Aunt Najma

A Star in Mosul

Over the last decade, the internet has become the international water cooler of our times. Everybody has a version of what happened yesterday and, now, everybody has a chance not only to tell but also to publish his or her story.

This became doubly important in Iraq, where war, insurgent bombs, civilian casualties, roadside attacks, U.S. tanks, and soldiers all create confusion and uncertainty in daily life.

As mainstream U.S. news outlets rely on embedded reporters to tell the stories, people are turning to a different source for on-the-ground reporting: blogs. The first of now more than 30 bloggers out of Iraq was Salam Pax (not his real name), who began posting letters to a friend in Jordan in December 2002. Hours before U.S. troops attacked, Pax wrote the now infamous words on March 21, 2003: “2 more hours untill (sic) the B52’s get to Iraq.” The Iraqi bloggers write posts in varying levels of English, often intended for audiences outside Iraq. The writers include dentists, high school students, architects, and engineers. According to Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, electricity shortages keep most Iraqis from having regular access to the internet.

Scattered throughout the blogs are readers’demands for the identities of the Iraqi bloggers. It is a blogosphere idiosyncrasy that a majority of bloggers, regardless of national boundaries, choose to write under pseudonyms. The responses to disclosure requests are usually variations on, “If you don’t believe it, then don’t read it.” For some Iraqi bloggers, the answer tends to be “I don’t want to get killed,” or “I want to continue writing freely.” One thing is certain, however. On the many Iraqi blogs, there is an immediacy, a visceral truth about what’s happening in neighboring houses and streets. Whether their identities are known or not, bloggers connect with readers on an emotional level. And, given the lack of U.S. reporting on civilian casualties and injuries, many Iraqi bloggers provide eyewitness accounts of things that cannot be otherwise known. Even if one of them may be untrue, they are a slice of reality, chosen by the writer, and filtered through their words and perceptions.

A Star in Mosul is the blog of 16-year-old Najma Abdullah (a pseudonym – Najma is “star” in Arabic), who also calls herself “Aunt Najma” after recently welcoming her niece Aya into the world. Her father is a doctor and her mother is a civil engineer and university lecturer. Abdullah is in an advanced high school for girls and is eager to attend a university, but her education is currently another casualty of war. Her words, however, are making history. The next few pages feature an abridged version of Abdullah’s blog from November and December 2004. No spelling errors or typos have been corrected.

[Translations of commonly used terms: Eid, Eid al-hada; Muslim holiday known as “Feast of the Sacrifice”; Futoor: Meal taken at sunset to break fasting; Hijab: Traditional Muslim woman’s headscarf; Gargoor: Grover from Sesame Street]

Friday, Nov. 12, 2004: Crying with no tears

Everything started the day before yesterday; they declared a curfew at Mosul TV from 4PM Wednesday, till 6AM on Friday. The Arabic media didn’t mention anything and so half of the Iraqi people didn’t know about it.

In the meanwhile my oldest sister was in our house, it has passed 4PM when we knew about it, so we decided to drop her at her house (Which is the same as her parents-in-law) in the morning next day.

The morning came, I was sleeping at my room upstairs, and a war of bullets started… I decided to move myself down when it started to be a heavy fighting and there were also explosions and mom was shouting at me to get down… It was 10AM. My oldest sister was ready to go, but she can’t go in such situation so she decided to wait till it clams down.

My brother-in-law was supposed to come before the Eid. We didn’t know when exactly, because the hospital’s phone is broken… My oldest sister (Let’s call her S now) was so worried that he’ll come and get stuck in the other side of the city because of the curfew, so she tried to call him on a friend’s mobile, it wasn’t working but it did at about 11AM, she told her to tell him not to come because the situation is too bad and he won’t make it till here.. The friend told her that he already started his way to Mosul an hour ago. Here S started to worry too much!! Till about 11:30, her sister-in -law called and told her to call her husband on the mobile because she’s Trying to and failing… She said also that her father-in-law got shot in his leg while trying to get back from the clinic, and he’s in the hospital and that her husband should go with him since nobody in the neighborhood can move his head out of the door! The war was horribly improving.

S called her brother-in-law, and he told her that he is in the hospital and that his father has DIED…

I can’t describe how I felt, I was crying and shaking and the tears wouldn’t go out… I just held Aya who’s just lost a grandpa and made sure she won’t cry and make things worse. S was terribly SAD, confused, and WORRIED about everything. Mostly about her husband who’s in his way to a big surprise and about her sister-in-law who’s alone at home in the middle of the war, pregnant in her 9th month.

For 4 hours and a half, we were stuck at home, making sure dad won’t get out of the house in this war, trying to clam Aya who was frightened after a loud explosion… Those were one of the most horrible moments in my life. People calling asking if what they’ve heard about S’s father-in-law was true, my sister crying and worried (I’ve never seen her like that), 3 cars burning in the street, and then S’s brother-in-law called and asked about the place where they keep the cotton (They brought his father home, and they’re trying to wash him like the Muslims do to their dead before burying them), there were no enough cotton and they can’t go out to buy some.

I talked a lot till now so I’ll try to shorten things. At 3PM, things calmed down… Dad drove S to her house, and there they were ready to get the body and burry it. Dad went with them since he was his friend, and came back after we’ve had futoor.

Till 5:30, my brother-in-law finally arrived! Thank God. He was stuck for 1:30 minutes with his luggage on the other side of the bridge, and he came on foot from the bridge to his house, eager to see his little daughter after a month of absence… And here he comes, to find his dad dead and buried! Nobody knows who shoot him, but everybody knows that he’s now in Heaven. He died in the night of power, fasting, and shaheed. At least he’s seen his first grandchild who’ll carry his name (Aya)… His son said that this was the death that
he’s always dreamt of.

I had two eye doctors. Both are dead now!! Imagine! Both are killed now! This one was so kind and he was shy from me more that I was from him. Both men are great in everything and have the best manners and I’m not exaggerating. Okay, it was a long day that I slept at 10 o’clock and I was so tired. I woke up at 2:30AM (The mosque was calling at that time, telling us to be careful and to guard the neighborhood because a bad group of robbers and destroyers has entered the city somehow!!) and started praying and reading Quran till 5:15AM.

It’s the night of power, we should pray a lot… Then mom woke me up at 12AM, I was awake along time ago, but I knew there’s nothing to happen, days are looong these days, and the things that happen are rarely good. Now, we can’t even get near S’s house. An American Stryker is near the house shooting every car coming near by. We wanted to get Aya here so that S can be more comfortable but we couldn’t.

Dad is trying to convince me that everybody has his own day to die and that not allowing him to get out is not a solution!! That’s how things are going on, the war is not over and I slept at the sound of bullets and explosions last night… Mom said that this war is the worst among all the others… The Arabic media didn’t mention anything!!

Tomorrow is Eid; this is the worse night of Eid I’ve ever been in. I wonder whether we’ll wait for that song like always, or just forget about it. I’ll wake up tomorrow (If I’m alive of course) and put on my new clothes, and see if we’re going to get out…

PS: I made lots of mistakes in the brother-in-law, sister-in-law thing since I don’t know how you call them in English).

Monday, Nov. 15, 2004: What’s happening for two days??

Okay, today is the first day of Eid.. I was mistaken when I said it was yesterday, it’s just confusing because the mosques did say that it was yesterday but then we had an announcement on TV that denies it, so we just fasted another day and started the Eid today.

It doesn’t seem like we’re going out of the house! Although I really wish I will since I spent a lot of time fixing my hijab!! Mom and dad went and took Aya to spend the day here and then they’ll drive her back to her mom before the curfew starts at 4 o’clock. They say that the Americans release violent dogs in the streets at night so that people won’t get out (I want some respect!! Dogs!). I remember when I used to get bored at night when people start leaving and the Eid ends, now I haven’t even seen any of my uncles since dad came back from Egypt.

My bundle of joy (As someone once called her) came today with a toy from her dad, he calls it Gargoor, it’s one of the characters of Semsimi street (Not sure of the spelling).. Mom gave her her gift of Eid from yesterday, it’s that thing that spins over her head on her bed at night and sings. Her mom said that the emotions on her face when the toys started spinning and singing (Twinkle Twinkle little star!!) were unexplainable, she was totally surprised and excited. She’s surely helped her father a lot these days, she’s talking to him all the time.. She doesn’t speak Arabic yet, just Irr, Orr, Arr and such words.

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004: Going out..!

Yeppy, I saw two more uncles today. It was calm in the morning, so we went out and visited two of my uncles, and then dropped by my big sister’s house and I saw my brother-in-law for the first time for a month, and he was alright as it seemed, a little angry at crying Aya..

The weather was nice and the sky was really blue with white big nice clouds. The water is the street is reflecting the blueness of the sky and all the other things were washed by the rain. I took some pictures that I’ll try to post here.. We made an arrangement with my sister and her husband that we’ll come tomorrow and take Aya to stay with us till the curfew (At 4PM). Nobody seems to be going to school soon, and the parents aren’t ready to send their kids there..

We also bought bread, we’ve been unable to buy it for a week, now I can eat sandwitches as much as I want.. We bought falafel too, which is by the way my favourite meal.

There are no Police nor American soldiers in the streets we went through, just people.. The gasoline stations were full, and there were also a long line of cars and the drivers were waiting to their turn to fill their cars. We can see those black pieces of cloth that the Iraqis have used to write their dead people’s names on, plenty of them were hanged along the road, most of them were killed by either the terrorists or the American soldiers.. I’ve called my friend yesterday who told me about her brother’s friend who is in the medical school.. Robbers have tried to kill him and his 18-year-old brother for their car but for some reason didn’t get the car, the 18-year-old one died and the other is in the hospital now.. In the same accident, a woman with her infant were crossing the street, the infant got a bullet and died in the hospital!!

As some Iraqis have used the walls to practice their free speech after the war, a wall of a school has a writing that says: “We’ll kill everyone who’ll participate in the elections”, in Arabic.. I was few days ago urging my parents to go participate in the elections, if we didn’t vote, who will!! But, I guess I’ll stop urging anyone now since it’s a dangerous thing like everything else.. Let’s just hope that the ones who’ll vote will vote for the RIGHT person.

Friday, Nov. 26, 2004: What’s happening? (Updated)

Today, at 7PM, we had electricity for the first time in 35 hours!! We spent all this time on the generators. There was no problem except for water. Water is so cold in winter, the heaters only operate on electricity (Although we have non-electric heaters, but dad hoped that the electricity will come soon and he didn’t turn them on), and with no heaters, we have very cold water! At night yesterday, I brushed my teeth, the water was so cold that all my teeth started aching! I didn’t dare to wash my face with such cold water although I needed to (I’ve declared a war against acne!).

Today, I heard one BIG explosion and few far shooting! Nothing close to us. I’m having a difficulty with studying. Although we didn’t go back to school, but we do need to study! Whenever I take a school-book to read, I lose any desire to study. Whenever I take a book (Any book but not a school-book), I start reading right away with no laziness! We might go back to schools if things stayed that way, calm and stable compared to the past few days. And now, dear bed, here I come :)

Good night everybody, Najma

Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004: Bad news, funny news and good news

Let’s start with some bad news.. A neighbor got kidnapped today at about 7:30AM. I heard the shooting and some shouting in the morning but didn’t know what happened, dad heard about the kidnapping in the mosque (That’s where all the neighbors exchange their news). He was kidnapped from his BED.. The kidnappers called then asking for money (50, 000 US dollars!!) I had a terrible mistake at the Chemistry exam today, it can cost me from 5 to 20 marks. I almost cried but the students were admiring my courage and how I don’t cry at such stuff so I just couldn’t cry..

That’s better. A little bomb exploded infront of our car the day before yesterday on our way to school. There were strykers infront of us but the explosion was small and no body was hurt. I turned the mobile on right when the explosion occurred, mom called at once, and said that dad has jumped out of bed and he’s looking for us outside! I felt so sorry for them, I can’t imagine how they felt when they heard the explosion.

A funny news.. I gave mom the right to have my hair cut, for the first time. I didn’t
care if she messed it up or not, for two reasons, nobody will see it since > > we’re not getting out of the house, and there’s no way that I can’t have it cut by a hair
dresser, they close their shops early and we can’t get out of the house.. I > > just kept praying that she won’t mess it up, and kept laughing of the strange way she held the scissor. Well, the results aren’t bad at all! Now, some good news. Aya’s cousin was born today, it’s a girl, but we didn’t know what they named her. My older sister left Aya at our house and went with her husband to the hospital to take care of her sister-in-law, her husband was in Baghdad and couldn’t attend the birth of his first child (Just like his brother).. Those men don’t have luck to watch their children’s birth.

And as usual, I’m sure there was something else, but I have to go to sleep.. Good night.. Sleep tight...Don’t let the bed bugs bite...

Saturday, Dec. 25, 2004: Merry Christmas everyone

We went to school today, it was raining heavily, and it didn’t make me feel well. But, when we reached school, they sent us back to our houses. I don’t know when will we be able to go back to school and start a stable year. We’re running out of bread, and the bakery shops aren’t having enough gasoil (I can’t distinguish between gasoline, gasoil or anything else), and this is a problem..

Some people are freezing in their houses from the cold weather and they have no gasoil to turn on their heaters (That’s something else I’m not sure of its name, I don’t think you even use it!). Plus, I was telling mom that I’ll need to take a shower today when dad told me that I’ll have to wait till Thursday; we’re not getting enough electricity to heat the water, and we don’t have enough gasoil to heat it on fire. Yes, it looks like we’re going back to the dark ages and mom will soon have to bake the bread by herself..

Some better news; mom and dad are planning to buy us a video digital camera to take videos of the new changes in dear Aya’s life. She discovered yesterday that she has feet and was so happy about it like her mother said.. So, Christmas is not promising here.. It looks so dark outside although it’s 2PM.. We went out tomorrow for my cousin’s birthday (Who became 7 years old) and people are talking about how courageous we are to go out at 4PM!! I felt sorry for this boy, he was so afraid the day before yesterday when plains were throwing rockets from the sky. But I don’t blame him, mom was so scared too. I feel like I’m getting more pessimistic everyday. But I’m more positive than I look like here..

Okay, Merry Christmas one more time, and good bye.

Ed. note: the hospitalized brother later died.

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