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  • The lights in the harbour, did they know of the bombs?
    Or were they lights, unknowing, glowing in their eventude, eidolons, ghosts of the ancient river time?

    The lights on the Tigris, did they know they lit the tennis courts of the snivelling idle, the scheming rich, the cushed-out panicked not yet cashed out but wishing to be that, the mystery men you might meet in a Baghdad hotel lobby on soft couches for tea, who said with not an ounce of irony, "Oh yes, Toronto. I have a condo there. Well, you know, in London, Paris, Berne, Damascus, New York, L.A., and oh, of course, Toronto."

    Men with no cred, with all the cred; you had tea, while the photocopier of the hotel had an armed guard standing watch in case you wanted to make a copy of anything you were permitted to have in your hands which the regime of Saddam Hussein had given you.

    Think about it: they were suspicious that you might want to copy what they had censored and given to you. When we got off the Iraqi Airways plane into Baghdad, they had already scanned us and searched us in Paris before we got on the plane, and yet, not trusting their own scanners and human finger-searchers, they searched us again, still in Paris, once we got on the plane. I remember the stewardess, polite, nicely attired, nice red lips, taking my lipstick from my purse and screwing it up to the full lip crayon, holding it up at the entry to the plane; even her own lips might be betraying her.

    And having scanned you once and scanned you twice and searched you once and searched you twice, as soon as you got off the plane (where you were not allowed any carry-on, only one small lady's purse [no books]) and into Baghdad airport, they searched you again.

    Yes...If you wanted to photocopy a page from the state run newspaper, you had to have a hotel security escort and the armed guard unlock the photocopier with a key. You kind of felt that Peter Sellers was, indeed, playing all the roles in Baghdad, this terrifying funny.

    But what did the lights lighting up the small boats on the river, lighting up the tennis court where hotel guests could play a few sets at sunset, midst prayer calls and scud damage know?

    One day, a scud missile landed near our hotel, but we were away at the front that day.

    Luck gets sick, in war time.

    I get the shakes, from time to time, not from things which happened, but from all the things which almost happened. I have never known how to speak of the luck of the many lives. You slip through the cracks of chance, slipstreaming bizarre confidence, some dire days. They say, Oh you, Miss Smiley, Miss Upbeat, the animator, the negotiator, the smoother-outer, the ear, the suggester, requester, la jefa, you? Why, nothing's ever happened to you, you seem so alive, every day.

    That's right, honey.

    The front was quiet, Iraq was there, Iran was there, we rode the damn oil tanker highway in an open air Jeep.

    The sky was a nervous wreck. The lights in the harbour had seen nothing. You weren't here. If anybody asks, tell them there is no such country.


    (Photos by Susan, Baghdad Iraq, December 1986)
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