February 3, 2007
A Symphony of Silent Voices .
Where to begin, by which story, by whose name ?
Maybe it is best to start with the apparently simplest, less innocuous one and work my way into a crescendo...like a musical piece that starts with one single note to end in a symphony.
My symphony however, is composed of a human solfeggio, that gets higher and higher as it unfolds...
The first note is the scream of a toothache.
Alia who lives in a "predominantly sunni"(oh that dreaded word) neighborhood has a toothache.
No dentist in sight. An abscess forms, a fever ensues, an intolerable pain...
Braving mortar shells, American and militia checkpoints, she finally makes it to a dental clinic or what appears to be the remnants of a clinic. No question of a filling. Fillings take time and time is a precious commodity. Every minute, every second counts...staying alive counts.
Besides, fillings are too expensive and Alia's husband has been without work for over a year now.
"We shall extract it " says the equally fearful doctor.
No anaesthesia, no sterile instruments , where can anyone find some antiseptic those days? the tooth is forcefully and quickly pulled out.
Alia is sent home with a mouth stuffed with tissues. The pain grows in intensity so do the screams. The mortar shells are raining heavily on Al Ameriya, no one will risk it this time, not even Alia. The fever rises, the mouth is swollen, blisters erupt inside out and all over, the infection spreads...
Alia can no longer speak now. Her jaw is locked in a tetanus fit.
No electricity, no water and no food left. She is immobilized by the cold, the darkness, an empty stomach and the pain. Alia just clenches her fists as tightly as her locked jaw and screams away into the night and into her days ...tetanized in the New Iraq.
Auntie Sameera is by nature a jovial woman despite being a widow at an early age and having to look after two disabled children alone. Auntie lives in a "mixed neighborhood" Karrada, daily exposed to explosions, mortar shells and gun fire.
I call Auntie Sameera, she says " I can't take it anymore...I don't even have a box of aspirin at home and provisions are running low, what are we going to eat ?"
Randa, the handicapped cousin, used to manage uttering complete sentences and even a good belly laugh. I asked to speak to Randa.
Randa just hurled shouts at me , she shouted and shouted like a wounded animal...Randa can no longer talk. She just shouts day and night and when calmed down, the only comprehensible word she can remember is "am shaking, please am shaking..." then she shouts some more...
Mayssaloon, my very close relative, a beautiful young woman whose name means gaiety, got married three years ago to a nice shi'a boy. They were happy until...
Mayssaloon gave birth 3 days ago at home in Al Azamiyah ( a predominantly sunni neighborhood - here we go again...)
When she told us the good news about her pregnancy, our faces dropped.
My first reaction was " How could you ?" but I bit my tongue and said nothing.
Then I realized how "nazi" it was of me to even think that way. She is newly wed and she wants a family. For her life has to go on and she had hopes ...until... until little Hassan was born.
Like many women in Iraq and in Baghdad in particular, any pregnancy has to end in a forced cesarian in a hospital (if you can call it a hospital that is - only God knows the rate of septicemia after surgeries today in Baghdad) or deal with it alone at home.
Al Azamiyah has been under very heavy shelling for the past four days, shelling from the iranian backed militias in their rabid campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Again , no water, no electricity, no food. Mayssaloon gave birth at home, she was hemorrhaging..no midwife available. Someone finally brought in a nurse. She said take her to the hospital now.
Again, her father braved the mortar deadly shells and took her to the nearest hospital.
Impossible, they said . No beds available, too many injured already...go home.
Mayssaloon and little Hassan made it home , but Hassan was too pale and hardly breathing and Mayssaloon was heavily bleeding. They also noticed a strange looking growth on his tiny body.
Grandpa took him to a doctor, who ran some blood tests, but by then it was too late...Hassan eclipsed like a frail small flame...Hassan is gone for ever...and Mayssaloon is still bleeding...
He uttered a tiny cry and went.
Mayssaloon sits in bed all day and all night in the cold and in the darkness , her silence is deafening and when she speaks , she just cries loudly, sighs and goes back to mute .
And so it goes ...for the silent voices in Iraq.
Postscript : As I was writing this, I remembered a letter received from a western friend of mine. She just go pregnant and was looking foward to feel her birth pangs , an affirmation of her feminity. She checked herself in into a very special clinic so she can give birth in a warm cosy water pool, the natural way,hence diminishing the traumas of childbirth to her and her child.
I can't but manage an ironic smile now.
Where is Condi Rice, the midwife of the New Middle East? We just had Death Birth pangs here...in a pool of warm blood.
Painting: Iraqi Artist Jaber Alwan.