VICTORIA, BC — “So, when do you think the war will start?” an Iranian friend asked in an email message two weeks ago.
“Probably around the 20th,” I responded.
“That’s not going to happen!” he quickly wrote back. “First, it’s during the full moon, and second, it’s Nowruz! The US wouldn’t be that crass, would they?”
Last night, we got the answer to that question.
I came home to find a local TV crew, half a dozen media-related telephone messages, and two very hungry cats demanding my immediate attention. All I wanted to do was pour a nice glass of Merlot and rest after three nights working late on websites, monitoring rumors of war and the Israeli Defence Force’s killing of American girl. Death by bulldozer.
The local television crew is already in the house, though, setting up their equipment, when it becomes clear that Baghdad is under bombardment.
“Let’s get shots of you clicking the remote through the various channels,” says the young Chinese-Canadian reporter, as she kneels on the floor next to the sofa, checking the light readings in my dark living room.
“Click on over to Fox,” she suggests quietly, as I begin attending to the BBC’s Ragui Omaar reporting from Baghdad.
“Okay, now go to NBC…Let’s see CNN again. Good. Can you click over to CBC for a bit?”
Every channel shows a different view of the periwinkle skyline of Baghdad, with the time and date given at the bottom of the screen:
March 20th, 6:05 a.m.
It’s Nowruz, Persian New Year. It’s the first day of spring throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It’s Mother’s Day in the Arab world. It’s time to “cross the line of departure” for US and UK troops. It’s my beautiful niece’s ninth birthday. It’s war again in Iraq. It’s the beginning of the end of a 55-year-old international legal framework. It’s a disturbing new age.
“It’s time we did the interview now, but first, can we go to the room where you work on the website and get some B-roll shots of you working?” asks the reporter.
We are about to leave the living room behind and head to my office. As the cameraman gathers up his things, the room is silent, except for a delightful sound coming from the television.
Skittish CNN news teams, fearful of the US bombs that their anchors are celebrating from the saftey of Atlanta’s news studios, have left stationary cameras with microphones on rooftops throughout Baghdad.
These recording devices are picking up the sounds of Baghdad’s birds, twittering and singing as they welcome the new year, the first day of Spring, the first day of war, the first day of our frightening new world order, live, in real time from the Cradle of Civilization, now the grave of the United Nations.
The birds’ singing is a beautiful and poignant sound that puts me at ease. I want to stay here, with my glass of wine, enjoying the chorus of Iraqi sparrows, rustling awake in their rooftop nests above the Tigris river. I want to watch dawn’s light suffusing the purple clouds with gold. I want to think about Nowruz and its beautiful symbols and customs, predating the advent of monotheistic madness and dreams of empire in this ancient land.
My reverie is shortlived. The dry staccato of artillery fire, which I last heard live and in person in Beirut, decisively drowns out the birds’ songs.
I wonder if anyone is celebrating Nowruz or Mother’s Day in Iraq today. Nowruz celebrations feature a beautifully decorated table holding objects characterized by haft siin: seven objects that begin with the letter “S”.
What is on the Iraqi Nowruz table today? Sadness? Separation? Silence? Survival? Salvation? Sedition? Submisson?
From British Columbia, I wish Iraq sanity and serenity in the face of what is coming. I wish Iraq quiet mornings full of bird songs and the fragrance of flowering bazringosh bushes along the banks of an ancient, life-giving and civilization-building river.
I wish Iraq freedom from the tyranny of their maddened and selfish leader and mine, George W. Bush. I wish Iraq a swift deliverance from the hell my country has helped to subject its brave and brilliant people to for more than a decade.
Iraq, I wish you a truly new year. On your terms, according to your dreams, under your own purple, golden, and bombless skies.