Tag Archives: salam pax

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.



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.

Between Brittany & Baghdad

Brittany house

Brittany house

I am still in France for now – nursing aching hands after days of destroying weeds in the garden using my hands and a loaned petrol strimmer.  I say “garden” – it’s not really that yet.  “Patch of land” probably more appropriate thing to say at the moment.  Although in a small hamlet we do have a next door neighbour – with a grander house and an OCD-neat garden.  It puts whatever attempts I make to tame our wilderness look futile next to his perfect lawn and rows of Leylandi.

My poor man has been sick with a fever for days – but seems slightly recovered as he is out of bed, sitting opposite me tucked into the book version of  The Baghdad Blog by Salam Pax.

Appropriate reading.  I have lived a strange existence this week –  one minute building shelves, hoofing lumps of timber around or visiting the Dechetterie (the town tip), the next minute researching Iraqi media, human rights and chatting online to Iraq-connected friends.  Not to mention tending to the needs of my unwell husband, who would have been a lot better sooner I think, had England recovered themselves in the Ashes.

I am going to Baghdad fairly soon and I have been encouraged by the blogging fraternity (including them on BC) to keep an account of my travels on my travel blog.  I will of course write some hefty strategic communications pieces both for Albany (who have had the grace to send me to Iraq) and the World Bank (who loyally seem to publish my every word) – but this travel blog is where it’s going to be at.

The news on my imminent trip so far, before I even GET there is that it’s going to be HOT.  Over 50 degrees says aforementioned Mr Pax.  It’s also going to be exhausting – I arrive in the early hours and start work straight away.  I am more than happy with this however – and raring to go.  My last trip to Iraq in 2006 ended abruptly with premature-evacuation and a sense of incompleteness and disappointment.  I look forward to perhaps not achieving a climax, but getting some sense of balanced satisfaction for all parties involved (I could probably continue the innuendos, but I’ll stop there).  I hope I can share my expertise with the Iraqis I meet – but equally hoping to learn from them too.  Something I  forgot about was what a nightmare security is.  Trying to get anything done is difficult and/or expensive.  I am trying to arrange for a group of Iraqi journalist/blogger friends of mine to have an informal chat with me and the people I am working with – but it seems like this cannot be done.  Piff.  I may try and do something online instead.  Anyone know the best way to have a multi-location conference call with webcams?  Skype isn’t my best friend at the moment.   The security restrictions won’t be as bad a life in Basra Palace three years ago, but I am very much restricted to the Green or International Zone (3.8 square miles surrounded by bomb blast walls).   So long as I meet more Iraqi’s this time I will be happy (although my Iraqi friends in Britain seem far more concerned than some of my gung-ho post-conflict friends).

So for now – in blissful limbo in France.  Enjoying French sunshine, French wine and some hard work.  Enjoying quiet countryside, visiting loved ones, and deep in research  before heading East.  Last time I landed in Baghdad it was a spiral decent in a Hercules and I was standing up in the cockpit.  This time will be different.  Soon.

Nomadic x

PS – We managed to get a free butler style kitchen sink from a tough looking old farmer bird at the Dechetterie today.  She was going to chuck it out!  You will see from my picture – we are yet to have a sink in our luxurious kitchen (dishes done in the bath) – so it is very welcome.