Leaving Baghdad And Those Whom I love (Letter from an Iraqi Exile)
By Nesreen Melek
21 June, 2014
It is 4:00 a.m. My bags are packed.
The roosters are crowing. The only city where I hear roosters crowing is Baghdad. It is said that roosters crow because they see spirits at that time of the morning. I wonder if the roosters can feel the evil spirits surrounding this beautiful city. The mu'athen is calling the people to wake up and pray.
I take my luggage downstairs and look up at the stairs. It was in 1978 when I left Baghdad the first time. My room was upstairs. I said goodbye to my mother and my aunt hoping that I would be back after eleven months, but I didn't go back. My mother and aunt both died while I was away living in exile.
Now, many years later, my cousin is sitting on the floor praying and her mother is sitting on a chair praying, as she is unable to kneel. The driver who is taking me to the airport calls. I take my luggage outside and come back to say goodbye to them. I hug them twice and cry. I thank them for their love, care, and hospitality. My cousin says that they will be waiting for me and hope to see me sometime soon. How soon? Only Allah knows when I will return. They ask me not to stay away so long.
I was planning to stay longer, but due to the bad situation in Baghdad, my relatives and friends pushed me to leave before the airport will be closed. They don't know what will be waiting for them in the future.
The roads are nearly empty. It is 6:00 a.m.
Soon we arrive at the airport, but before I can enter the terminal, we come to the first of several checkpoints. Both the driver and I have to get out of the car. The driver has to open the car doors and the trunk. We wait for a while under the mercy of a large brown police dog. He sniffs around each of the cars at this checkpoint. I joke with the driver, telling him that it takes the dog a long time before he will let us go; the dog must be tired, I say. The driver says that each dog costs the government around 3 thousand dollars. I ask him where these dogs are kept. He laughs and tells me they stay in better places than most of the Iraqis. “The dogs are spoiled,” he adds. “They have air conditioning and get water all day long.”
Once we are given permission to continue, we drive to the next checkpoint, where my luggage is checked.
The third checkpoint is very close to the airport. This time we are inspected by a black dog. I joke with the man behind me. I tell him that I have special Iraqi cookies in my handbag, and I am afraid the dog might be hungry and will eat them. The man tells me not to worry as these dogs are fed special food, and they would refuse to eat my cheap cookies.
I feel guilty holding a Canadian passport. I can leave Iraq, but my relatives can't. I came back here a few years ago after being away for more than thirty years. Now I wonder how long it will take me before I come back again. I will leave part of my heart here and the other part will be filled with sadness and sorrow.
While I am waiting for my luggage to be checked, I remember my good American friend who loves dogs. He would be very happy by the way these dogs are treated, but his heart would be broken by the conditions in which the Iraqis are living.
The airport is full. So many Iraqis are leaving, and I wonder who they are and where they are going. Year after year, waves of Iraqis leave their homeland, becoming refugees, immigrants, and people with no destination. Who will be left in Iraq when all this turmoil finally ends—if it ever does.
Since I came to Baghdad more than three weeks ago, all the stories I have heard were sad stories—stories of loss, fear, and agony. I came here last September too. But the situation wasn't that bad. People were hopeful that better days were coming, but all these hopes have vanished because of the greed of the rulers, the hatred of the sectarians, and the fear that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) will harm the innocent people in Baghdad and other cities.
The Americans invaded the country and promised democracy, but their democracy turned into a daily massacre of the Iraqis. I believe the Americans have no intention to help the Iraqis or to improve their living conditions. They are supporting the leaders who are dragging the country into genocide.
While I wait to board my plane and leave Baghdad one more time, my heart feels so heavy. I am afraid of what is coming. I don't know who I will see the next time I am here and who I will never see again. What will happen to my friends and relatives—the ones I have left behind? My heart ached when I heard them saying goodbye to me and holding me as if they didn't want to let me go. They sounded as if they were saying goodbye for the last time.
I am sitting in a café at the Baghdad airport and wiping the tears from my eyes while I write this letter. I keep seeing the faces of all the people I have left behind. Their faces will haunt me until the day comes when I return. Have the Iraqi people been forgotten by the prophets, leaders and citizens of the world? Maybe if they were remembered, their lives would change somehow, sometime, for the better.
I hear the voice of Celine Dion singing the theme song from the movie Titanic: “You are safe in my heart/ And my heart will go on and on….” What an irony! I am an Iraqi holding two passports, one from Iraq and the other from Canada, and a Canadian voice in an Iraqi airport is singing about love. The lyrics of the songs sound as if they were written about Baghdad—not a passenger ship in the Atlantic: “Love can touch us one time/
And last for a lifetime/And never let go till we're gone….”
And last for a lifetime/And never let go till we're gone….”
Baghdad is sinking. Who will save it...who?
To the people who have big hearts, I send this letter and ask you to please help the Iraqi people before it is too late. Please.
Nesreen Melek is an Iraqi woman, a mother, and poet who lives in Canada but has an abiding love for and devotion to her homeland—Iraq. When we begin thinking of war as some sort of drama being acted out in a land we have never seen, Nesreen reminds us of the children, mothers, and fathers. She shows us the terrible details of what the U.S. has wrought on the people of Iraq—the lost child trying to find a familiar face, the shocked mother, staggering aimlessly down a bomb-cratered street, the father, staring in disbelief at the body of his child in the back of a pickup truck, the poisoning of Iraqi soil with depleted uranium, the massive destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and economy.
Nesreen can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org