October 9, 2007


I remember an old joke, I heard sometime ago...It goes like this.
"How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb ?"
"10. One to change it and 9 to share the experience."

I guess this joke was invented, because Californians are known to be into sharing and caring experiences. You know, burn some incense, light a candle, and talk about your chakras...Candle meditation kind of gatherings. Deep, very deep.

In Iraq, we have candle meditation gatherings too. It's called NO electricity.

A popular joke going around in Baghdad.

"Child: Mother, mother! Daddy was electrocuted!
"Mother: "We have power?"

Radhee yells daily his favorite mantra, "For God sake unplug it."

Radhee in Adhamiya gets a total of 3 hours of electricity per day.
1 in the morning, 2 in the early evening. These are considered lucky days.

In the morning, his wife unplugs the fridge so they can plug in the air cooler. And in the evening, she plugs in the fridge, before all the food thaws, and unplugs the air cooler...

Radhee was also a "member" of a "neighborhood" generator.
He paid around 175 dollars a month to get a few extra hours of electricity. But the guy who runs this very lucrative business swindled them. He would cash in the money and not provide the electricity.
So Radhee collected some money from relatives and bought his own generator.
But then there is the problem of diesel for the generator to function.
So Radhee ventures every other day to buy a few gallons of diesel. That costs him an extra 200+ dollars a month if he wants at least 7 hours of electricity.

I did say venture, tentatively venture outside his home.
Adhamiya is known for its snipers, sectarian militia infiltrators, 1000 checkpoints, and frankly Radhee is getting quite traumatized from constantly stumbling on cadavers lying around the neighborhood. Wouldn't you ?
So venturing out to buy diesel is a whole undertaking that needs careful and meticulous planning.

Besides, Radhee is unemployed and can't continue borrowing money left, right and center.

Last time we spoke, he told me they simply can't afford this personal generator anymore. So him and his wife have become professionals in electrical matters. They know everything about watts, bulbs, circuits, wires, and how much each appliance consumes when plugged. They have become experts in saving electricity.

Someone should give them the nobel prize in Ecology. You know Greenpeace, Save the Planet, WWF...

As for auntie Sameera, who lives in Karrada, the situation is slightly more complex.
Karrada is now divided into two parts. The upper and the lower.
The upper is controlled by the Badr Brigades of Al-Hakeem SCII party. A nasty vile bunch. They have their own checkpoints and search methods.

The lower part, on the other hand, is controlled, by the psychopathic bunch, the Mahdi Army. They too have their own checkpoints and search methods. The drill is the preferred one.

Now catch this. If for instance, auntie Sameera wants to go to upper Karrada, she must take a WRITTEN authorization from the Mahdi and present it to the Badr militias. And vice versa.
Auntie Sameera's misfortune is that she lives right in the middle of Karrada. So she is never sure to whom she must report - The Badr or the Mahdi.

Now the plot thickens...if any member of her family needs to go and buy diesel, they need two written authorizations. One from each militia.
If any member of her family needs some official paper work done in any ministry, then they need 4 written authorizations...

Or take the example of Nadia in Ameriya. Nadia has to go, and am not exaggerating, through 7 checkpoints inside her own neighborhood. And every time she undergoes a body search. She queues for hours in the sun, and she is fasting since it's Ramadan, waiting for her turn for the body search.

A few days ago, she needed some kerosene and diesel, and of course no taxi would take her inside the neighborhood...
You know what she did? She took a wooden cart on wheels, and pushed it for 2 hours before reaching her home. You know those old wooden carts with two wheels, from the Middle Ages ? Yes these ones...

She also told me that her cart came in quite handy. The neighbors borrowed it the other day to tranport an emergency patient to the hospital.

I think they should start developing hospitals on wheels as well. And houses on wheels. And electrical generators on wheels...It will just make it faster at checkpoints.

Before the invasion and during the draconian sanction years, the above neighborhoods and the whole of Baghdad were getting from 6 to 24 hours of electricity per day.
And that, despite lack of spare parts for grinds which were again forbidden by the sanctions committee. You can trust the ingenious Iraqi mind when it comes to matters in repairing things.

When the "liberators" landed, the electricity has gone down to 2 hours, if you are lucky. No wonder it takes 10 Americans to change a lightbulb !

But the official figure for electricity is 6 hours a day according to some study conducted in America. Now, how the hell would the Brooking institute know ?

And as one resident exclaimed: "Six hours, even that, would be mercy from God."

But hey, we have good news : "The Iraqi ministry of electricity has a plan...to give the whole country full power by 2010."

Promises, promises...

"That is a distant dream, I think," Hussein said. "That is so far in the future, at that time we will be old; I will retire - Hussein is 18."

A distant dream indeed...

Everything has become all very complicated for the ordinary Baghdadi citizen in the Red Zone ghettoes. Dangerously complicated.

Going to work is complicated, going to school is complicated, visiting a doctor is complicated, shopping is complicated, social gatherings are complicated, everything is complicated, everything is dangerous...so complicated and so dangerous, that nearly everyone has given up from venturing outside their homes unless absolutely necessary.

So to kill time and fight the darkness, Iraqis are perfecting their skills in Electrical Engineering - by candlelight, waiting for the year 2010.

P.S : Do read the full article. Radhee, Auntie Sameera and Nadia corroborate its accuracy.

Painting : Iraqi female artist, Yaqeen Al-Dulaimi.