February 12, 2010

Notes from I-Rack:

Iraq Airways (IAW) is not 'absolutely' terrible when all is said and done. I've flown on worse, in particular an encounter with 'Aero-Flot' (Russian Airlines) on way from Moscow to London comes to mind. The more randomer domestic airlines in the US are pretty shitty also. And then there was that absolutely disastrous 14-hour torture session on the grand return to Pakistan courtesy United Airlines (and general Fulbright cheapness).

Point being, Iraq airways had smiling (if completely incompetent) staff. The airhostess, when we asked her if this flight would go to Najaf or Baghdad (at this point we were seriously confused about what all was going on), said to us 'where do YOU want to go', we said 'NAJAF', she said, 'maybe we will go to Najaf first then', we said 'okay then'. The pilot's voice sounded just a little-too-happy (the kind of happy people have been known to get after a few joints) when he said (in a distinctly Maz Jobrani kind of way) 'Maybe we will reach Bahrain in two hours, then maybe an hour and half there, then we will be on-route to Najaf'. We said, 'maybe YAY'. And then proceeded to use the priviledge of an empty plane by occupying three seats and going to sleep.

A proposed tagline for Iraq Airways:

'Great people to fly with.... if you can find us!'

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The stopover at Bahrain lasted 'maybe' two hours and the plane became full to bursting (sigh) with loud Arab men and extremely silent, black-burkha clad women. I have often griped against the confines of my (our) society and my particular religious community, but I think I uttered a very heartfelt prayer of thanks when I saw a group of ten-odd women shrouded in a black burkha complete with thin black veil over their faces. I wonder what it feels like to see the world through a layer of black. And I was seriously grateful that I didn't have to know. I had been chafing (ever since I put it on) against the rida (colorful two-piece burkha type thing) and the need to be 'covered-up' entirely. Playing at pardah (as I am doing now) and actually living it are two different realities. I cannot imagine what I would have done were I living that life. But then again, maybe if that was my life, I would not think it was strange and scary. The truth is, we all derive comfort from the familiar, and to many women in this part of the world the black veil is extremely familiar.

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For all those who doubted it, visas ARE available at the airport in Najaf for eighty-something dollars. Which is a princely sum if one converts it to Dinar. I discovered that the current conversion rate is 1160 Dinars for a Dollar. At the airport I bought a bottle of water, two packets of chewing gum (which I subsequently lost) and a packet of biscuits for 4000 dinars. I suspect I was ripped off.

Not knowing the language is extremely crippling. I wish there was a way I could sublim all the languages of the world into my brain immediately. Life would be so much more confortable when you didn't have to use observation and guesstimates to understand what's going on.

Also, it's a little disconcerting for a take-charge kind of woman (which, in case you wondered, is what I am) when people (namely male airport officials) look through you and talk straight to your brother. After a while it stops being disconcerting, and begins to become fuck-annoying. I wonder why Pakistani women think they're repressed. Compared to women in this part of the world, we're positively liberated. Which, my loves, is something to remember the next time I get annoyed at Pakistani social hypocrisy.

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Mommy observed (and quite rightly so) that Najaf looks absurdly like Karachi's orangi or lyari town. Take a couple of lanes from Orangi. Remove all women (save a few peeking around the corners in their wispy-black garb), add some-dozen Arab men and throw in a couple of bullet prrof vehicles a'la Amreeki army. Voila, you have seen a scene from Al'Najaf. For the nth time I hope speculation is false and we manage to escape this plague without regressing to the state of Iraq.

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We're on route from Najaf straight to Karbala (after interminable hours spent at the airport waiting for all the other people who're with our tour group arrive). From the bus window I spy masses of people walking in a straight line along the side of the road. Every few minutes or so we see a large tent with mattresses and pillows inside. Vendors of assorted types line the side of the road and pitch-black kettles immersed in fire house boiling cups of 'shai'. People of all shapes and sizes, from infants to geriartrics march on by holding assorted religious paraphernalia: bright green cloth, red flags and - every now and then - painted depictions of Ali and Hussain. I wonder - coming from a shia community - why I've never come across these pictures before. Then I remember how our people don't take too kindly to pictures of any sort. It takes very little for us to imagine insults, any sort of pictoral representation would - I suspect - be ripe inspiration for communal riots.

The pictures in themselves are fascinating. I notice (and I wonder if this observation is somewhat blasphemous) that the representation of the imams have distinctly Jesus-like features. Or maybe collective human depiction of 'purity' is somewhat similar.

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This journey is far-far longer than anticipated. Somebody make it STOP!

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Finally reached Karbala.

6 comments:

ordered-chaos said...

Glad to hear you are safe, as someone else commented previously how are the native men faring around you ;)

also assauge my curiousity about how you blogged on the go?

Qasim said...

see u there tomorrow.

poisson said...

stay safe

Lonely Perverted Soul said...

Hey great post... And stay safe...

Qasim said...

I have arrived. where r u staying?

Xeb said...

oc: That's a bit of story. Will write about that eventually.

p: so far so good :)

LPS: ditto :)

Q: Err, I'm in Karbala, minutes away from the Haram. Where are you?