Samir the pianist was angry today, he was blaming Saddam for taking 30 years off every Iraqi’s life. He became more inflamed when he saw a protest supporting Saddam, shown on the BBC today, “look I told you, they should not allow him to speak, he knows how to reach his people.” The gang were leaping around chanting for Saddam holding pictures of him above their heads. It is one year after the fall of Saddam and 3 days after the new interim government took power.
“These Iraqi people need a strong leader. They need a dictator like Saddam, there is no other way” he laments. Then I get angry .. “look democracy cannot happen over night.. these things take time” then the lights go out, the air conditioners go off. It is 50c here in Baghdad. We are stood in the sweltering heat without light or fans. Samir’s mood switches. “What have the American’s been doing here for a year? we still only have electricity for 6 hours a day and the generators out here are not powerful enough to power the air conditioners..” I decide to carry on filming in darkness, the curtains are closed to keep out the unbearable heat. “You know Saddam rebuilt Iraq in 3 months after the Gulf War in 1991.. then Iraq was really destroyed. this time it wasn’t and still we are without electricity.” I began to think, you know if the Americans wanted the Iraqi’s to support them, it is easy, they should just provide the basics for them. Earlier we had passed one of the many motorists pushing their clapped out cars in the street. Samir was laughing, “look we are country of petrol, why are these people pushing their cars.” We pull up for fuel joining a half mile queue, 30 minutes later we get to the top of the queue but we are sent away. Our number plate ended in ‘even’ numbers and today only those ending in ‘odd’ numbers could get fuel, but Samir’s tank was low, so we pull over to one of the youngsters on the roadside selling black market fuel from cans. Samir can fill his tank for less then a dollar here, petrol is cheaper then water. But not on the black market, we paid 5 times the price. Samir often buys from the black market, sitting in fuel queues for hours in the unbearable heat, the air conditioning is not working in his car. The boy pouring the fuel is joined by his sister, she starts tugging on my shirt, then her mother comes over and speaks in Arabic to Samir. He is laughing, “this mother is asking if you want to marry her daughter and take her out of Iraq.”
We drive off. Samir looks at me, “you know the Iraqi people deserve better then this, we are not a nation of beggars, we are an educated nation, this is the cradle of civilisation. I wish you could have seen me 15 years ago.. I was a rich man and so were these people.”
Samir is sad. Rita his daughter and his lovely granddaughter Lulu are leaving back to the States. Samir thought they were crazy to come in the first place, but 3 months ago at the height of the siege of Fallujah they came. They hid their American passports and passed safely through Fallujah.
But now they are leaving back to the States, to join his ex wife and other daughter who is married there. Saha his eldest daughter and Fadi his only son are saying goodbye tonight. Although Saha, a pro Saddamist surprised me, she wants to try get a non immigrant visa to the States to join the others. She’d always teased her father who has dreamed of living there all his life but now she is trying when we go the Amman tomorrow. She has been crying a lot over the last few days, the empty house seemed full of life with Rita and her child. Saha always carries a deep sorrowfulness in her eyes, she really doesn’t want to leave her home, but with all that is happening here she seems to have changed her mind. She also knows that her sick mother will never come back. Conflicted isn’t the word for Saha, she looked at me saying, “yes.. I’m going to give it a go,” then looked back to the wonderful Iraqi food she is cooking and looks up sheepishly, “but you know, Rita has been there 5 years now and she doesn’t like it.”
Anyhow it is too dangerous for me to travel on the road so I’m flying with my friend Marla, the American aid worker who looks after families bereaved by the Americans. We are going to meet Samir and his daughters in Hashem’s Hummus Bar in downtown Amman, and I can’t wait. Simply the best hummus outside of Abu Shukri’s in the old city of Jerusalem, where I used to breakfast daily when I made a film there. We will float in the Dead Sea, try get Saha a visa for America and finally say goodbye to Rita, Lulu, and possible Saha.
Oh, how is poor Samir going to feel. He is waiting for his papers, not getting any younger, desperate to taste the American dream, discover success or as he says ‘simply die in peace.’