Sophia's Peace Work

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Visit to Baghdad

It's been well over a year since I was in Baghdad but after my Xmas holiday, I got the call that I needed to get down to Baghdad to do a training for one of the ministries. I was the only foreigner on the flight into Baghdad and thus the only one who needed to have their visa processed at the Baghdad airport. I guess they don't have much call for that because I had to wait an hour for someone to notice that I was still waiting to be processed through. (Though I live and have residency in Iraqi Kurdistan, this does not seem to count in Baghdad and I must get a separate visa to go there .... which too me seems rather odd. If the Iraqi government feels that the Kurdish region is really a part of their country, then they should honor the visas that are provided there. To not do so is to treat Iraqi Kurdistan like a separate country, which I guess the Kurds don't mind one bit).

Finally I was in and driving through the streets of Baghdad rubbernecking with my hijab on to see familiar places. There was the status of Abbas Ibn Firnas, the poet, musician, engineer, aviator of Andalus, outside the airport; there were the dull sandy-coloured neighborhoods; there the Jadriyah Bridge across the Tigris and the Baghdad University campus on its banks where I had once lived; there the ice cream shop that specialized in bizarrely colors and decorated sundaes that my dormmates once treated me to; there the Arasat hotel where some of my journalist friends used to live, and there the semi-palace I once stayed at along the Tigris (now nearly hidden behind concrete blast walls).

But I wasn't to see much of the city. I was taken to a small house where I was to stay for 3 days, not being allowed out except for the daily trip across town (during rush hour) to and from the training location.

How was Baghdad? Crowded, grimmy, huge, full of traffic jams and checkpoints. Just as it had been back in 2004 and 2005.

How was the training? Chaotic, poorly organized but, I think, well received (and needed).