Sightseeing!

Monday Mar 7

Baghdad Street scene just a couple of minutes of of Union III - note the t-walls

Monday morning, there was a meeting re travel plans for those of us going to Taji or Speicher; we were told we would leave the next day at 4 on a state rhino (government armoured bus) to the American Embassy and from there take a helicopter.  Then, about an hour later at lunch, we received a text message saying “change of movement – meeting tomorrow at 11.”  This had become standard; plans were made, altered slightly, changed significantly or cancelled altogether.  After a while, we just accepted new travel or assignment information with a mental shrug and carried on with our days.  But although we were – as a group who’d all spent at least some time in the Middle East – quite flexible and accustomed to uncertainty and lack of information, we were also beginning to get somewhat impatient to get settled somewhere, to be able to unpack our duffels and actually put things away and have just a modicum of stability.  My coping mechanism was to just detach myself from any particular outcome and mentally tread water by reading, writing, eating, and roaming around feeding my curiosity.   There was definitely plenty to supply that.

 

Valentina, the program administrator, aware of how people were feeling, organized a tour of the IZ for us.  Perfect!  A lot of people had been feeling frustrated and edgy with all the waiting around and this succeeded in focussing all of us on our excursion instead of wondering where we were going to be assigned and, when.  Much excitement!  However briefly, we were to leave the close confines of the base and its omnipresent t-walls and actually see something of Baghdad!  So it was that after lunch on Tuesday, about 20 of us (teachers, USFI officers and translators) met outside the billeting office, piled into 3 (or it might have been 4) vehicles and left in a convoy.  At first there wasn’t much to see; even after leaving the base, there is still quite a stretch of road lined with high t-walls you can’t see over.  Fairly soon though, in just a few minutes, we were in an area that looked “normal” insofar as there were houses, non-armoured vehicles, a few trees and no t-walls lining the streets.

Baghdad street without t-walls!

Me on the helmuts

Our first stop was the victory arches which Sadam had commissioned to celebrate the victory against the Iranians – before the victory had actually been declared.  Two sets of giant crossed swords, the hilt of each held by a monstrous metal hand designed from Sadam’s own hand, flank each end of a ceremonial parade ground.  In the middle of the parade ground, on the side, there’s a small, covered outdoor theatre where Sadam apparently used to shoot his gun into the air while the soldiers were marching.  Got everyone’s adrenalin running pretty good I’d imagine.  Directly underneath the crossed swords are numerous helmets in poured concrete, intended to represent the heads of the fallen Iranian soldiers, the idea being, of course, that the Iraqis would be able to walk on the heads of the Iranians.

 

Although it’s supposedly against the rules to climb the monument, not only did Valentina and a couple of the teachers climb up to the metal hand, a couple of the US officers did as well, with the Iraqi soldiers looking on and smoking in boredom.  Not Ba’ath party supporters, one presumes.

 

Valentina, Michael Smith and Josh

 

Second – and last – stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which looks very much like a flying saucer.  That, however, was apparently not the intent of the architect.  I spoke (through a translator) to the Iraqi soldier who accompanied us and he told me that the architect who conceived the design did so while in a restaurant looking at his spoon and fork.  I’m not quite sure I get it – I can see the spoon part I guess – but then I’m not very artistic.

Approach to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier

We roamed around the structure, taking photos of it and each other but there isn’t really a whole lot to see.  There used to be a museum downstairs, the soldier said, but like so many places in Baghdad, it had been badly looted and there was nothing left to see.  One interesting thing is that we could see the top of Building 5 (old Ba’ath party HQ) in Union III from where we were, giving us a different vantage point than our usual one.

The architect is buried nearby his work; the soldier pointed over to an area about 100 metres away.  Although the whole area has fallen into a sad state of disrepair, he says it used to be very well tended in Sadam’s time and the family of the architect had been given permission to go and visit the grave sometimes.

The very helpful Iraqi soldier/guide and our translator

From the bottom of The Tomb of the Unknown soldier, the Iraqi soldier pointed at a somewhat decrepit looking building where he said the Prime Minister works (about half a kilometer away).  Then, adjusting the angle of his finger slightly, he indicated the expensive new building (akin to a 5 star hotel) where the PM’s guests sometimes stay. Other than the 5 star one, all of the buildings that we could see from our two sight-seeing vantage points looked dirty, run down and in various states of disrepair.  And, unsurprisingly, various degrees of bomb damage were apparent in many.

 

The government building where Maliki works.

And that was our tour of Baghdad – 2 very recent historical relics from Sadam’s reign within the Green Zone – in one of the oldest cities in the world.  Still, that’s what was available and we had fun; it was a therapeutic, shot in the arm, morale-boosting outing and I think I thanked Valentina about 8 times!  Afterwards, it felt as though we should all go for coffee or ice-cream cones  but that, of course, wasn’t on the itinerary.  In a convoy, we went back through the same few ordinary streets we’d passed through until we once again found ourselves completely surrounded by t-walls.

 

Group photo

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About maurdian

I am a nomadic ESL teacher who, not surprisingly, travels and teaches English, largely at the same time.
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8 Responses to Sightseeing!

  1. René says:

    Is the guy standing next to you in the group photo Canadian? Why are half of you in parkas and scarves, and the other half ready for a day at the beach? ^_^

    • maurdian says:

      No, neither guy standing next to me is Canadian. The guy to my left is Michael Smith who used to work at ADU. There are a couple of Canadians. Josh, in the back row on the far left with his finger raised in the air is Canadian. Also, the guy in the middle row in the plaid shirt, Derek, is Canadian.

      Now, I think thou doth deliberately exaggerate with the ‘parka’ comment:-) I only see 2 jackets in the photo; I’m wearing my Mountain Equipment Coop jacket with a scarf because I can’t bear being even a little cold. I’m just about always the coldest person in any situation. And Jason, in the middle row, is wearing a leather jacket. And he may have me beat actually; one of the colonels here asked Jason how hot it has to be before he takes his jacket off and he said he never takes it off. We’ll see when it hits 50 degrees!

  2. Deb Wehl says:

    We have an unknown soldier tomb in Australia too. It is at the War Memorial in Canberra. It is in a small room on its own with statues of soldiers and hug stained glass windows. When the sun hits the stained glass it is beautiful. Hope you are well and look forward to your next lot of photos and reading your next instalment.

  3. Tara Pletz says:

    Looks wow! How long will you be staying for? Niall asked if we could visit after the summer…
    What’s the visa situation like?

    • maurdian says:

      Oh Tara – you are cute! The visa situation is impossible at the moment. You can’t get one. We’ll have to visit somewhere else – going to be in the UAE in June or July I think…

  4. Rachel says:

    Why are the pictures all kind of yellowy? Is there some kind of sandy haze going on, like sometimes happened in the Emirates? Looking forward to seeing pictures and hearing about Speicher!

    • maurdian says:

      I don’t know why they’re all yellowy – except for a couple and those are the ones where I used the flash. It was a pretty overcast day and, yeah, there might have been a bit of a sandy haze too. I should have used the flash more.

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