Sunday, September 16, 2007

There is Nothing Like Death to Make you Feel Alive

What is it about travelling in India that makes it so attractive? The red forts? The Taj? The madness? The suburban cricket? All of those things, to be sure. But to my own way of thinking it has something to do with the general precariousness of life. That in itself is not the attractive thing. But that precariousness means Indians, as a general rule, live life with a fervour, passion and intensity you rarely find anywhere else. They grasp it with both hands and run hard with it. You can see the dirt and squalor. Or you can look through all that and see the person living life to the best of their ability in those conditions. With a clean shirt, hair combed, a quick smile and not a cent to his name. Proud and decent. Polite and engaging. There is a zest and vigour and animation that is wholly captivating.

I am not going to pretend the same applies in Iraq. Perhaps not yet. But there is something about this place that has the same appealing ingredients. Two things help highlight it after a week here. The first is the local help. The cooks and cleaners come in from the Red Zone and in their general joy of life (manifest in a dozen different ways, including a puppy washing session) it is hard to view them as anything except laid back and friendly neighbours. Well, they are but they are neighbours from a few kilometres away who, with their families, are living on the edge, every day. Secondly, Fuzzyjefe reminded me of a truism today – that through the sanitising of the press we forget there are real people that create those headlines (comments in a previous post). This afternoon, while on the roof watching Apache helicopters tool around the sky a loud concussive crump happened off to the west. Nothing seen but it’s a distinctive sound that makes you pause for a moment and wonder who has just had their day ruined. In the news later we see a suicide bomber has killed 8 at a police post. Somehow the sound of the bomb gives a real dimension to the headlines. Real people like our cooks and cleaners and groundsman died this afternoon, making me pause, and generating headlines we don’t really take too much heed of. But still these people hang on and make the most of what they have. They create a vibe that is infectious and is a very positive feature in a place like this. Ironically, thanks to its people, it is a place that makes you feel very much alive.


John said...

I am absolutely loving this series of posts on Iraq.
More engaging than any series of newspaper articles could ever be because of your exploration of the all-important human aspect of this tragic situation and also because of your self-discovery/self-questioning.
I often feel that seasoned travellers benefit from a deep-immersion in life experience, a kind of roller-coaster ride that unfolds much more intensely than in life back at home. That really comes across in your blog.
I look forward to reading more!

Pickled Eel said...

Hello John, that is a very generous comment and of course very encouraging as well. This is one place where you can't but help feel introspective. It starts the moment you are strapped in at Amman and the Captain welcomes you to the flight to Baghdad. Suddenly you get a zen like focus about what you are doing. As I wrote in today's diary (for tomorrows blog) you can't but help notice the contrasts, between the chopper popping flares to the sleeping dove, from the grumble of heavy armour trundling down the road to kids playing next door. The contrasts alert you to the positive possibilities of the place. You are on the mark re immersion and the roller coaster - after a while I think we go looking for it!

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