Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I got a passport!

I should’ve written about this some days ago but I had to spend a week in Basra...Anyway, I feel it’s still worth writing about (at least from my point of view):
last week, I crossed the borders for the first time in my life; something may sound less than regular for most of you but for an Iraqi dentist or doctor it was a beautiful dream becoming a reality.
Countless numbers of Iraqi doctors, dentists, officers and professionals carrying Msc or Phd ended up in prison or even lost their lives for trying to get passports (faked ones of course and at a very high cost) to get out of Saddam’s hell.

This time, it wasn’t hard for me at all to get my passport (a real one) and it cost me practically nothing; just two personal photographs and after five days I had my passport in my hand. No Mukhabarat asking why, where to and for how long, no 400 000 Dinars exit tax, no bribes to border guards...etc

The best part of the story that makes me feel good about myself is that I made this trip to serve my country; Mohammed and I, together with some Iraqi journalists and media workers flied to Amman after receiving an invitation from “Spirit of America” to attend some meetings to discuss the possible ways in which we can improve, train and support the growing free media in Iraq as the free, unbiased media can play a key role in spreading the principles of democracy and freedom in a country that’s been ruled by a brutal dictatorship for decades.

We decided to book on the “Iraqi Airways”. You probably heard that it resumed its activities a short while ago so we thought it would be nice to be among the first ones to try its service.

The flight was nice and smooth except for the takeoff because as soon as the airplane left the ground it began to fly in a spiral path over the airport; one of the passengers explained to us that this is a usual procedure for all airplanes leaving this airport; they have to make several circles of small diameter in order to reach a high altitude to be out of the reach of any possible anti-aircraft fire and only then the airplane would take its usual flight path. So, to be honest with you, I got sick and I avoided throwing up with a miracle.

So, back to the main subject. We landed safely at Amman’s airport and we found our dear friend Kerry Dupont waiting for us in the hotel and the work started immediately after that.
The next day was full of meetings, discussions and interviews and we didn’t finish the work until 9 or 10 in the evening. We got really tired but we were pleased with the progress we made in such a short time.
Our meetings were very productive in my opinion and I was really impressed by the professionalism, dedication and good will of our friends from “Spirit of America”.

After two days of hard work, we decided to enjoy ourselves a little bit so we (Mohammed, Kerry and I and another Iraqi guy) went to the historical sites in “Petra”. I wasn’t interested in the beginning because as you know, Iraq is full of historical sites that represent different civilizations from different ages but when we got there I realized that each civilization has its own story and its own character.
The driver who took us to the site told us that we shall pay 1 JD for each Iraqi visitor and 11 JD for the American visitor as an entrance fee so our Iraqi friend was thinking of a nationality for Kerry close to Iraqi, “probably this will convince them to treat her like us” he said with a smile as we walked to the tickets booth and he told the guard “we’re three Iraqis and the lady here is Afghani” he was kidding of course but the guard stood astonished and confused and he didn’t get the joke until we all laughed. Anyway it was a long drive but the knowledge and the fun was worth the effort and we were all satisfied.

Despite the generous hospitality of our hosts and the friendly treatment of the Jordanians, I couldn’t cast away the feeling that I was in an Arab country, that although peaceful but still not a free and democratic country and it brought back some of the precautions and fears I had before the war, and I started watching my mouth and making sure of avoiding certain words and phrases that may not be acceptable. It’s hard to explain, but I felt I couldn’t condemn terrorism or criticize Arab governments or Jihadists and such stuff that are still more tolerated at least in the majority of Arab countries.

The next day we took the same plane and flew back to Baghdad and during the landing we went through the same procedures of the takeoff, in reverse of course so it was some what easier for me but I guess it demands extra skill from the pilot to manage such an extraordinary route of landing, and finally we were on the ground, safe and sound.

This may sound silly but It’s really something nice to be able to move freely, leave your country whenever you want and come back whenever you like and I can’t describe to you what I felt when I saw the word “EXIT” printed on one of the passport’s pages; I was sad for what we missed and at the same time optimistic and happy for what’s waiting for us in the future. Life seemed normal for me for the 1st time in my life. Soon after the war we could sense freedom immediately but this time we experienced it in a way that we haven’t before. It was an amazing feeling!
Despite all what’s Baghdad is going through, nothing can match the peace I felt when I walked down from the airplane in Baghdad's airport.

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