Monday, April 26, 2004

God didn't make you an angel, the Devil made you a man.

Having read about the March for Women's Lives on Gia's blog, its sentiments reminded me of a post that I read before I started blogging which really moved me.

The march, which mostly centered around the support for pro-choice, was also in solidarity with women suffering across the world.

The post comes from Riverbend of Baghdad Burning. I hope she doesn't mind me cutting and pasting it here. I would strongly reccommend visting her site.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Will Work for Food...

Over 65% of the Iraqi population is unemployed. The reason for this is because Bremer made some horrible decisions. The first major decision he made was to dissolve the Iraqi army. That may make sense in Washington, but here, we were left speechless. Now there are over 400,000 trained, armed men with families that need to be fed. Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do for a living? I don’t know. They certainly don’t know.

They roam the streets looking for work, looking for an answer. You can see perplexity and anger in their stance, their walk, their whole demeanor. Their eyes shift from face to face, looking for a clue. Who is to answer for this mess? Who do you think?

Bremer also dissolved the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Defense. No matter what the excuses, these ministries were full of ordinary people with ordinary jobs- accountants, janitors, secretaries, engineers, journalists, technicians, operators… these people are now jobless. Companies have been asked to ‘cut down’ their staff. It no longer has anything to do with politics. The company my uncle works in as an engineer was asked by the CPA to get rid of 680 of the 1,500+ employees- engineers, designers, contractors, mechanics, technicians and the administration were all involved.

Other companies, firms, bureaus, factories and shops shut down as a result of the looting and damage done in the post-war chaos- thousands of other workers lost their jobs. Where to go? What to do?

It isn’t any easier for employed people… the standard $50 being given out in various ministries and hospitals is not nearly enough to support a single person, let alone a family. But at least it is work. At least it is a reason to wake up every morning and accomplish something.

Someone asked why the thousands of Iraqi men roaming the streets don’t go out and get work. For weeks, after the occupation, men would line up daily by the thousands outside of the ‘Alwiyah Club’ filling out papers, begging for work. But there is no work. Men were reluctant to apply to the Iraqi police force because they weren’t given weapons! The Iraqi police were expected to roam and guard the hellish cities without weapons… to stop looters, abductors, and murderers with the sheer force of an application to their warped sense of morality.

The story of how I lost my job isn’t unique. It has actually become very common- despondently, depressingly, unbearably common. It goes like this…

I’m a computer science graduate. Before the war, I was working in an Iraqi database/software company located in Baghdad as a programmer/network administrator (yes, yes… a geek). Every day, I would climb three flights of stairs, enter the little office I shared with one female colleague and two males, start up my PC and spend hours staring at little numbers and letters rolling across the screen. It was tedious, it was back-breaking, it was geeky and it was… wonderful.

When I needed a break, I’d go visit my favorite sites on the internet, bother my colleagues or rant about ‘impossible bosses’ and ‘improbable deadlines’.

I loved my job- I was *good* at my job. I came and went to work on my own. At 8 am I’d walk in lugging a backpack filled with enough CDs, floppies, notebooks, chewed-on pens, paperclips and screwdrivers to make Bill Gates proud. I made as much money as my two male colleagues and got an equal amount of respect from the manager (that was because he was clueless when it came to any type of programming and anyone who could do it was worthy of respect… a girl, no less- you get the picture).

What I’m trying to say is that no matter *what* anyone heard, females in Iraq were a lot better off than females in other parts of the Arab world (and some parts of the Western world- we had equal salaries!). We made up over 50% of the working force. We were doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, professors, deans, architects, programmers, and more. We came and went as we pleased. We wore what we wanted (within the boundaries of the social restrictions of a conservative society).

During the first week of June, I heard my company was back in business. It took several hours, seemingly thousands of family meetings, but I finally convinced everyone that it was necessary for my sanity to go back to work. They agreed that I would visit the company (with my two male bodyguards) and ask them if they had any work I could possibly take home and submit later on, or through the internet.

One fine day in mid-June, I packed my big bag of geeky wonders, put on my long skirt and shirt, tied back my hair and left the house with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.

We had to park the car about 100 meters away from the door of the company because the major road in front of it was cracked and broken with the weight of the American tanks as they entered Baghdad. I half-ran, half-plodded up to the door of the company, my heart throbbing in anticipation of seeing friends, colleagues, secretaries… just generally something familiar again in the strange new nightmare we were living.

The moment I walked through the door, I noticed it. Everything looked shabbier somehow- sadder. The maroon carpet lining the hallways was dingy, scuffed and spoke of the burden of a thousand rushing feet. The windows we had so diligently taped prior to the war were cracked in some places and broken in others… dirty all over. The lights were shattered, desks overturned, doors kicked in, and clocks torn from the walls.

I stood a moment, hesitantly, in the door. There were strange new faces- fewer of the old ones. Everyone was standing around, looking at everyone else. The faces were sad and lethargic and exhausted. And I was one of the only females. I weaved through the strange mess and made my way upstairs, pausing for a moment on the second floor where management was located, to listen to the rising male voices. The director had died of a stroke during the second week of the war and suddenly, we had our own little ‘power vacuum’. At least 20 different men thought they were qualified to be boss. Some thought they qualified because of experience, some because of rank and some because they were being backed by differing political parties (SCIRI, Al-Daawa, INC).

I continued upstairs, chilled to the bone, in spite of the muggy heat of the building which hadn’t seen electricity for at least 2 months. My little room wasn’t much better off than the rest of the building. The desks were gone, papers all over the place… but A. was there! I couldn’t believe it- a familiar, welcoming face. He looked at me for a moment, without really seeing me, then his eyes opened wide and disbelief took over the initial vague expression. He congratulated me on being alive, asked about my family and told me that he wasn’t coming back after today. Things had changed. I should go home and stay safe. He was quitting- going to find work abroad. Nothing to do here anymore. I told him about my plan to work at home and submit projects… he shook his head sadly.

I stood staring at the mess for a few moments longer, trying to sort out the mess in my head, my heart being torn to pieces. My cousin and E. were downstairs waiting for me- there was nothing more to do, except ask how I could maybe help? A. and I left the room and started making our way downstairs. We paused on the second floor and stopped to talk to one of the former department directors. I asked him when they thought things would be functioning, he wouldn’t look at me. His eyes stayed glued to A.’s face as he told him that females weren’t welcome right now- especially females who ‘couldn’t be protected’. He finally turned to me and told me, in so many words, to go home because ‘they’ refused to be responsible for what might happen to me.

Ok. Fine. Your loss. I turned my back, walked down the stairs and went to find E. and my cousin. Suddenly, the faces didn’t look strange- they were the same faces of before, mostly, but there was a hostility I couldn’t believe. What was I doing here? E. and the cousin were looking grim, I must have been looking broken, because they rushed me out of the first place I had ever worked and to the car. I cried bitterly all the way home- cried for my job, cried for my future and cried for the torn streets, damaged buildings and crumbling people.

I’m one of the lucky ones… I’m not important. I’m not vital. Over a month ago, a prominent electrical engineer (one of the smartest females in the country) named Henna Aziz was assassinated in front of her family- two daughters and her husband. She was threatened by some fundamentalists from Badir’s Army and told to stay at home because she was a woman, she shouldn’t be in charge. She refused- the country needed her expertise to get things functioning- she was brilliant. She would not and could not stay at home. They came to her house one evening: men with machine-guns, broke in and opened fire. She lost her life- she wasn’t the first, she won’t be the last.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.