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The silence of the souqs ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Nesreen Melek. Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Friday, Jul 10, 2009

During the government of President Saddam Hussein, the coppersmith souq in Baghdad's al-Safafir marketplace was a bustling, productive shop. Copper was beaten in the old traditional way into pots and pitchers of all shapes and sizes. The noise was great and so was the sight. Shops spilled over with copperware for household or decorative uses, to suit all tastes - primitive, austere, elaborate, highly ornate. The Souqs have been tragically silenced and all has been destroyed in the brutal invasion and continuing occupation by the U.S. military. Below, Nesreen Melek tells of her recent visit to the al-Safafir Souqs in Baghdad.

The Americans pulled their troops from Baghdad and other cities but they will be staying in their Iraqi bases watching the cities of Iraq which they left behind. The congress approved more funding for military construction inside Iraq but there was no funding to rebuild the country the American government destroyed. People still live without water and electricity and let’s forget about the security.

People in the Iraqi cities will remember the Americans as invaders, killers and rapists. The promised democracy brought them death, suffering and agony. Five million Iraqi kids are orphans, Two Million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, Three million forced to leave the country. There are more than 2615 professors, scientist, and doctors killed, 338 dead journalist and more than a million Iraqis dead since the invasion. This is the American victory by figures and they are expecting the Iraqis to celebrate this day. How could people celebrate the death of innocent civilians and the destruction of a country?

When I went to Baghdad last December, I wanted to bring with me a souvenir of my visit. I was looking for something which would remind me of the culture that once we had. I left in the late seventies thinking that I would be back; I couldn’t take anything that time. I looked and looked but couldn’t think of anything as nothing was left except food. I didn't want to bring Kaymer (It is a kind of pure cream.. Iraqis eat it with honey in the morning) or Kahee ( it is an Iraqi dessert tastes like Baklava) . .

I looked in so many souqs (markets), but found nothing. I asked my cousin to take me to Souq al-Safafeer. The souq is the Coppersmith Souq (market), Copper used  to be beaten in traditional ways into pots, pitches, trays, and cups of different shapes and sizes. The souq was always full of workers who were happy doing their craft. They used to beat the copper in coordination and could hardly talk in the souq because of the noise. 

I entered the souq and was shocked. There was no noise coming, I walked and walked. I felt the souq was much smaller than it used to be,  and the faces of the people I came across were without life. I remember the face of an old man.. he was in his late seventies and was sitting on a stool in front of his shop.. I looked at his face which was full of wrinkles. His face looked like the map of Iraq, his lips were dry like Dijlah. His eyes were peaceful and there was a tender smile on his face. He looked at me and asked where I was from. I told him that I was from el Kharada (my neighbourhood in Baghdad) and that I wanted to buy an antique piece from him. He looked again at me and smiled. I knew that he didn't believe me. I couldn’t tell him that I came from Canada. He told me that the Americans came after the invasion and bought everything which was in the souq and nothing was left from the good old days. He said that most of the workers in the Souq had left the country. He came closer to me and asked me if I could help him leaving Baghdad, I told him I wish I could. Then I realized that souq al Safafir was not the souq I knew with the noises coming from everywhere but that it is now a dead souq. Shop owners were selling fake Iraqi antiques. Baghdad is not the beautiful Baghdad I knew and neither is Souq el Safafir. I dragged my feet, but the noises from the old days were like drums in my ears. I wanted to leave the souq.

The Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in Kadhimiya area of Baghdad is one of the most important in the world. It has been attacked several times since the U.S. invaders came, once in 2004, again 2 days before and one time since  Nesreen's visit last December. Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed at the shrine since the U.S. invasion began.
The same day I asked my cousin to take me to al Kadhim (a Shrine in Baghdad). I wanted to go there and mourn the death of everything I had witnessed during my stay. My cousin was hesitant and scared because two days before a suicide bomber had taken her own life and the lives of others beside the shrine. She agreed to take me and I was happy. We arrived at the Hathra (the shrine), I took off my shoes and walked bare foot on the clean marble. Then I felt I was in Baghdad. I went inside the shrine, I touched Shubak el Khadum (a gold window in the middle of the shrine) held it tight, shook it, put my head on the shubak (window), tears floating from my eyes, I asked whoever was inside the shubak why they destroyed Baghdad the beautiful Baghdad. Other women were holding the shubak (window) most of them were crying and I wondered what were their stories and how big were their losses.

My cousin told me that it was prayer time and that we should pray. I was embarrassed to tell her that I didn’t know how to pray. I stood beside her and imitated her. I prayed, cried and asked him what we had done to be punished that way. I completed my prayer and I felt that it was a cleansing for my spirit and soul..
 
We left the Hathra (the shrine) I remembered that my friend and my doctor here in Toronto asked me to get them a green ribbon from there. I asked a woman, she pointed to a room and told me to go there and ask. I went there and saw a few men wearing the green saiidiya (Turban) on their heads. I asked one of them if they give away green ribbons, and again when I asked him I started sobbing. The man looked at me and asked me where did I come from. I told him that I came from Canada. The man went inside and got me a few ribbons, few turbas (a stone Shiites put their heads on when they pray) a sibhah (beads) and a small painted ceramic piece. He told me that the ceramic piece fell from the side of the minarets and that he kept the piece for a long time. Only then I felt that I had something from Baghdad..
 
Now, I wake up every day and touch this piece before doing anything. May be that ceramic piece is giving me the motivation to continue living away from the country which I belong to and giving me a hope that Iraqis will witness good days again sometime soon.

 

READ NESREEN MELEK'S BIO, ESSAYS AND POEMS AND MORE ABOUT HER VISIT TO BAGHDAD

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