City Standard

Inside Iraq

Priya Pavri

Priya Pavri spent nine months working in Iraq in 2017.
Here, she shares two days from among her many moments – both ordinary and extraordinary – in the country.

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20th of July

 

⟣ In Iraq,
after there is nothing more to report,
the markets will open.
The trays will fill with
pistachio halva.
The rusted Ferris wheel will start to spin.
The dome of the mall will cease to be a target.
The moon will shine above
the Citadel at night.

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Women will walk the streets
without fearing the fresh air.
Men will go to work
and then come home again.
Children will go to school
and then come home again.
The water pump will run each morning
  the hum of the generator will return.
Families will pack a picnic basket
and the park by the fountain will swell.

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The coca cola truck
will stock the empty fridge.
The car will have enough fuel
to make it back again.
Disputes will take place,
but without explosives.
The Tigris will begin to slowly fill.
The fish will be at peace.
And every day
something ordinary will happen.

 

Remote Hills

9th of December

It’s dark outside and I rush down the hotel staircase, trying not to trip on the freshly-mopped marble. I’m greeted by two brawny men in the hotel lobby, who I’ve hired to escort our medical team to the next location. They both look at me, confused.

Yes. I am the one responsible for the team.

No. He’s not in charge.

Don’t touch me. I can get into the car myself.

The sun rises and the thoroughfares begin to teem with city dwellers. The street stalls re-open – carts filled with dried dates, selections of nuts, and freshly baked sweets. The first pots of chai are brewed. Life quickly returns after a bitter winter’s night.

The safety vest I am given is heavy, with lead plates cold on my neck. I wriggle in the backseat, trying to get comfortable and close my eyes for a few minutes. I start to think about different scenarios. What if a stray bullet hits me in the arm or the leg? How quickly can I run from an explosion? The city scape morphs into empty fields, which glisten under the slow-rising sun. Light brown or dark yellow reflections of trash collect in the shallow dents of the earth. We leave Baghdad and head towards al Qa’im.

The lines at the check point are endless; vehicles filled with people and trade; children making the most of the impasse, hanging out the back of windows, playing, yelling; soldiers heavily armed en route to their next post. We are behind a truck of canary melon for the next hour. I fidget with my hands, scroll through my phone, tap my knee. I’ve been organising the access paperwork for this checkpoint for months now. If we are turned back, al Qa’im will remain without emergency medical services, even while people return to the city and the risk grows of stray improvised explosive devices, booby traps, and attacks by sleeper cells. The solider checks our passports one by one. I hold my breath. He lets us through.

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