"You, the child that once loved
The child before they broke his heart Our heart,
the heart that I believed was lost
So it's me I see, I can do anything.
So it's me I see, I can do anything.
I'm still the child 'Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood's end
I am your childhood friend, lead me on "
It was a sunny and warm day and nothing was better than going to the gym to get rid of my reluctant-to-disappear “Kirish”. I was there around lunch time. I plugged the headphones to my Ipod and went on the treadmill machine located before the big window through which you can see the neighbouring primary school courtyard. I timed my machine at 30 minutes and 8.5 km/hour speed in order to burn approximately 500 calories. As I began to heat up, I was looking through the window to the children playing in the courtyard. Most of them aged between 8 and 12. The courtyard itself was divided into three big squares and in each square there was a group of children: one was playing football, another one playing volleyball and the third, which drew my attention as they were the closest to the window, was playing rugby. Eights kids in each group, the match started between the two teams, the girls and the boys. You can tell both teams were multiracial, as you can see blonde, dark skinned and blacks among the players. White Caucasian, Asian, Far East, Afro Caribbean and others. One of the girls was Muslim as she was wearing “Hijab”. Both teams were keen to win and they were doing their best achieve their aim. As the match went on, I was sweaty and breathless with only 10 minutes passed since I began. These scenes of innocent childhood took me thirty years back when I was in Al-Rasheed primary school in Baghdad. In each corner of that school I left memories. I still remember the classes, the small canteen “Hanoot”, the library and the courtyard. We used to play football a lot but not with girls. They had their own games which we rarely play, especially “Tooky”. And I do not remember the girls playing football in my school. However; we used to play together “Shurta WA Haramiyah” (“Police and thieves” which is the equivalent of “Hide and seek”). We were not very well connected to the girls in our school. It seemed to me now that we shared the same physical space (the school) but were separate otherwise. I do not remember our teachers encouraging us to engage with each others. We must not cross the line with the girls that was the message from the family, the school and the society at large.
The world was changing around us but we were busy with our games and our pure innocent dreams. I discovered later that these six years of my primary school were unstable ones, for my family at least. Saddam came to power when I was in the third class. My aunt who was living with us began wearing Hijab. She was considerably influenced by the success of the Iranian revolution of 1979. and from a young woman wearing bell-bottomed jeans trousers and mini skirts, reading romantic novels in English and listening to The Beegees, Abba, The Beatles and pictures of the Italian actor Franco Niro and Marlon Brando pinned to the wall beside her bed, she started praying regularly, reading the Qur’an and “Mafateeh Al-Jinan” (Keys of Heavens), going regularly to Khadhimya, Najaf and Karbala and talking about Al-Sadr and Bint Al-Huda. My uncle who also lives with us decided to leave Iraq with his wife and headed to the not very well known Dubai at that time in late 70s. My father left his work in the government and established his private business because he was not able to cope with pressures exerted by Ba’athists on him to join the Ba’ath Party or the Popular Army “Jaish Al-Sha’aby”. The war with Iran started when I was in the fourth class and the small park near our school turned into a concrete-built shelter. I was feeling that something is going on around me but who cares as long as I can play football and read “Grindisers”, “Sindibad” and “Bisat Al-Reeh” comics with my friends N (our neighbour, originally from Mosul) and S (our neighbour as well, a native Baghdadi) and get my daily 200 “fillis” from my dad to secure my supply of crisps, biscuits (Bisculatta Brand) and a bottle of Pepsi as cans were not yet introduced to Iraqis.
We grew up and finished our education and everyone chose his path in this life and most of us joined the very long and never-ending list of Iraqi Diaspora all over the world.
I looked again at the “Kirish-reducing machine” and it is just five minutes left to end. I was drenched in sweat and breathless. The rugby match ended, the boys won and players of both teams hugged each other and sat under the shade of the big tree on the right side of the yard talking and laughing with each other and with their young teacher. I wished if I can free myself from the chains of my daily concerns: work, bills, rent, future career, IRAQ, my family and the people there, wished to leave all this behind and share few moments with these kids. The machine stopped but my “Kirish” was still there as well as the images of childhood reluctant to go. I realised how much we had missed in our childhood and how many spaces we were eager to explore, left untouched because of the fears of breaking the social traditions that our families and teachers imposed on us. But the picture was never gloomy, especially if you compare it with the current onslaught in Iraq. My concerns right now are not about the school education in Iraq, as more than 60% of Iraqi children not going to schools and the remainder not doing so regularly because of the widespread violence and fears of kidnapping. It is mainly about the games they play now. Playing football is almost a forgotten luxury. New games were invented to reflect the dreadful situation Iraqis face now. The Guardian Newspaper published an article two months by its correspondent in Iraq who described a new game popular among Iraqi children. They divide themselves into two groups, the first group act as they were driving a car and suddenly stopped by the second group which plays the role of a faked checkpoint. The leader of the second group acting as if he has a pistol in his hand. He points his pistol to the person sitting on the front seat asking him: Muqtada Al-Sadr or Harith Al-Dhari, Jaish Al-Mahdi or the Mujahidin? If the answer was not the one agreed on by members of the second group, the leader will say: wrong answer dude and they pick the driver and other passengers (members of the first group) and drag them out of their car and shoot them in the head. It is a game of life and death, not winners and losers and certainly we can not blame these children for such a dreadful game. They just copy what they see around them and transform it to an enjoyable game. The Americans, the Iraqi government, the parliament, the parties, religious leaders, tribal sheikhs, “Sunni resistance/insurgency”, “ Al-Dahari’s Mujahidin or the Al-Mahdi gangsters all share the responsibility for the continuous shedding of Iraqi blood. My advice for them is to subscribe with the same gym that I regularly attend for two important reasons: first, to get rid of their “Kirishs”, as most of them in terms of BMI (Basal Metabolic Index) criteria, exceeded the limit of overweight and considered as obese, thanks to billions of Iraqi dollars disappeared through out four years of corruption. And most importantly, to experience the socialising atmosphere of the gym and learn lessons from these innocent kids about tolerance, acceptance and loving each other.
*Kirish in slang Iraqi Language means "Fat Belly"
*to read the Guardian article about Iraqi Children titled "Children of War":