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December 18, 2012
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2007

BABYLON- AL HILLAH,

IRAQ.

I have come back. Finally, I am here, standing on the same unwinding road that I was forced to bid goodbye to in what seems to have been eons ago and yet, it feels like I never really left at all. Seventeen years have passed since my nightmares first began to unfold into reality; the summer of 1990 forever haunts me. So full of emotion, my eyes tear up as I am still trying to process my arrival. Truly, I feel as if every time I inhale and my lungs expand, I am instantly pricked with a million needles and, whenever I breathe out and my lungs deflate, it's as if I've lost my soul altogether with the carbon dioxide waste. My heart must be shouldering bricks and my legs are but trapped in cement shoes, I just know it.

Why am I back here? I have already lost everything. I am entering a town filled with past ghosts and demons. I tell myself that I need not revisit this sad reminder of the irreparable yet my feet continue marching along this corkscrew path. A vague and dusty town's silhouette enters my field of vision and I spot that it is indeed my neighborhood, and my heart cannot help but skip a beat. I come to the realization that this bewitching road will lead me to the place where I have detained all the most precious moments of my life.

I now stand staring at the once lush, now dust ridden street where the neighborhood children and I used to play. I remember dueling with marbles for the sole purpose of earning more marbles and bragging rights, of course, and how we'd fight with sticks and stones against the next block's kids as if defending off our motherland. We Iraqis have a saying after all, "It's my brother and I against our cousin and it's my cousin and I against all others." Even throughout childhood, Iraqis are taught much about alliances and enemies.

We Iraqis (although my passport now labels me Australian) are all for going on and about against something or someone you see. Some people say it's because we are freedom fighters carrying brave men's blood, because we carry the blood of heroes and patriots; others say it's because we're a people drunk on blood spilled and mixed in by the Euphrates, blood of the world's greatest martyr, Imam Hussein; and the rest, they talk about us saying we are a violent people simply because we carry too much angst after going through a plethora of tragedies. I am again reminded of the year 1990 and promptly feel a chill go down my spine. We can't allow our past to chain us to our fears forever; I try to calm my rattled spirit. I can never forget that it's on this same once green and off beaten road that I, quietly and without notice, fell in love with the woman of my dreams and destiny; the woman I know now as my wife.

I walk around my neighborhood searching for the river we used to skip rocks in, thinking it might have been re-routed only to find out that it had turned into a pipe. A pipe! Ha, talk about pipe-dreams! The irony of it all, really. Now, oh God almighty, I can't decide whether I should hold on or let go, forgive or forget, charge or retreat as all the bits and pieces like minuscule shards from a broken mirror collect in me, and I am painfully being pieced together. Seeing all these unwanted abrasive changes, yet, for the first time in a long time, to be able to walk side by side with myself after having been through such a long journey, I find everything to be a humorous mixture of the chaotic and the beautiful. I sit in front of whatever remains of my ancestral home.

It is in these moments, when I'm in between laughing and crying, somehow, I then will assuredly say to myself that life will go on. I look around and realize that what's in our heads are only in our heads. The world is still as busy and bustling as ever. It's going to be okay, it must. We get up and dust the dirt off and get back on the saddle. We live on. We will someday find a prince or princess to ride off into the sunset with, soon. I don't want to say that life is as easy as putting your two-cents in everything you do or everyone you meet. It's nothing like that. My story proves it, all our stories prove it. This time though, through my story, let it not only serve as proof but also a voice, a candle, and a memorable tune to be carried with the arid, Arabian winds for each of our (the people of Iraq's) sake.

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From my middle school years have I seen the look of utter relief on my father's face as he would spot us coming home from school, in one piece. From my high school years have I seen my elder brother and cousin being tossed from one jail cell to another, one torture chamber to another as they kept their heads held high, fighting for freedom against Saddam's terrorizing regime.  For years did I hear my mother's desperate cries so many goddamn times as her shrieks haunted my sleep. I knew she was thinking of my brother in every prayer, it was all she could do. All the while darkness filled her chest as she dreaded and prayed for if and when my brother would come home and how bad the scars he'll be carrying this time. I've watched my father break down and beg multiple times to multiple people to just please, please release his son- alive.

I've witnessed my brother, time and time again, deliver a speech to the underground freedom fighting youth (which he was head of), telling them to believe that they can end Saddam's oppressive dictatorship, that no more families should lose loved ones at this dictator's heartless whims, and that Iraq belongs to the people, not to the president. With my own two hands have I learned to treat my brother and his comrades' wounds as they miraculously manage to make it home alive home after days, weeks, and sometimes months of torture. I've tended to some heroes who lost teeth, eyelashes, earlobes and nails as they were ripped right out of their bodies during their torturing.

It was in the year 1990 that I lost the dearest thing to my soul, my elder brother. It was in the year 1990 that, due to utter despair over brother's demise that my father followed soon after, as his health promptly deteriorated. It was in the year of 1990 that my mother lost her smile. It was in the year of 1990 that I forever lost my country as my home. It was in the year of 1990 that the Gulf war would bring an end to everything and everyone I had ever known as whatever survivors will become shells, ghosts of what they once were. It was in the year of 1990 that the world around me faded in gunpowder gray smoke and rusty red ashen ruins of what were once homes and schools and places of worship. It was in the year of 1990, with the odor of blood and disease everywhere, that I sensed the start of my waking nightmare as it began unfolding right before my eyes.
EDITED AGAIN :la:

For the gorgeous =doughboycafe's War Story Contest! [link] :eager:
This also serves as a teaser to the first novel I dream of one day completing and publishing/ please, no stealing

My heart is in this one, guys. Still, know that you are free to rip this piece to shreds. :giggle:

Hope you guys enjoy the read! :heart:
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I WOULD SUPER LOVE TO SEE COMMENTS, THANK YOU!! :love:
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Critiques:
Was the story line clear?
Which line did you like/dislike the most?
Was there real impact at any instance?
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:iconnotensmsk:
Okay so let me start with the critique. For starters... I found this wonderful. Not only is Pakistan a neighbor of Iraq, we share a lot of emotions with the Iraqis, whether they know of it or not. The different references of either Saddam or perhaps the perception of Iraqi's gives me the same impression as Muslims in general, and specifically of Pakistan are being targeted. The reference to Hazrat Imam Hussain was also something I don't usually see in works. Then the way the children are brought up with allies and enemies defined is also relatable. Having stated these random things that might have personally contributed to my likeness of the work, I shall now move on wards.

The start felt slightly wavering to me. It wasn't boring, yet it didn't urge me to read on more. This is until the first paragraph. A calm and patient reader won't turn away though, it is not like that. Just not as griping.

However from the second para on wards, the description is beautiful and the way you have given the state of mind of the narrator over this old land of his and how he does not wish to see the remains of what was once his homeland is not only griping, it starts evoking emotions. Till the part he manages to distinguish the neighborhood, well my heart skipped a beat alongside.

The river into a pipe might (as I see) be a good or bad moment depending on the reader. Countries like my own have seen such developments and stranger things as well but I wonder if it might look absurd to perhaps European readers or Americans. Just a thought. It worked for me though.

Now I liked the ending para's that described your life from your childhood to you growing and what happened... but the impact is SLIGHTLY lessened when your brother became the youth leader. That seems cliched. Had he been a strong follower, it would have seemed like the story of a general citizen. Which I think it is intended as.

Also, just a thought, I think that after the story, you should add a concluding line in which it is as if, you are standing there in present (have told your story) and are still... perhaps unable to decide whether you should laugh or cry... meaning that the ending revolved around 1990 and ended within the story. I think that the work, since it started from the narrator, it should end with him as well.

Other than that... the story line was quite clear. No problem there.

I did not dislike a line perhaps but I did not see any relevance to the statement of him having his wife here. Unless she is discussed further, it was a strange filler. What I liked is the ending discussion of the 1990's or if I were to state a single line:

"This time though, through my story, let it not only serve as proof but also a voice, a candle, and a memorable tune to be carried with the arid, Arabian winds for each of our (the people of Iraq) sake.

While there are perhaps other instances of escalating emotions, the description here was well handled.

Yes, there was a major impact starting from perhaps the middle of the work on wards. Strangely, it is as if I have known these feelings without having actually experienced them. But I guess that happens a lot.

So over all a wonderful work in my opinion! Only the wife line, and an additional concluding line would sum any improvements I have to offer.
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:iconxlntwtch:
Congrats on the DLD! :D [Already fav'd and commented on earlier.]
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:iconsammur-amat:
Sammur-amat Jan 23, 2013   General Artist
Thank you so very much, darling friend! :iconlaloveplz:
Reply
:iconozzla:
ozzla Jan 22, 2013   Writer
Lovely look at you eating all those DLDs up!! [link] Go thank that =doughboycafe profusely because he sure knows how to spot a gem :tighthug:

Now, getting into the critique :D This seems such a taboo subject but you've given it much justice. It was this line that I felt that was the strongest: "Some people say it's because we are freedom fighters carrying brave men's blood, because we carry the blood of heroes and patriots...."

And that reminds me - Australia really needs to sort itself out. The blame keeps being put on refugees for "skipping the line" and being "untrustworthy", but I'd say there's really no-one who can lay claim to most countries, right? We've all immigrated, whether it was thousands of years ago or just yesterday, and we need to be responsible about it and find peace.
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:iconsammur-amat:
Sammur-amat Jan 23, 2013   General Artist
OW MAY GAWD :squee:

I am just so very much riddled in a happy mess over this unexpected and humbling DLD feature! :love:

Probably the only wonderful (and I can't believe I'm using that word) thing about war is it's ability to reveal our humanity. How in the end, we are all the same; we all bleed red blood, we all have countries, families, loves and deep rooted history and conflicts no matter what and how our skin color, our multiple layers of diversity and uniqueness would confuse us into thinking otherwise. :heart:
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