Sunday, March 27, 2005
thirteen years of sanctions - the aftermath
Then there was Jassim. In the same ward as Ezra, he lay with his huge eyes and glossy hair, listlessly viewing the barren ward. He had been selling cigarettes on the streets of Basra to support his family until he became ill. “This is Felicity and she writes for a living,” said Dr. Haddad. Jassim was transformed; he glowed and showed me the poems he spent his days writing, when he still had the energy. He collected phrases, too, to incorporate where he thought appropriate. I told him all writers collect words and phrases, they are our tools. He glowed again, delighting that he was being understood and that his instincts were guiding him correctly along his passionate path. “I asked death, ‘What is greater than you?’ Death replied, ‘Separation of lovers is greater than me,’” was one of his collected phrases. He was 13.
One of his poems was called “The Identity Card.” In translation, it reads:
The name is love,
The class is mindless,
The school is suffering,
The governorate is sadness,
The city is sighing,
The street is misery,
The home number is one thousand sighs.
He watched my face for reaction. Lost for words, eventually I said, “Jassim, if you can write like this at thirteen, think what you will do at twenty.” I asked him if I could incorporate his poem in articles from that visit and said I would send them back to him, so he would see it in print. Some weeks later, I did just that and sent cuttings back to him with a friend and imagined him glowing again. He had fought and fought, but lost his battle just before my friend arrived. He never saw his poem in print and became just another statistic in the “collateral damage” of sanctions by the most inhuman regime ever overseen by the United Nations, which arguably condemned the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child - the most widely signed convention in history - to the dust, to the mass of graves of Iraq's children, resulting from the embargo years.