, and supporting them in any way I can.

classroom

classroom

Work aside, we have many laughs together.  Yesterday two women arrived on the course so I sat with them at lunch time in another room from the men and we shared some Iraqi salads and rice and some conversation – one of the women is a part time journalist who spoke a little English.  (BTW we were separate from the men because the room they ate in was too small for us all to fit in). Unlike her colleague she wore a hijab and I could feel a core of strength inside her.  Although I speak no Arabic I can tell by how she is interacting with the others that they follow her lead.   I told her that being a journalist in Iraq was one of the most dangerous professions in the world (press freedom is a real issue here).  She nodded and told me firmly that she liked it.  She specialises in writing about human rights abuses – so she is no lightweight celebrity correspondent.  Again – nuff respect.

In complete contrast I was invited out for a Chinese meal with a group who work where I am staying  this evening (and we were joined by an odd American woman with a strange look in her eye).  I could have been in another world really.  The “restaurant” was really another huge portakabin which they had curiously built a willow-pattern bridge at the entrance – for no apparent reason.  Once inside the international community was having supper.  Beers served in tea mugs.  The usual tack on the walls.  And tired looking Chinese waitresses who apparently turned tricks in the back room.  The company was great and we talked about music, France and Sheffield (which made me miss my old man summit rotten).  Although an outsider to the private security world, I have travelled enough to tell a tale or two and understand how it is to leave an institutional organisation but keep in a similar line of business.    

Earlier I met Salam Pax!  OMG, not only my all time favourite famous blogger, like, ever!  (note – I don’t speak like this normally, this is a joke).  Given his story, and given how everyone back home say how “brave” I am coming to Iraq – I am slightly ashamed to show the picture below.  Yes…erm…..some of Baghdad is actually QUITE nice.  This is the Hotel Rashid.  Not half bad (although I lost a little sleep as I can’t remember if anyone paid for my tea or not and fear I may have done a runner from five star Baghdad).  I found Salam to be the nice man I expected through our online exchanges.  There is some chance I may do some work with him soon – which is great because he seems to really “get it” in terms of communications.  The other lovely lady in the photo is my mate J, who I seem to bump into all over the world.  Where’s YOUR blog then J?  Eh?  Eh? Honestly.

 j, me and sp

So I’m to work now – much preparation to do.  I really SHOULD get out of bed.  [stretch].  I want to get out and about and take some photos to share with you later. [yawn].  Bye for now.

Live from Baghdad – day two

landing in baghdad

landing in baghdad

I feel soooo much better after a good night’s sleep.  Once I got my brain to stop talking to itself and filtered out the sound of the helicopters (which shake my whole tin can of a room) I had the BEST night’s sleep I have had in ages.  At least ten hours.  Not surprising really as I categorically failed to get any sleep at all the previous night.  The main contributor was the knowledge that because things are better here now, it was very unlikely that there would be any IDF (rockets or mortars) landing over night.  Very different from my stay in Basra – where it was a nightly occurrence and kept us permanently on tender hooks (which as a vegetarian, I have just realised is a horrible expression).

The place where I am staying is a collection of porta-cabins reinforced with pile of sandbags and the odd T-wall.  I am told that the T-wall’s are disappearing as the city recovers.  T-walls are large reinforced concrete 10 foot high slabs – at least they are supposed to be (at $500 a shot one would expect it) – but I learned yesterday that someone recently drove a car into one (by mistake) and shattered the T-wall to reveal it was packed with egg-boxes.  Lumux.

I was very lucky to meet Z yesterday – the only female ex-pat where I am staying.  I was suffering a severe lack of toiletries and beginning to feel a bit rank by the end of the day so Z took me to the local Iraqi store to stock up.  It was great to wander around in the evening sun and gather some supplies (biscuits, yoghurts and what MUST be hooky Malborough Lights at $11 for 200).  And amongst the crumbling T walls, rubble and dusty palms I was introduced to an ice-cream parlour – complete with bistro chairs and a patch of bright astro turf outside.  Is cafe culture arriving in Baghdad?  It’s early days, and the Green Zone is clearly not representative, but as I sat eating the best apricot ice-cream ever,  overlooking a football pitch filled with young people exercising, watching a pale sandy sun disappear over the horizon I was delighted with the scene.    The reality came in some of the harrowing tales that Z was telling me about her time in the military.  Not unusual to find exceptional, incredible people in a place like this – and they are not all Iraqis – Z definitely among them (but I don’t think she even recognises it herself). BIG respect to our unsung heroes.