By Dr Hasna Kadem
For more than twenty years I had lived in Britain and it felt like home. I enjoyed the freedom, the broad opportunities for education and, moreover, the multicultural society I lived in. Every single day was a new chance for acquiring knowledge and experience. Although I initially struggled to adapt to the new life and new society, gradually I started to appreciate the values of tolerance and acceptance amongst people from different cultures from all over the world. So when my country got rid of the dictatorship, I decided to go back to make use of the skills I gained here in Britain where it was most needed in Iraq. The events of the past few years made me feel the importance and attachment, both as an Iraqi and a Briton.
When I first came to Baghdad in 2003 after 25 years living out of the country it was a shocking and disturbing experience. The destruction was beyond my imagination. The adorable city that I had lived in and loved, and which had been living in my mind and heart all those years had been devastated; so, too, had all my memories and dreams of coming back to my own city.
But, more importantly, the people had been traumatized in every possible way. People felt that more than three decades of their lives had been stolen from them, and for the young people that was all their lives. When I met people in their twenties and thirties, all the memories they had were about war, destruction and death.
After several visits to Iraq, I decided to work and live in Baghdad; so I did. I felt like a child who had been lost for a long time and now returned to curl into the chest and arms of his or her mother.
Baghdad is one of those cities which cast their magical spells on you. Once you start absorbing the atmosphere it captivates you by its charm- day by day and night by night.
Although the streets are still distorted by the masses of concrete around them, the buildings haven’t been repaired completely. The traffic is still awful and the sandy storms are still wrapping the city with sand and sadness from time to time. But in spite of this, the city somehow manages to make you fall in love with it and you feel lucky to be there.
I can’t believe it is the same city when night falls. Baghdad wraps me in its magical silence, takes me away on a tranquil journey into an astonishing world, and showers me with its countless blessings. I can hear the stars whispering all the secrets of the city into my ears, the cold breeze feels like a gentle hand wiping away the tears from my face, and the sweet sound of the leaves calms the deep pain for the city’s suffering inside me. The whole city cuddles me into the warmth of its heart. People are still traumatized, working hard to overcome the difficulties of their daily life, and trying to overcome the bitter experiences of the past, but they manage somehow to make you feel special, welcomed and cherished. Their selfless spirit is a beacon of hope, ensuring that, like so many times before, they will overcome the trials they have faced.
Baghdad is coming back- it’s recovering- and I can see that in the glimpse of hope in people’s eyes and the glittery smiles of the children’s faces. And with our efforts and contributions over the coming years, I believe we can make that hope a reality.
For me, Baghdad is a huge book revealing its chapters like the stories of Shahrazad, making you simultaneously anxious and excited for the experiences of the following day, and the decade to come.
Dr Hasna Kadem graduated from Baghdad University in 1979 as a qualified dentist. She worked in Iraq until 1984 when she was forced to leave the country due to the political climate. She worked in London as an Arabic/English translator, and later, as an ESOL English teacher. She returned to work in Iraq in Spring 2009 and is currently Head of Communications and Translation Department in Baghdad.
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