Excerpt in Translation: ‘Saddam and Me and the Stockholm Syndrome’

I looked through the window and noticed a disturbing vacuum in the skyline. I unhesitatingly purchased all the remaining cartons without really thinking about how to transport such a valuable yet annoyingly fragile catch to our house, a few kilometers away. They’d bombarded the nearby communications center for the second time. Where Authors Are from, Year by YearCategories: IraqTags: 2018 release, Ali Shakir, Saddam Hussein The window frames clattered and their taped-up glass cracked. Or the persistent banging on our door by a visiting neighbor, who wanted to share his or her confusion and fear, as well as the latest news they’d heard on this or that radio station. All the taps inside the house had gone dry. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Is there ‘Too Much Balance’ in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction? The excerpt below, translated by the author, is from a chapter on the Gulf War. The next morning, I went upstairs to check and clean up the broken glass in my room. I gritted my teeth and kept walking until, finally, I got home with stiffened, nearly paralyzed arms. Iraq-born New Zealand-based architect and author Ali Shakir penned   A Muslim on the Bridge   (Signal 8 Press, 2013) and   Café Fayrouz   (ASP INC, 2015). Ali Shakir’s third book —   Saddam and Me and the Stockholm Syndrome —   was published on the 15th of this month by   Dar Elthaqafa Elgedeeda:
The book is a work of nonfiction that “tackles Saddam’s growing posthumous popularity among thousands of young Arabs and Iraqis.” It’s told in two parts, the first a memoir of growing up in Ba’ath-ruled Baghdad, and the second beginning with Saddam’s 2006 execution. People were keen to show up at the three-day mourning session to discuss the rumors circulating about a coming overthrow of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq and its prospective ramifications on our lives and future. The air-raid siren that perched on the building and had hardly stopped howling since the beginning of the war—not this time, though!—was silenced forever. Before we knew it, night had fallen, signaling another period of air raids and missile attacks, whose intensity varied from one night to the next for reasons unbeknownst to anyone. … A profound silence prevailed after what seemed like forever. Every once in a while, we’d hear the popping noise of shooting, accompanied by loud wailing screams, announcing a fallen soldier’s arrival home. The tall, steel-structured antenna tower had disappeared. Nonetheless, the smiles I saw on everybody’s faces made the excruciating trip worthwhile. My only concern was to provide myself and my family with enough water and food to keep us going and withstand another day of this ruthless war. As little as two or three liters was a treasure for me that I held up triumphantly and hurried to empty into a larger container in the kitchen, and went out again to accumulate more droplets, and so on. The majority, including me, were apprehensive and decided to keep their vigil until the storm had passed. What was there to see other than the same pile of debris? … A hill of rubble, topped with a crushed tower was all that remained of the center, built a few years before by a foreign construction company. Each cup took a long time to collect from the low, dripping faucet in our garden. I didn’t visit the hit site. When my family helped me lay down my heavy load on our dining table I screamed in agony. We instinctively cowered and covered our heads with our arms, expecting the roof to come tumbling down at any given moment. According to the publisher, the book   “attempts to track the symptoms and roots of longing for the days of dictatorship,” which is likened to some Egyptians’ nostalgia for Hosni Mubarak. I would have been happy to trade one of the cartons for a short drive, but was too embarrassed to suggest it. My weeks of sleeping on the floor had taken their toll on my bones and joints. The communications center that was less than a kilometer away from us had been targeted. As soon as I’d finished my daily chores, I was off to the streets to walk for long miles and scrutinize whichever grocery store I found for fresh vegetables or fruits, even if that entailed consuming an extra amount of the hard-earned water to wash them. … Every morning, rain or shine, I ventured out into the cold, putting on as much clothing as I could and carrying empty plastic containers that I’d place alternately under the rusty faucet. What if the bomb had missed its target by only a few hundred meters? … My spirits plummeted visibly, which affected the duties I was expected to perform. We had to seek out meat alternatives for protein. Some seemed optimistic and argued that it could bring our long-awaited freedom. I was exhausted and could barely muster enough energy to collect our daily water from the rusty dripping faucet in our garden. It was an exceptionally cold winter, and they needn’t be kept in the fridges, which we now used as storage cabinets, leaving their doors open to prevent mold. After that, we’d retire to our presumably safe shelter, that is, my parents’ bedroom on the ground floor, unroll our mattresses and struggle to get some sleep despite being rattled by consecutive explosions that hardly eased off before the break of dawn. I held tight to the sides of the sink to avoid falling, and heard the noise of more windows breaking. I tried to distract myself by indulging in recollections of my decadent baths in the good old days; the way warm water sprang effortlessly from the showerhead to create rich foam and release soothing scented vapors in the air. I still recall the panic I felt when the dripping ceased one day, and how I was so ecstatic to see it resume its extremely faint ooze that I jumped up in the air in celebration. I hurried outside and saw many flocking toward the location to inspect the damage. Saddam and Me and the Stockholm Syndrome, available from Jamalon,   is his third book. The slightly slower-than-usual pace of the evening shelling felt reassuring, and I fell asleep right away. It’s ironic that we ended up spreading our repulsive gray-brown bread—rumored to have sawdust in the dough—with Danish Lurpak butter and fancy European marmalades that were sold for only a fraction of their original price. We’d finished listening to the news bulletins on the radio one night, and were waiting for a round of concentrated shelling to end, when a thunderous roar shook the ground, and a massive flash turned the darkness into light. Beggars, as the saying goes, can’t be choosers. … My sinful fantasies would often be interrupted by the noise from a passing horse-drawn cart that sold kerosene; I had to drop everything, run to wave it down, and negotiate with the driver for a lower price on his precious commodity. My morning shower, for instance, was now reduced to pouring a few cups of water over myself. I should have felt relieved, but I didn’t. … Abruptly awakened by a bad dream after just a few hours, I dragged myself into the bathroom to wet my face with some of the remaining water in the plastic bucket on the floor when the walls lit up and the earth shook under my feet. I only realized the bad situation I’d stupidly gotten myself into when the vendor stacked the cartons, one on top of the other, on my arms. Once more, we had survived. Death does not discriminate and we cannot hide from it, I was now convinced. … How long will this last? Our only remaining choice was between life and death. … I almost forgot that I was a university student, much less that I harbored any future plans or vocational ambitions. After a week or so of power outages, the freezers were hardly cold and their stock of meat started changing taste, as did our bread. The shops had run out of proper flour and all bakeries were now selling weird-tasting and -smelling products. Our evening meal consisted of bread and whatever dairy products—mainly canned cheese—remained in our pantry. It was quite different from lunch, where we usually had chicken, cooked on the kerosene heater in our living room. I started walking cautiously and had to stop when passing drivers unrolled their windows to ask where I got the eggs from and how much I’d paid for them. We had our shame-dipped snacks while listening to the news updates on BBC, RMC, and VOA. With blanched faces and shocked gazes, we rose up slowly, but our adrenaline-laden bodies kept shaking long after the danger had passed. The first splash of the near-freezing water left me gasping in pain and trembling, even after I’d finished washing and left the bathroom. The daylight hours passed very quickly. I also remember the vicious allergy attacks that left me with itchy swollen eyes and runny nose, and the painful headaches that ensued. … What’s the point of targeting a destroyed building? Neighbors rushed to support the bereaved family and offer their condolences. I made up my mind that I was going to sleep in my bed no matter what. Eggs had become scarce due to the high demand. … Walking became my favorite pastime in those confusing times. Egg-hunting in Baghdad
Since war broke out, our daily routine has changed drastically. I threw myself on the fluffy surface and basked in its smoothness for a while and then covered my whole body with a warm duvet and a blanket. We still had to line up for hours in front of the neighborhood’s baker’s window to get only a few loaves. That was the point where we decided it was time to end our months-long boycott of all the food stolen from Kuwait that had taken over the Iraqi market shelves after the invasion. … One afternoon, while walking in our neighborhood, I stumbled upon a man selling his chickens’ eggs on the street. The price has been paid, we reasoned. I decided to reward myself for completing my impossible task with a comfortable night’s sleep in my bed, which I’d totally abandoned.