Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Rooftops of Basra

Basra, Iraq 29 April - 1 May

Image (c) Jennifer R. Pournelle. View of Shatt Al Arab from Shams Al Basra Hotel.

Cor, what a sight. Our trip to the Majnoon Oilfield was cut short by a noon luncheon meeting at the U.S. consulate, hard by Basra International Airport. A useful meeting, with introductions to the new Consul-General, who thankfully will be in residence for two whole years. Then, runors confirmed that Iraqi airspace would close for the elections, the rest of the team bugged out, leaving me to hold the fort at the University Guest House.

Except that the fort capitulated at the moment of my arrival. Not through any grave security concern (indeed, I was by then the only guest, tucked away in a corner room far from any prying eyes). No: the concern was occupational - or rather lack thereof. It seems that, with no prior notice, in honor of the elections, the powers-that-be declared a three-day holiday, making for a five-day weekend. Thus closing all national, regional, and local government offices, as well as the university. Including the guest house. On the spot, my lovely guest house staff, only that morning only too pleased to guard the gate, cook, and make tea, had urgent and undeniable cause to be at home. They could not possibly be expected to remain at their duties for the benefit of one paltry guest. I guess I can't really blame them.

It's this sort of day-to-day reality that makes discretionary funds so essential for operating here. No problem: I did what one would do in any normal city: I packed off to a nice hotel. At the Shams Al Basra, frequented by air crews, I joined a bare handful of guests stranded by flight cancellations, and settled in for three days of waiting, reading; waiting, writing; waiting, sleeping; and waiting, re-booking meetings. At this jucture, I must note that in this corner of the world, waits are usually measured in weeks, not days. Think not, in this case, bureaucratic stonewalling. Think instead of the mix of exasperation and secret relief that accompanies snow days. Unexpected by all, unwanted by all, inconvenient for all, but secretly a chance to catch up on niggling tasks and empty the in-box.

The photo above is a wonderful illustration of point-of-view. No doubt, to most of you dear readers, it looks a rather ugly study in dust and concrete. But on arrival, we all gasped at its beauty. After a few days here, the eye is instantly drawn to the stretch of sparkling blue that is the river. The sun rises directly thereover, reflected in a shimmering disk on the waters. Swallows circle and wheel, doves coo, and finches cheep in the dawn chorus. Ashar boats and motor launches cruise past, and traffic cruises over the pontoon bridge to the shopping and restaurant districts on the other shore. It is a pleasant sight, and one I have revisited again and again these past several days, tracking the hours through the river's changing moods. #cmarsh

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