Sunday, February 25, 2024

Saddam’s Great Iraq – 13


Ancient Coin – Photo By Author

The Iraqi incharge of the project designated as ‘Raes ul Firka’ arranged all furniture and stores including fridge, freezer and cooking range, over to the project sight well in advance and settled everything in the hired house in a very small colony, a few kilometres from the working area. The project site was more than four hours’ drive from Baghdad. We reached the camp in the evening and the very next day we started the field duty. The entire area was absolutely barren and desolate destroyed by salinity and day by day approaching desert sand and sand dunes. There was every indication to believe that once it used to be a fertile and productive area. Well within the sand dunes we discovered pieces of antiques, earthen and bronze / copper. These were scattered so profusely that choice of collection was difficult. I got a piece inscribed with printing in unknown alphabet. It is probably a word from some dead language. By the side of this writing there is figure of mosquito which is beautifully clear. I showed it to my Iraqi companions who agreed with me that it might be a coin and might be having a percentage of gold in its constitution. Then inside the desert we came across part of a canal perfectly in its proper shape. Its banks were level with general ground. It was 20 feet wide from bank to bank and about 4 feet deep. Its interior and the surrounding adjoining surface was covered by a thin layer of green grass of very thin blades. It was creating a beautiful dreamy scene and as for me I wanted to sit there for many hours to let my mind travel to centuries in past. It was a piece of wonder and pity both at the same time. Wonder because of so much green grass surrounded by sand dunes on which not a single blade of grass or bush could be seen. And pity because this whole area must have been domain of agriculture fields, irrigated by the canal and distributaries.

Even from this far away project site, Iraqis used to have their weekend in Baghdad. They had even got approval of 5 days working week. And on fifth working day they used to work for only an hour or two and even that in a hurry shouting to everybody else from time to time ‘please hurry, we have to leave for weekend’. I had already taken a room on monthly basis in a house hired by Pakistanis in Babul Sharji locality. I had to travel with them twice in a week.

As the hot weather approached the family of biting insects increased tremendously.  It was impossible to sleep at night without functioning of the room cooler. During any power breakdowns at night the biting on slaught was so prompt and severe that everybody used to get up for scratching body. For meals and breakfasts, our Iraqi manager Mr. Mehmood was a superb manager. He was making perfect use of all the kitchen appliances. Freezer remained full of various kinds of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and cold drinks. To fight the roughness of the area we had all the components of diet always ready and Mr. Mehmood always kept adding to the stocks. Not only that much but also he used to get into the kitchen off and on preparing various dishes that I enjoyed so much. He was a very perfect cook and I still feel the taste of some of his dishes after so many years. He was one of my best Iraqi friends. In spare hours he used to increase my knowledge about Iraq and its culture which was so attractive. Unfortunately, once his disciplines went loose. On a weekend he went to Baghdad leaving me to stay in the camp. He told me that this time he had to visit office in Baghdad fo r funds for sight expenses, and so he was expected to be late by a day or two. He took the vehicle and there could not be any field work in his absence. He did not return during the whole week. At last when he returned he had a long list of excuses and that was all.


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Category: Travel

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