By Riverbend, the blogging name of a young Iraqi woman, whose writings are collected in Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq. This an edited extract from a posting at riverbendblog.blogspot.com (THE GUARDIAN, 11/05/07):
We’ve finally decided to leave. I guess I’ve known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first someone would suggest it tentatively, because it seemed a preposterous idea, leaving your home and extended family, leaving your country. And to what? To where?Since last summer we had been discussing it more and more. What began as a suggestion – a last resort – soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?
After Jordan or Syria, where then? Obviously either of those is going to be a transit. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either is complaining about the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren’t being let into Syria or Jordan – and there are no definite criteria for entry; the decision is based on the whim of the border guard.
A plane isn’t necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International is in itself risky, and travellers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter if they arrive by plane. And if you’re wondering why Syria or Jordan, it’s because they are the only countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.
So we’ve been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees, the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare, of staying and waiting and trying to survive.
I know starting a new life somewhere else is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I’ve had since the age of four? Is there room for E’s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures? The problem is that we don’t know if we’ll ever see this stuff again.
We don’t know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends. And to what?
I remember Baghdad before the war – one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbours were – we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it, depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening: car bombs and militias or having to leave everything you know and love, to go to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.