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  • I walk down the corridor of the embassy where we have our little office. It is in the international zone, in Baghdad, Iraq. We rent a small office facing the courtyard where it is just enough space for all ten of us. I am just a few footsteps from the door and wondering who will be first this morning, usually it´s not me.

    Depending on who is first, the whole atmosphere in the office differs. If Omar is first it is most likely that the morning will start quiet. He usually sit by his desk, with one eye on the computer screen and the other eye on the TV screen where al Jazeera is going through the morning headlines. He would be sipping his mint tea and quietly saying his good mornings. If my boss is first, he would be typing very fast on his computer, drinking coffee, watching FOX news and gladly shouting with his Irish accent "g o o d m o r n i n g!".

    Just putting my hand on the door handle would sometimes give me the sense of whether I was about to enter a quiet and calm, or a loud and vibrant office.

    I hesitate, it doesn´t come to me this morning so I open the door and hear a familiar voice from al Jazeera broadcasting, Omar turns around in his chair, facing me. Nice! At least I will have a few more quiet minutes before the day starts, I think for myself.
    "Sabah al kheer", I say.
    "Sabah al noor, Camill! Can I make you tea?"
    "Shukran! Yes please", I said.

    The air conditioner has already cooled down the office to what feels as 10C. Outside it is at least 35C, even though it is still early morning. I have only walked the few minutes from my "pod" where I am sleeping and am already sweating from the heat outside. Coming into the office I quiver by the cold shock to my body. Those constant throws between heat and cold makes my mind get all confused. I am sitting with a scarf and wool cardigan indoors shivering, looking through the window at a 35C desert storm. However, my happiness about finding Omar in the office, knowing he loves it ice cold in here, keeps me from complaining.

    While listening to al Jazeera I help Omar to fix us some tea. We are quietly standing next to each other and I am thinking of how he has become my window to the city I live in.

    I am rarely allowed to leave the heavy secured international zone, and if I am allowed it is usually just for a short few hours. I can only move in an armored jeep with armed guards with an extra car following and a third car on stand by, in case something would happen. I sit in the jeep with a helmet and a flack jacket, feeling a bit silly looking out the car window at people who seems to be minding their own business. I am always taken straight to a meeting point which has been secured beforehand, such as the police collage or an embassy. For me to stroll down the market or meeting any representative of the local NGOs or the civil society is, I have sadly understood, just a silly dream. A dream I keep nurturing, though

    And no, I am of no dignity, just an employee happening to be stationed here.

    So my only way of getting a small idea of life in this city, is to roll out a map and ask Omar to explain for me what the city is like. And my questions never ends: Where is the market? What is the atmosphere like in there, in the market? What do they sell, how do they talk, what does it smell of? How do you get to work? Where do you meet your friends? What do you see outside your house? How do you flirt with each other? How does it smell in the restaurants? What are people talking about? I ask because I want to be part of it, but I also realize I act like an interrogator and am sometimes concerned he will think I am collecting personal information on him.

    Once I wanted him to pin out all the check points of Baghdad on the map. I noticed he had names for all of them, for example "The handsome checkpoint". He explained that the soldiers in that specific checkpoint were always handsome. Probably it was because it was next to the university and there were beautiful young women passing through every day, so the guards made their best to always look handsome! Some check points were moved constantly. Others where more stationary. Some were harder to get through and you had to know the tactics for each one of them, he said. Rumours spread quickly and people shared their tricks on how to get through them.

    Sometimes it takes hours and hours to get through the city. Therefore Omar leaves early in the morning for work. When having crossed the 15-20 check points on his route, he park his car outside the international zone, he is not allowed to pass through it with his car. Security reasons. He enter the international zone by foot and then takes a taxi the last bit to the office. Probably he has also been nerves and scared that someone along the way might understand where he is heading to, who he is working for. Maybe someone has noted that he is going to the zone every day and therefore realize that he is working for someone international and therefore thinking he is a traitor to his people and country.

    I know Omar mainly worries about this daughters. They are both born after 2003 and this is the only reality that they know of, the constant explosions, electricity cuts, lack of water, being locked inside, helicopters hovering in the air, parents and adults being scared, worried, unemployed and irritable. His daughters has only this as their referent to how life is lived. Omar himself is often frustrated and angry and he is dealing with it through sarcasm and a dark sense of humour.

    * * *

    About a year and a half later, when I am back in Sweden again, I receive an email from Omar. It is a desperate call for help, he says he is ready to pay whatever it costs to give his daughters a real future. I reply, saying that money can take him out of there but can not give him a future, he can not buy his asylum. Omar hesitates and I then hear through former colleagues that his family has been targeted, they were shot when he was at work, but they are alive and recovering. My heart beats fast and I loose my breath. Once again I write to Omar and ask him to tell me what to do. Now I am desperate and I will do whatever it takes. He answers that he needs guarantees. Without the guarantees that he will be given refuge in another country, he can not leave. Without a future in another country he might be more lost than he is now in his own country. Maybe it is not the best he can give his daughters at this point; to be torn from their violent every day life to a dangerous travel in the hands of smugglers and finally perhaps sent back to Baghdad but then their dad has no job and even less possibilities to create a future.

    I am trapped. My part of the world creates war for democracy, we go there to praise international norms and ideals which puts Omar in a situation we can not help him to get out of. I know we could if we really wanted, but the conversations get stuck in bureaucracy and procedures. I choke on my contradictions within. Omar on his side blames his own people, saying that so many seek asylum in the west and lie about threats against them, so now when people like him needs refuge we see him as a liar too. I don't agree with his analyses and say that its us who doesn't understand the reality he and his country men live in, and that is the problem. We almost end up fighting in our email conversation. The frustration needs to be aired somehow, it seems.

    * * *
    But here in the office this has not yet happened. Omar and I are watching al Jazeera and we sip mint tea, waiting for the day to start. Its still a quiet day. On al Jazeera there´s a funny looking man from Wikileaks, who impress with his calmness, he is guiding us through a video clip of Americans shooting at reporters from Reuters here in Baghdad.
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