crossing paths

I could hear someone talking loudly when I neared the little fitness park at the lake this morning. It sounded like a speech. No, it was more like a sermon. People were exercising on the machines as usual. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to the man. In fact, it looked like they were avoiding eye contact with him. He went on, nevertheless. As I got on the cardio-walker to get the morning stiffness out of my legs, I tried to figure out what was happening here.

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He was saying he loved to hang out at this lake whenever he came to Bangalore from Delhi, his hometown. He told us we were lucky to have the famous Bangalore climate. True, it was a beautiful June day. Then he began talking about yoga. I zoned out for a bit. When I got back to listening he had moved on to how Indians should not be divided on the basis of religion because all religions are routes to one god and all religions are about being good human beings…

He spoke in Hindi to an almost exclusively Tamilian audience, most of whom neither know Hindi nor wish to learn it! At least, that’s the impression given to the rest of India by Tamil Nadu politicians. Luckily for him, though, most Bangaloreans know some Hindi. He ended his talk with an extra-loud “Bharat mata ki…” and waited for the crowd to respond exuberantly with a “Jai!” The exercising people gazed at him in bewilderment. He smilingly cajoled his listeners into shouting “Jai!” Finally, people smiled tentatively and shouted “Jai!” after him three times as going along with him was the easier way for a bunch of sleepy people at that early hour.

A man slowly got off his machine and ambled over to the preacher. He asked in very basic Hindi, “Do you think there is a god?”

The preacher answered with a smile: “I don’t know.”

“Then why are you talking about him?” There was an edge to his voice.

People stiffened and looked warily at each other.

The preacher kept his smile in place and said, “See, we are having a discussion, we are not going to get angry.”

The man backed off a little, then muttered, “We are always being told to pray to god, to not fight. So when the rest of the world keeps progressing, we keep praying, nothing else…”

He walked off to another machine. After a while he called out to the preacher, “What happens to people when they die?”

The preacher again said “I don’t know” in his mild tone.

“Oh, shouldn’t people know where they are going when they die? You should…” He slid off his machine and bore down on the preacher.

One youngster, apparently anxious to head him off from an aggressive confrontation, called out to the man in a neutral conversational tone, “Why don’t you read some books and find out? Don’t you read?” I expected him to round on the kid but he shook his head and said “No”. He slowly looked around at all the people watching him. He seemed to be in a daze, as if he had just come out of a trance and realised what he was doing. Then he turned on his heel and walked away.

Meanwhile, the preacher had started singing a song in Hindi. The lyrics were on the same lines: Indians are one people, all religions lead to one god, all religions try to make their followers into good people. He was on his own trip in a happy place inside his head, where subtexts and undercurrents didn’t exist.

I left the fitness park and continued down the path to finish my walk. When I passed that point again on my way back he was still singing, and people seemed to have accepted him as a part of their lives for one morning.

Meanwhile, I thought about the other man’s questions. He was obviously fed up with god and didn’t have the patience for platitudes early on a weekday morning. But the preacher was evidently in the middle of a peak experience and had a strong urge to share it with the rest of humanity, and he happened to pick our quiet fitness park for sharing his joy and goodwill!

The paths of people unknown to each other crossing like this, unexpectedly, to create uncomfortable situations, is the stuff of sitcoms, not of an early morning walk in the park. As I walked towards my car, the moment when the man’s face registered annoyance at the preacher’s “I don’t know” stayed stuck in my mind, with the rest of us frozen in our places like a tableau on a stage.

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a short voyage

It was lovely being back on a nice big ship again after sixteen years.

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Sunrise on my first morning on the ship

My husband’s a captain on a VLCC, or very large crude carrier. It measures 330m x 60m. That’s thrice the length of a 100m sprint track and maybe as big as one of those islands that mysteriously spring up in the South China Sea overnight!

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Here are pictures of the anchor chain, and the spare anchor stored on the main deck. The accommodation is about 200m in the distance.

I had no access to WordPress during my month-long stay aboard. But, seriously, I had nothing to write about because I mostly write when I’m riled up. I read, watched movies and enjoyed the company of the other people on board. The food was great and the best part is that I didn’t have to cook it myself!

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The galley

The deck officers and engineers were from different countries and the crew, including kitchen staff, was Filipino. Diversity of this sort makes for interesting conversations. I love how my mind stops being preoccupied with my usual worries and frees up space for all the new information that is invariably shared, mostly at the dinner table, when everyone gathers together after work.

Igor, the chief mate, is from Dubrovnik in Croatia. Apart from the well-known collective headache caused to the people of Dubrovnik by tourists after GoT was shot there, life in his city is good. The Croatians I sailed with in 1990 had been a worried lot as Yugoslavia was in the middle of a bloody civil war at the time and was breaking up into many small states, one of them being Croatia. Igor happily told me all about his wife, kids, parents – and even in-laws! – and I got to see snaps of all of them. What a lovely, doting husband and father, and what an adorable pair of tiny twin girls!

Ante, the third mate, is from Split, Croatia. He was reserved, but as we were often the only two people having lunch in the saloon at noon he would talk to me. He told me he had worked on cruise ships before switching to tankers. Really? Did he have to talk to passengers? He answered in his characteristic grumpy style, in that European accent that sounds so innocent and childlike: “Buth I usually avoidh them. They ask the sa-ame sthoopid questions, in the sa-ame ordher – ‘whath is your name, how long you sailing, where you from…’” His brilliant blue eyes filled with disgust at the mere memory of it. “Here I don’th have to thalk to anyone!” But as he continued to talk about Split and his life there whenever we were at the lunch table together – and even smiled occasionally – I guess ‘anyone’ didn’t include me.

Living in India where the population only goes up and up, I was surprised when Samuel, the second engineer, told us that the population of his country, Bulgaria, is falling! From nine million in 1985, to seven million now. Why? Because of the economic collapse after the fall of communism in 1989, and because of Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007. So where did two million Bulgarians go? To Germany, along with two million Romanians! If Germany accommodated them, plus all the refugees it’s been taking in, maybe Lady Liberty should be relocated to Germany from New York, especially with Trump’s new policies!

Dinner table conversations with Samuel and the Egyptian chief engineer, Tareq, were fun actually. I miss them. Samuel’s wide-ranging topics – from Baba Vanga and Akashic records, to movies and documentaries, to recent research in tech for studying the mind – were always engaging. Since Tareq’s communication style didn’t allow for nuance, he made some pretty interesting, but jaw-dropping, statements! Really, the way different people express things can leave you totally surprised. The electrical engineer, Kris, who is from Poland, was once telling a group of us about some scientific work on black holes. He got frustrated because he couldn’t get the name of the scientist, went bright pink with the effort, finally slouched in his chair, bent his neck to one side and proclaimed, “That guy!” Of course, it was obvious that no disrespect was intended.

I spent forty minutes every evening with the deck cadet, Llorenç, to add a little to my meagre knowledge of Spanish. Llorenç is from Mallorca and speaks Catalan and Spanish. We wrote out conversations for translation around our own experiences. I wanted to learn to say things in preterite tense as I had only done lessons in present continuous when I attempted to learn Spanish before. This way, I could talk about things that have already happened in my long life rather than simply give a commentary in present continuous!

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Before I met LIorenç I knew nothing about Mallorca except that it’s a tourist destination and that Rafael Nadal is from there. Now I feel as though I’ve spent a few days with Llorenç and his girlfriend on their island, visited their new apartment, and seen all his favourite haunts. Mallorca is now a place that I think of warmly; it’s no longer just a smudge on a map.

I loved being a part of this little community. It was like a family. Most nights, especially moonlit nights, I used to look out of the porthole in my cabin and feel very peaceful as the ship quietly sailed along the course set for her. I knew that our conscientious young second mate, Daniel, had carefully set the course, and it had been double-checked by the captain. I knew that Ante, Daniel and Igor, during their watches, would be monitoring the radars and other instruments carefully up on the bridge through the night. I felt safe ensconced in my bunk, with the ship rocking ever so slightly. There was the slightest vibration from her engine – a comforting sensation – as she made her slow progress out of the Gulf, crossed the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, squeezed through the traffic of the Singapore straits, then sailed up north through the South China sea, to finally reach Ulsan in South Korea over twenty days.

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Singapore straits with heavy traffic

I loved the clarity of knowing that the ship had only one thing to do: transport tonnes of crude oil from Kuwait to Korea. Everyone worked towards this one goal in a perfectly coordinated operation.

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Pilot boat with Ulsan in the background

When we neared Ulsan the pilot came in a pilot boat and the crew lowered the pilot ladder for him. He climbed on to the deck and went up to the bridge to guide the ship towards the SBM (single buoy mooring). The engineers down in the engine room monitored the main engine as per the commands given from the bridge control.

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Captain, pilot, second mate and a crew member on the bridge (wheel house) as ship is entering the port

Then, two tugs made sure the ship wouldn’t ride up on to the buoy. Around then, the loading master arrived on a boat from the port.

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Tailing tug on the stern
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Tug assisting on the port bow

The chief mate and his crew set up the equipment for cargo transfer on the main deck, the loading master coordinated between the ship and the shore, the deck officers took turns at manning the Cargo Control Room, and the entire operation was smoothly completed over several hours.

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We had a chance to go ashore by boat at Ulsan port. The ship chandler, Mr. Bak, who supplies our ship provisions, took us around in his car.

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We got to see a bit of Ulsan and try Korean food.

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Mr. Bak introduced us to the Korean barbecue, called gogi-gui, where you grill meat on a charcoal grill built into the table

As we were driving down a city road Mr. Bak reverently pointed to a wall that seemed to go on for ever: “Hyundai factory.” A bit further, another never-ending wall: “Hyundai port.” Eighty percent of the cars on the road were Hyundai, including the one we were riding in.

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Ulsan was preparing for Buddha’s birth anniversary on 18th May. Buddhist temples were decorated for the occasion.

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Children on a school trip at the Bulguksa Temple, a Unesco Heritage site

Just a thought as I end this nostalgia trip: One of the sentences I had written out for my Spanish class with Llorenç was ‘I couldn’t bear to get rid of it (my old moped).’ He translated it as me sabía mal tirarla. I asked why me sabía mal, not me senti mal. He thought for a moment, then placed a fist over his tummy and said, “No… it’s like… bad food…” I thought about it. There are things you feel in your gut, and not through your senses, so you can’t use sentir, I suppose.

IMG_4184Me sabía mal. This is how I felt when I walked down the gangway for the last time. As I sat down in the boat that would take me ashore to catch a flight back home, I looked out at the ship that had been my home for a month, until it disappeared from view.

Shippees maintain that friendships on ships are only up to the gangway. True. They can only rarely sustain friendships that are forged over three or four months of working together. But I will treasure the delicate threads of memory of the time spent with these guys. They are bits of colourful weft woven through the largely neutral (beige? teal? mauve?) warp of my life. For this one month, they were family, and I’ll feel the warm glow of the camaraderie I shared with them, whenever I think of them.

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Sunset in the Persian Gulf

 

 

sailing out of the gulf

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We’ll be boarding this ship and sailing out of the Persian Gulf tomorrow, bound for Korea. I’ve been in and out of this narrow channel so many times in my life that it brings back a flood of memories.

There are two that stand out.

It was Christmastime in 1990, and my husband was chief mate at the time. Our ship was anchored at Fiumicino in Italy. As we had a couple of days free Capt Milo gave us time off to visit Rome, 32 km away. We bought a map, chose the places we wanted to see, plotted a route and walked to most places, covering many miles, dossing down at a pensione at night.

When we returned to the ship after two days, completely tired out, we heard the shocking news that Operation Desert Storm was likely to be launched by US-led coalition forces on 17th January in Iraq. Ship life those days was pretty isolated and we barely knew what was going on in the outside world. As our next port of call was going to be inside the Persian Gulf Capt Milo had decided that I should sign off the ship at Dubai, just a little way into the Gulf, but far enough from Iraq-Kuwait to be safe. That was going to be around the 10th of January.

When we reached the Gulf of Oman we had another shock. There were dozens of American naval ships massed around us. War was no longer something we only heard about on the radio (those days we got television only in port) but was right here, and these ships were a part of it.

I disembarked at Dubai  — along with two other crew members whose tenures had ended — and flew home.

What happened to the ship after I left? She remained anchored in the Gulf of Oman for over a week awaiting voyage orders. On the 19th she sailed into the Persian Gulf to load cargo at Ras Tanura. My husband tells me that they passed an American aircraft carrier with her attendant fleet of frigates. He saw fighter jets take off from her deck. Jets from US army bases in Saudi also flew across the night sky frequently as the bombing usually happened at night.

Another vivid memory is of the time in 1993 when our ship sailed out of the Persian Gulf loaded with crude oil from Ras Tanura in Saudi, for discharge at New Orleans in the US. What happened as we sailed out of the Gulf is something that still gives me goosebumps and I’ve written about it an earlier post.

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We eventually signed off that ship in Dubai. My husband and I were amused to hear our toddler son’s excited observations about land, after having been on a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) for four months without ever going ashore.

“So many Christmas trees!” He had only seen the tiny tree set up in the saloon at Christmas!

“So many aunties!” There had been no other women on that ship!

When we returned to India we were baffled by his homesickness for the ship, when he would cry to be taken back ‘home’, and would only be placated by watching the videos we had taken during the voyage.

paradise lost

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I’ve been here for nearly six weeks now and it’s starting to feel like home. Actually, Kuwait City is a lot like how Bangalore used to be. Bangalore of the seventies, the city where I wish I could live more than anywhere else in the world. Paradise lost, to borrow a phrase from Milton.

Present-day Bangalore is constantly worrying about water from the Cauvery river running out, and of having to share it with Tamil Nadu. There’s plenty of water here.

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There are fountains dotting the city like in the Bangalore of my childhood. Not a single river flows through this desert land, but the government has set up desalination plants for citizens to get a plentiful supply.

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There’s plenty of space to drive on city roads. No potholes. No jams. People don’t dare run a red light. And the best part is that there’s ample free parking everywhere, the way it used to be in Bangalore.

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My husband and I go for long drives out of the city after dinner and on weekends. Going for a drive after dinner was very much a Bangalore thing to do in the seventies and eighties. The drives here have a magical quality for me, mixed as they are with nostalgia for a way of life that has been gradually stolen from me by Bangalore’s transformation into what is called an IT hub. Those days, no matter which route you took out of town to the open spaces on the outskirts of Bangalore, traffic flowed smoothly and the air smelt fresh.

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We walk a lot because it’s something we love to do, but can’t do in Bangalore any more. The sidewalks are wide, with no missing slabs or uneven bits to trip you up. And well-lit too, if you want to continue walking after dark.

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And no jostling crowds. Again, reminds me of home in the seventies, when I walked to friends’ houses, hobby classes, movie halls — just about everywhere.

I feel bad to say this, but I can’t help thinking of all that I encounter on a morning walk in Bangalore now: construction debris, thick black wires (snaking across the sidewalk, wrapped around trees and lampposts as ugly eyesores, or dangling from trees), packs of snarling stray dogs, garbage heaps, missing slabs, transformer enclosures. . . During peak hours people ride motorcycles on sidewalks to get past jams, so there is an added risk. Walking through a city should not be a dangerous obstacle course.

I don’t smell air pollution while walking here in the city. Undoubtedly, there is some from vehicular exhaust, but it doesn’t envelop and assault me like a living thing, the way it does in Bangalore. There is no smog, and visibility is therefore great.

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I understand that there are no polluting industries here as everything is imported, and the population is a fraction of Bangalore’s, but that doesn’t justify the kind of pollution we are exposed to in Bangalore. And there is practically no noise pollution here as people don’t toot their horns unnecessarily.

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Visual pollution by way of hoardings, and wires crisscrossing the sky giving Bangalore the appearance of a giant spider web (pic below), are both absent here. The street lamps therefore look beautiful (pic above), untethered to masses of black wire as they are back home (pic below).

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There’s no dearth of electricity here. Streets and buildings are well-illuminated.

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Cultural Center in Kuwait City

I am aware that a lot of fossil fuel is being burned to generate all this electricity, going by the armies of pylons and unending lines of electric cables I’ve seen on the outskirts and along highways.

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This troubles me as an earth citizen and I do wish they would think of ways to minimize wastage of electricity and fuel. But the point to note here is that the government spends its petro-dinars to give citizens basic comforts like bijli-sadak-paani (electricity-roads-water), as we say in India, and clean, safe public spaces with well-kept lawns and walkways.

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Sunset behind an army of pylons on the road to Bubiyan island

There is one thing about Kuwait that I wish would change: overuse of plastic. It happens in Bangalore too, but here it is much worse. Every vegetable you buy is bagged in one thin plastic bag, then all your items are put into big, thicker plastic bags at the checkout counter. Yesterday, the bill for my grocery shopping was only 14 KD, but I came home with eight big, thick plastic bags and eleven thin ones! One big bag held just one bottle of cooking oil and another only a bottle of salad dressing and a small can of baked beans! The clerks at the checkout counter look surprised when I try to fit my shopping into fewer bags and I have to go along with them because of the language barrier.

In restaurants, layers of thin plastic sheets are spread on the table. When the table is cleared after a meal leftovers are dumped on the topmost sheet and it is rolled into a bundle and tossed into a bin. So it’s mixed waste. In some restaurants I do see waiters separate food waste from plastic, though. There is a garbage disposal problem here, too, just like in Bangalore, but it is not as visible as it is in Bangalore.

Some people are aware of this, going by an exhibit I saw at the museum at Al Shaheed park, though  the message hasn’t percolated down to the man on the street yet.

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As I said in an earlier post, nothing grows here without effort except date palms. Petunias were planted timed to bloom during Liberation Day weekend, and they did. All over the city.

Geraniums and Oleanders are in bloom now, all carefully irrigated.

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At Al Shaheed park there is such an effort to coax Bauhinia trees to produce flowers (pic below), whereas we in Bangalore can drop a seed anywhere on our fertile soil and have it sprout a healthy little shoot and grow into a tree in no time, with practically no tending.

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But what do we do? We chop off fully grown trees to make way for flyovers of highly doubtful utility.

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Tabebuias in Cubbon Park, Bangalore

There’s one important principle that I feel the Kuwaitis have understood and adopted: maintenance. Erecting buildings, putting up fancy lights and water features is all very well, but what a wasted effort if most of the light bulbs don’t work and the paint job develops patches after one monsoon, and the water feature becomes a cesspool for mosquitoes to breed. This is what happens in Bangalore. Nothing appears neglected here, at least in the downtown area where I stay.

However, there’s one thing Bangalore and Kuwait City have in common at present: a dedicated band of Harley-Davidson worshippers!

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I hope Kuwait City continues to stay this way and I can keep coming here for a break whenever Bangalore feels too claustrophobic. This city doesn’t seem in danger of being turned into an IT hub, so it’s safe from the sort of ruinous growth that the government in Bangalore considers progress and development.

google

Somehow I’ve always imagined google as a supercilious, snickering Peter Pan-like young person sitting cross-legged in there, in the box-shaped computer I had twenty years back, rolling his eyes at my ignorance. From the beginning, this unconscious conceptualization of google automatically restricted what I typed in the search bar. Asking the internet to connect me to a site felt a lot like asking the operator of a landline phone to connect me to another landline number in the old days; the operator could listen in if she wanted to.

There is one more thing: I have had young  patients proudly tell me that they are hackers, and good at it too! And I have no reason to doubt them as they are smart graduates from the IITs. The first time someone told me this was some fifteen years ago. It destroyed my faith in passwords and encryption for good. Decoding these security measures is obviously child’s play to some.

If I need to look up a word I use a dictionary out of sheer habit, though I’ve started using google more without realizing it. I think that’s how google creeps into people’s lives and makes itself indispensable. Speaking of words, I’m fascinated by cognates, and finding them is a zigzagging path. Does chasing after me through this help google? I still rely entirely on google for things like how to pronounce  Czicksentmihalee, though, and I’m willing to do that. But if google wants to know why I need this, well, it’s just curiosity, nothing more.

I often use google to look up random factoids that have puzzled me through the day, things I’ve come across in conversations or on TV. So the things I investigate using google are completely irrelevant to my life, and can’t be the basis for ads. And most of the things I look up are from a check-list of unrelated topics. I am just browsing, not doing serious research. Like browsing in a mall. Incidentally, why do mall-owners count footfalls to gauge how the businesses that operate from them are doing? What exactly does it tell them? That people browsed, or people shopped? Or do they subtract browsers from the total and decide that these are prospective buyers that they can lie in wait for and eventually entrap into buying? In how many ways are we being watched?!

Back to google. I often look up the same article many times on different days because I might need to confirm only one particular bit of information from it. When I’ve gone into ‘show full history’ to trace some lost thread of thought I’ve seen how ridiculous it looks that I’ve opened the same page a million times. What does google make of it? And if I’ve been using google on my touchscreen cellphone, don’t even ask! Every clumsy finger movement opens a site that means nothing to me, but might mean something to google if it is snooping. I also wonder, does the time lapse mean anything to google if I leave a page open for a long time while I go into the kitchen to make some coffee?

I read a lot about religion because I can’t get over how much violence it has unleashed over the millennia, when it is actually supposed to bring peace. So I’m not religious, but google might think I am.

I am a news junkie and follow politics, especially Indian politics, but I’m not interested in raising a ruckus about anything. I already know that I don’t count and what I think doesn’t make a whit of difference to the political scene. I don’t think much of politicians (except Shashi Tharoor’s speeches on Indian history), but I read about their antics anyway. So what does google think is my political affiliation? A friend of mine talks about politicians referencing the astrology site carta natal es, so I’ve been visiting that site, but that doesn’t mean an astro-reading ad will grab my eyeballs. I might search for information about weapons in relation to a novel I’m reading, and google might misunderstand my intentions. So too with suicide, a topic that I need to visit now and then for professional reasons.

So, I have no idea how the data generated by my haphazard browsing helps google.

Apparently google needs to know me well so that it can pitch appropriate ads to me. I live in Bangalore, a city whose skyline is made up entirely of ads, monstrously large billboards that I never look at, or even notice anymore. So advertisements are wasted on me. I just peep around them or scroll down reflexly and never really see them. If an ad stubbornly refuses to disappear I close the page and find the information elsewhere. I’ve also become adept at clicking on the X mark using peripheral vision to close any nonsense that pops up.

I don’t use google to look for things to buy, places to eat at, places to visit, books to read, or movies to watch. I get these from newspapers and friends. I prefer to ask friends about these things over a cup of coffee at Hatti Kaapi or A2B in Bangalore, rather than turn to google for everything. It’s much nicer. Same way, I shop at small stores because they’re more interesting, plus the idea of these hardworking, cheerful people losing their livelihood to Amazon and BigBasket makes me feel bad. Variety, rather than the sameness of chain stores, is what I’d like to preserve. A little searching and serendipitous discovery is more fun, like finding a wonderful book while browsing in a bookshop. Google and the rest are taking this away.

On top of all this, I now have the troubling knowledge that my browsing patterns are being parsed by google to understand my thought processes and influence me through its advertisements to generate revenue for itself.

Google assures us of security:

‘Encryption brings a higher level of security and privacy to our services. When you do things like send an email, share a video, visit a website, or store your photos, the data you create moves between your device, Google services, and our data centers. We protect this data with multiple layers of security, including leading encryption technology like HTTPS and Transport Layer Security.’

That’s why it feels like a case of the fence eating the crop, or my own security guard robbing my house. That’s why it feels like a betrayal, though google openly admits that it uses the advertising model for revenue. To me that translates into “Okay, so some ads will appear when I’m reading something? Cool.” It doesn’t convey that I’ll be watched so closely, like a hunter following his prey.

garden of eden and its overburden

Yesterday I touched the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. I felt the water flow through the spaces between my fingers. It was like connecting with history. Our really ancient history, when we started living in civilized societies and growing our own food instead of hunting and gathering it.

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We had gotten off the highway and driven directly on the sand to reach the tiny village of Bushehri by following wheel tracks made by vehicles that had used the same route. That was the only way we could reach the bank of the river we had seen in the distance from the highway.

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The ‘river’ turned out to be the delta of the Shatt Al Arab, the waterway formed by the merging of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq as they flow south towards the Persian Gulf.

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The Tigris and Euphrates have existed for thousands of years. They nurtured the ancient Mesopotamian civilization 5000 years ago. The fertile land between the two was part of the biblical Garden of Eden. It’s hard to believe that the bit of earth beneath the present layer of overburden* has been continuously occupied by people for so many millennia. People with families, homes and occupations. A civilization.

This land, the ‘cradle of civilization’, is now the chaos that is present-day Iraq.

On the day before yesterday I happened to watch an interview on CGTN (China Global Television Network) with John Nixon who was with the CIA until 2011. He is the author of Debriefing the President: The interrogation of Saddam Hussein. Nixon had interviewed Saddam extensively over weeks after his capture and has a good grasp of the other side of the story. He is firm in his belief that the war in 2003 should never have happened as there was enough Intel input for the US and UK governments to know that there were no WMDs in Iraq.

About Saddam, he says:

“Although he didn’t understand international politics he knew Iraq.”

“Saddam was able to govern Iraq effectively.”

“Saddam said ‘It’s not easy to govern Iraq – you’ll see.'”

Nixon says it was a family feud between Bush (whose father Saddam had tried to eliminate) and Saddam that actually led to the war! Can this possibly be true?!

Last morning’s visit to the river delta, juxtaposed with watching this interview with Mr. Nixon, has left me feeling incredibly sad. As a human being I feel strangely complicit in this, though I couldn’t possibly have done anything to prevent the war, nor could have my country’s government, nor could the UN. Other animals aren’t destroying our beautiful earth, only we are.

Iraq’s civilization goes back as many millennia as does ours, and seeing it in a shambles makes me feel hopeless for humanity’s survival. I feel it even more acutely now as I’m in Kuwait and have been so close to the Iraq border. Then I tell myself: London was bombed once. So was Dresden. So was Hiroshima. They recovered. I hope Iraq does too…

The fact that John Nixon’s book is freely available and has not been banned, nor has its writer received death threats to the best of my knowledge, speaks volumes for American democracy and freedom of speech. Thank god for people like John Nixon who are unafraid to tell the truth, and the American government for not gagging him.

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I once went on a short hike along the Appalachian trail in the US. If you are uncertain of the route you look for these white paint marks called blazes to guide you. John Nixon’s book is a blaze; every country has to stop and think before going to war with any other country now.

 

*Overburden: ancient features buried under accumulated sediment and soil that archeologists have to remove to see what lies beneath.