Sweet Water, Hummus-wagons and The Ziggurat, This is The Iraq That You Don’t Know About

The Middle East wants to show us its jewels. History, beauty, culture and love are all being forgotten because of war and terror. After I shared my nostalgia for Syria in my last article, I asked Esra’a Khalaf about her view on Iraq. Very soon I realized that even though she had to leave Iraq, Iraq never left her. Deep inside, the Euphrates still flows in her veins and the capital Baghdad is directly connected to her heart. You can take away our countries, but you will never take away our memories or love. This is what ‘homeland’ means. A whole country gives you the same feeling as the warm hug of your mother.

“The country that I was born in 57 years ago, is one of these special countries that you just can’t forget about. The sweet water. The smell of the soil when it’s touched by the rain drops. Orange-blossom scent that you can smell when you walk in the streets during spring. The high palm trees. The doves cooing in the morning mixed with the singing of nightingale, while flying from one palm tree to another eating dates. The sound of children playing. The sound of the Mosques calling for prayers and the grocers that call you to buy their vegetables and fruits in the markets.

During my childhood, we used to play in the garden of my father’s house and the streets nearby. We would do everything: running, jogging, rope skipping, juggling with small balls. There were no smartphones at that time and the only thing we watched on the television were cartoons. The ice cream man would come with his small wheelbarrow in the hot summer days. But during the winter, the hummus wagons would pass by with salesmen shouting ‘’Hot hummus! Come my little ones, come and buy for 10 Fils (0,5 cents)’’. Everything was a lot cheaper back then.

Esra'a Khalaf with her family in Iraq.
Esra’a Khalaf with her family in Iraq.

I met wonderful friends at my university and spent wonderful times with them. Together we visited Iraq from the South to the very North and from the West to the East. The beautiful cities in the South: Basra with its wonderful sights on the sea and the big river Shatt al-Arab. I wish I could find my friends and colleagues, whom I lost contact with because of the conflicts that Iraq went through since 1980. They are still on my mind, even after all these long years.

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The sight that I will never forget about, is the place where the two rivers in Iraq, the Tigress and the Euphrates, meet in the city called ‘Al-Qurna’. The city of ancient Ziggurat of Ur from the Sumerian time. Places that took my breath away will always permanently keep their place in my heart, like Maysan, El Muthana, Babylonia and the great blue gate. But also the Babylonian stone lion and the great museum that reminds us of how great this country was in the past. Babylonia, the Abbasside Caliphate, that is Iraq. The powerful Iraq, that seems to be so unknown for so many people.

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One of the really beautiful things about the Iraqi people is their generosity. When there are people nearby you, it’s impossible to feel hungry. They will feed you, even though they themselves don’t have a lot to share. If you lose a loved one, neighbors will dry up your tears and will help you with the funeral arrangement. But also in times of happiness, people will be happy for you. They will dance with you, they will share your joy. Just like they will share food during Ramadan and visit everyone during Eid. This is who we are, a warmhearted people.

I grew up in the beautiful Baghdad, known by its amazing history, and I remember so many beautiful things. The old Arabic markets, the narrow covered streets, the sound of knockings in the copper market, the beautiful colors of clothes and old carpets hanging there. But also the smell of incense and spices in the Shurgga streets, mixed with the bright color-lights in the old Al-Rashed street, the Leyland double deck buses crossing the streets, with their nice red colors. What beautiful scenes it were.

Because of the hot summer nights, Iraqis used to sleep on the roofs to escape the heat. It resulted in nights full of starwatching and moon admiration. We would sleep on the roof until the autumn breeze would touch our feet. I miss the breakfast that my father would make for us under the grape arbor after buying fresh bread. He would cook eggs for us that a poor woman had put in our basket. Until this day I still don’t know when she would do that.”

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This is Iraq. The Iraq the world doesn’t hear about. Let us present to you the city life in Baghdad, through five more wonderful pictures.

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Written by Mayada Srouji

Mayada Srouji

Mayada Srouji is a 23-year-old student Gender and Diversity at the UGent and has a bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Sciences, with a minor in political and social sciences. She is interested in women rights, philosophy, literature and history.