Tag Archives: Iraq

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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The Truth About Art and Love

Coming Out of the Closet about Creativity

I have stretched the boundary of this ”travel blog” many times before – and I’m about to do it again. I’ve always advocated that blog’s are at their best when they are up close and personal – and whilst I have shared the death of my mother, blogged whilst depressed or scared and under fire in Iraq and even Tweeted my wedding – there is somewhere I haven’t gone yet.

You may or may not know that I am an artist. I wear the label like an alcoholic wears Johnnie Walker (hidden in the drawer or tucked into an inside pocket) . I was born with the affliction (it was a genetic disorder handed down from my grandfather via my mother), and whilst it does on occasion cause joy, in the main it is more akin to a frantic compulsive obsessive disorder. It is only by associating my creativity with healing, provision of comfort for others or political meaning that I have felt comfortable even talking about it. Usually I feel self indulgent and a bit mentally ill when the passion to create takes over. Hence I barely talk about it. At least not in any depth.

Last year I was turned down for an Arts Council grant – largely because I presented my proposal as a community cohesion project and neglected any reference to my own artistic development. They must have viewed me as someone trying to meet a cold political aim with technical application of my skills.  I said nothing about myself.   The project may have been about  tolerance and diversity, but it said little about what I, as a living breathing artist could contribute or about my mental approach to my craft. Perhaps because, like a drug addict, I am loath to admit I am a “user” (of the paint brush).

My creativity does relate to my travels – so perhaps safe to talk about it on my anonymous travel blog. In the 36 countries I have visited, I have painted or sketched in every one of them. A nomadic closet-artist. On occasion I have exhibited my work – the British Council kindly sponsored a solo show of my self-indulgence in Slovakia in the 1990s. And my beloved Sri Lanka has been host to more than one of my exhibitions (along with other “users”). I’m getting used to the whole humiliating ritual of painting in private and then hanging things on the wall for friends and strangers to look it. It feels very “show offy” and I liken it to an AA session. My name is Nomadic and I’m an artist.

So here is the bit that I missed out of the Arts Council proposal. A few weeks ago I was approached by a retired ballet dancer and asked if I could paint his portrait. He asked me about the process – what was involved. I’m not used to sharing this, but once I started talking you couldn’t shut me upnd I realised I had a need to share.

If I paint a portrait of someone I don’t ask them to sit in a pose for hours as I stand pompously before them with my canvas, stroking my chin and squinting at the subject. Rather I spend time with the subject, watching how they move, how they talk, what makes them laugh, sometimes witnessing uneasiness, sensing flaws, and understanding what moves them, what makes them tick. I listen. I look. I may record the encounter with a couple of sketches and photographs, but this is more of a record to jog the memory of the empathy and intimacy discovered.

Then I return to my studio (a room at the back of my garage with paint spattered cheap carpet and the faint odour of nicotine from smoking times past). I will probably do a fair amount of thinking and “sleeping on it” before I begin. I usually begin with a basic layout plan, although this may change. I alternate between sessions using a thick pallet knife, a broad brush, a fine brush and sometimes fingers. I rub paint onto canvas, scratch into it, or daub it. The wonderful thing about oils is the freedom to move it around the canvas – it’s fluidity. I use fine washes and I use thick blobs. Some paintings will take months to complete, and each session of work will have a different mood, a different feeling, another layer. My work is very much about the process and the emotion involved. By the time I am nearing the end, I have very much fallen in love with the subject. I feel I “know” them better almost than they know themselves. This is the creepy, stalker-bit, which I usually keep covered. It’s not a sexually or needy love – but a love of that person as a human-being. So yes, it’s true to say I love Derrick Ashong, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham and even John Humphrys although I have never told them so.

After my mum died it was a good few months before I could contemplate creating portraiture and I turned to nature and began looking at trees and all things growing. I felt completely “in tune” and empathetic to my environment – as I believe extreme stress and mental disturbance can generate. I found pretty quickly that the process of expressing this feeling on canvas was pretty similar to when I painted a portrait. I began to fall in love with the apple tree in my garden, with the grass growing and my son’s potato plants (even though we planted them too close together).

I’m not sure what to do with this love but channel it through art and for the first time, talk about it here. The power of it scares the hell out of me – but it is very passive. At most I may shed a tear as I paint (a recent painting of Mary/Maryam mother of Jesus/Isa generated many of those, for she is in everywoman and I am she).

You probably find it very odd that this passion (or “Junoon” as a new friend would call it) is more difficult to write about than the loss of someone close, romantic love of my husband, or my own mortality. These things I write about, usually because I know that other people share this. I know that by sharing my own grief, love and fears that I will be providing comfort to others. But by sharing the intense-up-closeness-generated in the act of painting I feel I am stating my difference. What marks me out from others. I may appear a bold individual soul, but inside I really do just want to be like everyone else. I anticipate readers will mutter “huh….that’s wierd” or “bit creepy, I hope the freak doesn’t want to paint my portrait”, but I hope, just maybe, that there is someone else out there who shares this spiritual high.  Someone who gets what on earth I am talking about. Who can weep with joy and understanding at a tree, or a face or the wind.

So, Arts Council, yes it is about the process. The meaning. The feeling. The insanity. The high. Don’t expect me to be putting into a turgid funding application any time soon though.

This boundary stretching travel blog will be back on course after a short interlude of non-travel. A few weeks should do it.

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.

Perception In Iraq

Just a quick one liner and a link.  For those interested in what I was actually DOING in Iraq in August- some clues on my Albany blog http://blog.albanyassociates.com/?p=414

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/