Faaris – 1

“Is it a good thing that Saddam is gone?” I ask Faaris, one of my Iraqi engineers. I know from other conversations with Faaris that he has high hopes for his country now, believing in the possibilities that some form of democracy might offer. But I know he thinks all around any subject and is honest about difficult things, so I wonder what nuances he might teach me in answering this stark inquiry. He lived a few years in Scotland when he was young, and besides giving his English an amusing bit of Scottish brogue, living in the UK seems to have graced him with a willingness to answer almost any question I put to him, no matter how impertinent. My other engineers seem more wary with political subjects.

 “Is it better without Saddam?” Faaris says. He looks off at middle distance for a few seconds. “In the days of Saddam,” he says when he has his thoughts in order, “my wife never had to wear a scarf over her hair. This was not important to anyone. The schools were open to all children, and the night clubs and theatres were open.”

I offer him a cigarette. He lights both mine and his own.

He blows out the smoke slowly. “In the time of Saddam,” he adds with a shrug, “You could take your friends to the restaurants and have a drink of whiskey. You could buy alcohol in the stores and drink it in your house.”

Then he smiles. “Now I buy whiskey like I’m doing a deal for marijuana,” he tells me. He pulls up his collar and looks around as if to be sure no one is watching. “I’m like this in the street, buying a bottle of whiskey from the trunk of a man’s car …” He makes the motion of dealing out some cash to his dealer, looking over his shoulder to be sure the coast is clear. He grabs the imaginary bottle and quickly tucks it under his arm, inside his shirt.

“I am a criminal!” he cries, and we laugh.

“Seren,” he says then, lowering his voice, leaning forward to look directly into my eyes, “during Saddam we had personal freedom but we had no political freedom. Now we have political freedom, but we have no personal freedom. Who can say that one is better than the other?”

His own eyes carry a look of thoughtful resignation.

 

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