Friday, February 21, 2003

These are the days of crazy weather, very colorful. We had rainy-clouds-grey two days ago, sunny-bright-yellow the day after and desert-sand-red the day after that. But it is warmer generally and the nights are beautiful with a bright moon when you can see it thru the clouds or sand. The moon started waning now and getting closer to that scary “dark of the moon” phase. Most people think if anything is going to happen this month it will start during the darkest nights. We’ll see.
In Baghdad and other cities in Iraq people are busy welcoming the Hajis back from their trip. Cars with green and white flags drive the new Hajis around the city and their houses have the same flags on them. The people who went to Mecca in coaches take quite some time to get back to Baghdad. The funny thing is that even the people who traveled in airplanes are only arriving now. Some of them slept for three nights in airports until they got their chartered flights, and the Saudi government rather has the Iraqis in the airports than roaming. Now we have to go thru the “haj mabrur – blessed haj” games, everybody visiting everybody else, and they give you these little thimbles of water from Zamzam, which is supposed to have some sort of healing and purifying effects on the soul or whatever. People, I want to be the person who does the documentary showing that the Saudi government has been extending the life of that well by adding _tap water_ to it. Some hajis who see me smile when they are giving these little bottles of blessed water as presents decide that a praying rug would be better, they will have to start me on the road to redemption in the first place and the flying carpet from Mecca will be my fast track to Jennah (heaven). My blasphemous ranting aside, becoming a Haj is a big deal. It is an exhausting couple of weeks and anybody who commits him/herself to such an ordeal has at least earned the right to get a special name, and Haji has a nice ring to it. I, personally, have decided to go to Mecca as late in my life as possible, you see if the “Tabula rasa” part of the Haj is right and there is a “god” it makes sense to live life like a pig then go purify your soul in Mecca and live your last days like a saint. I have it all worked out, that is my contingency plan for the remote possibility of the existence of a deity.

A reader sent me an angry email a couple of days ago (not the reader who writes in the comments, someone else) asking me why I dislike the “human shields” so much, he/she actually asked “why do you spit on them?”. Ewww. Now I was never that unfriendly. I have not met any of them in person, which just might happen in the next couple of days, what I dislike is the idea. But since dissing them gets people so exited, here we go and do what [destiny’s child] don’t, “cause their mamma taught them better than that”, we be dissing the shields again on the internet.
One of the latest group to arrive in Baghdad, mostly Europeans, were welcomed to the Rasheed hotel , which is like the Waldorf Astoria of Baghdad, no other hotel is more expensive and exclusive. All of them were wearing T-shirts with what was supposed to be "Human Shields" in Arabic, but they had it all wrong it said "Adra'a Basharia" instead of "Duru'u Basharia" which got them a few giggles and a new name; they are now the "Adra'a" just to show how clueless they are. A lot of funny Arabic these days with all these HS's running around, a van with a foreign number plate standing near the ministry of information has "No War" written all over it in many languages the biggest in Arabic. All over the front of it is says "La Harba" which is wrong and sounds like a night club, my cousin thought that was cute. Anyway, what really got my goat this time was finding out that they get food coupons worth 15,000 dinars per meal, 3 for every day.fifteen thousan.
Do you know how much the monthly food ration for a 4 person family is worth, for a whole month not per meal (real cost, not subsidized) ? 30,000 dinars, if you get someone to buy the bad rice they give you for a decent price. 15,000. What are they eating? A whole lamb every meal? Let's put this within context. Today in the morning Raed, our friend G. and I went for a late big breakfast we had 2 tishreeb bagilas (can't explain that, you have to be an Iraqi to get it otherwise it sounds inedible) and a makhlama (which is an omelet with minced meat), tea, fizzy drinks and argila afterwards (the water-pipe-thingy) all for 4,750 dinars, and we were not going super cheap. A lunch in any above-average restaurant will not be more than 8,000 dinars and that includes everything. 15,000 thousand is a meal in a super expensive restaurant in Arasat Street, in one of those places that really almost have an "only foreigners allowed, no Iraqis welcome unless you are UN staff" sign on it. I will stop calling them tourist when they stop taking all this pampering from the Iraqi government. Did I tell you about the tours? Today was Babylon day. You are really missing it, the cheapest way to do the Iraq trip you have wanted to do but were too scared.
And I have a tip for all freelance journalists who are not getting their Visas. Join your colleagues. It's the best way to get past the visa thing, every third one of these "shields" will be writing an article somewhere. Hurry contact your local "war tourism" travel agent.
Sorry, I just don't get it. What are they doing here?
So, that should get me enough hate mail for the next couple of days.

Enough of that. TV time. the biggest TV event last week was the first [waznak thahab - your weight in gold] show with Noor al-Sharif (no relation to Omar) as show host. Noor is a very serious Egyptian actor, I linked to one of his shows in a post I wrote last Ramadan, this is his first as show host and he totally blew it, he looked scared and nervous. The contestants were calmer and cooler than him, we used to have Aiman Zedan, who is a Syrian actor, do the show and he was a killer. The show is actually on Abu Dhabi TV but our Youth TV just steals it off the air and shows it the next day, state sanctioned piracy, what else can you wish for?