Not a very bright side of Baghdad, these are a bit like inner city slum. They are not the slummiest slums. These places have character; the photos taken are from the Kadhmia district which is one of the oldest in Baghdad. There is a shrine of Imam Al-Kadhim, who is an important religious figure for Shias. It is a beautiful shrine, if I were ever asked to name 5 most interesting public spaces in the world I'm putting the inner courtyard of the Khadim shrine in that list. You don't have to be in there to pray or anything, there are huge niches within the wall and you can sit there for hours Raed, I and G. (who is a Christian) go there very often and when we have nothing to talk about we go into the main shrine building, take our shoes off and sit by the wall watching people pray, read the Koran and sometimes when someone has had a happy occasion he would go around the shrine heaping sweets in our laps or we have to duck because a woman has decided to shower the place with hard candy. Around the shrine is one of Baghdad's main centers for goldsmiths. But just behind those shops are streets which have houses from 1920's and still have people living in them. This was one of the old rich Baghdad districts, before the colonial times. Many Baghdadi families can trace their roots to this area.
It is not allowed to take photographs in the streets just like that; we were working on a site in the area and were given a permit to photograph the site. Lucky for us the paper did not specify the exact location where we are allowed to photograph G. never overlooks an opportunity like that, these are some of the photographs he has taken.click on small to see big
The shrine has four golden minarets, they are visible from everywhere in the area. Baghdad is flat city these minarets become great orientation guides, you always know which direction will get you to the main street. The women are wearing traditional Iraqi dress, the black Abaya and Shelah which covers their head. Faces are not covered.
Here you can see the Kadhim minaret very clearly. Do you see those wooden boards sticking out of the wall? This tells you that this was built between 1920 and 30, after that the use of steel I-beams became popular; it was brought into the country by the British. Either the producing company or the importer were called Shellman or something close to that because to this day they are not called I-beams but shellmans (being Iraqis we like our vowels long so it is more like sheeeeelmaaaaan)
These windows that jut out of the walls have a name, they are called Shanasheel. Al-Sayab one of my favorite Iraqi poets has a poem called “Shanasheel of al-Chalabi’s daughter” written in London one year before he died of tuberculoses. It is a very sad poem. He is the king of pain, really. You can read two translated poems here, I did not find a translation of the Shanasheel poem online. And yes this is the same Chalabi, there is only one Chalabi family in Iraq, it is a very well known Shia family. Ahmad Chalabi’s scandals don’t go unnoticed here. jaa He is a disgrace to a very respected family.
More pictures of Shanasheel in Kadhmia
I mentioned above that Kadhmia is one of the main markets for goldsmiths, but it also is one of the
big markets for everything, I guess people in the west would call them Bazaar. These “souk”s really
comply with every unwritten rule about these Bazaars. Very crowded, narrow, winding pathways we call
Darabeen. Very loud and everybody is trying to make you buy something. You get the best deals for
textiles there but you get lost very easily. I have no idea how my mother and aunts know where
everything is; I end up where they sell plastics every time I go there to buy material for pants and
shirts. And you would think that in such a place they would be a bit more prudent about selling
lingerie with all the women in hijab, you are wrong. Street peddlers stick all sorts of stuff in your
face just to get your attention.
Anyway, one of the oldest parts of this market is “souk al Isterbadi” and if you keep going along the
souk you will reach the part where they sell second-hand clothes.
Now let me tell you something about this. You know the boxes you have everywhere asking you to donate clothes for third world countries? That is a swindle, well, not all the way. The first part is probably all very much in the spirit of kindness and things are really donated to some organization in the “third world”. There things get a bit dirtier, there is a huge international market dealing with these “donations”. Things are sorted out and sold from when country to the next, Iraq gets most of the stuff from Turkey and Syria. It is such a problem here in Iraq the government had to make rules what sort of second-hand clothes you are allowed to import. Underwear is a no-go. I am not saying that it is no use donating these clothes to third-world-aid organization, actually these clothes are the only affordable clothes many people can buy and this has created a sort of income to people who would have ended up with no income at all. Besides, it always makes me smile when I see someone wearing a Cliff Richards concert T-shirt, at least this kind of makes up for the atrocities against taste he has committed.
The next couple of pictures are from Basra in the south.
Bob Marley gets the second-hand t-shirt treatment there.
So you are asking why don’t these houses have porches, gardens or something? That is because they all are like giving their backs to the street; the fun is on the inside. These are all Atrium-type houses the courtyard in the middle is open to the sky and usually has a garden and a fountain. Since there is very little rain no one worries too much about covering the courtyard.