Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chikitita's Return

UPDATED: Saturday, March 8, 2008

Along with Shaggy, Chikitita (first words, first walk, first....in Iraq) belongs to a loose group of personal-diary bloggers. Others in this group are Caesar, Najma, Sunshine, Marshmallow 26, and Sandybelle. While they may occasionally discuss the politics of the day, the primary concern of their entries is usually to record the life around them, whether that's within their families, among their friends, or in the neighborhood or community. Although Chikitita's blogging dropped off when she moved out of Iraq for her career, her older entries are as engaging as Shaggy's and contain a wealth of information about everyday life in Iraq. In "Swanky Cars ... What for????" (March 22, 2006), for example, from her first month of blogging, she compares the different modes of transportation used in Baghdad. After discussing taxicabs, she takes a look at buses:
I like minibus drivers, they're the most skillful drivers, they know all shortcuts, some of which might be just right at your doorstep, particularly, when you're too tired to walk.

I was once trying to convince a friend of mine to use the public transports, which are much cheaper, and easier than cabs. She said, "Excuse me! you want me to sit next to riff-raffs!" Riff-raffs! I'm afraid I happened to be one of those RIFF-RAFFS! To tell you the truth, I'm proud of them, and more proud of my being one of them. Only in buses, you could see the true smiling face of Iraq, where an old man gives a speech about how the pre-Baath education system used to be, and sadly how it played out over the next generations, and how early teachers of Iraq made even walls talk, and the bad example the new teachers have become for children, who treat kids according to their religious backgrounds. Only in buses, you could hear the complaints of a widow, whose husband left her five boys with no income, and was trying to get some pension, which the government is too proud to give. Only in buses, you could see people collecting money for someone who just hopped in to beg people to save an injured child who's in hospital, they all agreed that whether the man was bluffing or not, one should help.
Riff-raffs!!!! SURE!!!
Chikitita's blog is filled with her shrewd, discerning views on life in Iraq. But, at the same time, she often blends the personal with her assessments of life around her. In "Weaker Sex....Hmmm...No We're Not" (August 13, 2006), Chikitita begins her blog entry with her morning routine and its "Groundhog Day" character:
So reluctant to wake up when the alarm clock went off, “five more minutes,” I’d say to myself. Then the five becomes ten and maybe 15. Once mum, who happened to share my new room, the living room, where we have both sought asylum since early summer, starts cursing the loud beeping, “Good Lord, WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT THIS THING UP!” she’d say pleading, I’d reply - getting out of bed on the wrong side, but managing to be as rude as I could be - “D’oh! That’s what it is made for. You don’t expect it to serenade me!” Only then I’d be kind enough to have mercy on my mum, who usually heaves a sigh of relief, when the torment is over, i.e. when I decide to wake up for the most horrible fact that I have to travel to work.

There is nothing unusual about all this. It has become my daily routine for three months now. Traveling to my workplace has also become so monotonous that I almost feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Waving to all the approaching minibuses, if I’m lucky I’d take the first bus that says yes to my usual question “garage?” [i.e. the bus station], for which deep, deep, deep down I am practically bowing and praying “Please God let it be the one!” lest I’d be late for work. I was lucky that day, the first minibus stopped. Now that is unusual. Not the fact that it happened to be heading to my destination, rather it was the driver, it was a woman. I was baffled whether to hop in or wait for another one. But she did stop, which means it is her job. I knew she noticed the way I kept staring at her. It was so rude, but I just could not help it. I was like, “Oh sorry, is this a kindergarten bus or what!” Yet it wasn’t. She is the first minibus woman driver I have ever laid my eyes on.
Interested? Read the rest, as they say. After being away from Iraq for a few months, Chikitita has now returned. For how long? I'm not sure. It just so happened that her return coincided with Ahmadinejad's visit to Baghdad. Chikitita posted her first blog entry back in Baghdad about trying to get home from the airport:
The unknown driver did his utmost to drive the two nameless guys and myself to our destinations. He drove on wrong sides, used his connections to I.S.F. men, bowed and scraped for the ones he didn’t know just to let us pass. He was so immersed in finding the easiest shortcuts through bumpy dirt roads that ruined his car but still he found the time to curse Ahmedinejad.

After almost two hours of torment, I made it home in one piece, safe but not mentally sound.

But it was worth it :)
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April 22, 2006, I Hate School. Chikitita reads the newspaper to a guard at work.

May 7, 2006, At Last. Chikitita goes shopping with the girls at Kadhamiya Market.

June 7, 2006, Super Crazy. What's the relationship between the Evil Eye and briefcases?

August 28, 2006, Online Show-offs. Chikitita discusses speaking and writing in English and Arabic (Baghdadi Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, and Standard Arabic).

September 27, 2006, Free in Baghdad. Chikitita recounts the tragic story of what happened to her friend S and her husband after they were picked up by Madhi militiamen.

October 13, 2006, The Tomorrow Man. Chikitita explores the deep vein of procrastination that runs through Iraqi men. In the comments section Abbas/Kid finds himself in a Russ Meyer film.

October 30, 2006, Be The Neighbor. Chikitita tells the story of how one Sunni man stood up for his Shiite neighbors and made a difference.

November 6, 2006, When Victims Rejoice. Chikitita writes about what it was like to grow up in Saddam's Iraq, where at home she witnessed her parents' "controlled revulsion" toward the dictator, but at school this same person was revered. She also saw hypocrisy in her father's use of the Quran to justify the abuse of his wife.

November 19, 2006, Ever Wondered Why? A family friend views Chikitita as the ultimate in bad luck.

January 19, 2007, These Walls of Mine. Chikitita remembers her undergraduate days at University of Mustansiriya in Baghdad.

February 10, 2007, Demonized. Chikitita talks honestly about the prejudices that she inherited from her upbringing, especially her prejudices against people from Thawra, Sadr City. "I might preach tolerance and equality," she concludes, "but with the whiff of a real life test I'm ready to throw in the towel." Like Shaggy, Chikitita's candor is one of the reasons why she is one of the better writers in the Iraqi blogosphere. In the comments section, Jhondie, an American soldier, talks with Chikitita.

February 13, 2007, 'His-dog.' A funny sitcom plot in which Chikitita tries to convince Stepdad to kick a stray dog out of the house, but the mutt responds with a litter, transforming Chez Chikitita into a maternity ward. Then the mutt hits the road again.

March 2, 2007, Don't Touch That! Which banned book under Saddam Hussein was alleged to be his "Bible" -- or should I say his "Koran"?

April 8, 2007, Come Down Here. Chikitita describes her room with a duct-taped view.

May 28, 2007, No More Curses. Chikitita avails herself of nature's own air conditioner.

June 19, 2007, Life After Curfew. On errands around the city, Chikitita notices that a few smiles have started to return to Baghdadi faces.

*

UPDATE: Still in Baghdad, Chikitita hangs out with Miraj (Baghdad Chronicles): "Baghdad ---- First Sleepover."

Iraq Pundit, in "The Missteps of Academics," wonders how in the world Juan Cole could liken Muqtada Al-Sadr to the Madhi, the so-called 12th Imam.

Abbas, one of the more loquacious Sunni Iraqis in the blogosphere, writes about his Shia friends: "A Tribute To My Shia Friends.

In her latest blog entry, "In the coffee shop," Hala describes an encounter with a woman who wishes Saddam Hussein, her Arab champion, were still strutting around Iraq. As self-reflective as ever, Hala examines a subject with no easy answers.

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