Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” so, i supposed the opposite of war is not peace. it's indifference.

 In lieu of those thousand pictures..

         There's an old Arab proverb that tells you to trust in Allah, but tie your camel.  One of my favorite authors, Hunter S Thompson, says to call on God, but row away from the rocks.  These notions of doing rather than being plagued me throughout the drive to Basra International Airport. With eyes fixed on the town that welcomed me with a holster and a gun, I drowned in my own river of desires. I wish it was all better. 
         The words that poured so easily out of my heart upon my last goodbye in '09 seem to be lost in my own mental maze of ideas and schemes this time around. I want to leave you with words, anecdotes, and observations. I want to sum up the last few weeks of the beautiful and painful things that I experienced. I would love to deeply imbue you with profound thoughts in this last post. But, I can't. Ladies and gentleman, I have nothing to say. Maybe it's time to stop saying and start doing? On that note, goodbye for now. I have to go find a post to tie my camel to.

Layla Karim Shaikley

the calm after the [sand]storm

My line, assuming that my identity is as simple as this sign claims

         "Is there nail polish in there?" The 3rd X-ray at Basra International caught me red handed, though I thought I'd checked my prized OPI collection. No liquids may pass security!
        "I don’t know, sir--but my flight is about to leave and the next flight out isn’t for days, is it really important?" I panted.  The afternoon had been a hectic one, as somewhere between getting picked up by armed men and checkpoints, we managed to be late for our flight from Basra back to Dubai. I volunteered to run through security before my family to buy time with employees at the plane's gate.
A man started to fish through my raggedy Timberland travel backpack as the other men looked down in order not to spot anything inappropriate. The bag itself is somewhat inappropriate for a lady. But like a baby's blanket, of great nostalgia and with remnants of dirt from backpacking all sorts of foreign places, I refuse to let it go. 
        "It's not my choice, ma'am."
        "Sir, I'm peaceful and I just like nail polish.  And I’m late. I swear, if it was harm I was after, I'd find a means other than nail polish," I exclaimed in a bit of an American-frequent-flyer-frustration.
        "Lady, it's not in my hands."
        “A’alek Allah, make it quick.” Being in Iraq, it takes me a day or so to adjust to being appropriately straightforward, as people tend to be around here. If I'd asked USA's TSA to please speed up, I highly doubt the reaction would be as chill as that of the Basra International TSA guards.
I excused the gentleman from his search and started to dig maniacally. The peanut gallery went awry, "ma'am ma'am--slow down" one of the eight men said. By this point, I didn’t care what they saw, as long as I wasn’t stuck in Basra for the next 4 days. As much as I loved it, I wanted to be home so bad.
"Found them! Please, Amu, give these nail polishes to a family member with manners as high as yours, and I am proud you are doing your job!” I yelled genuinely as I ran off past ghost terminals to barely make it onto my flight. Finally, I arrived to my gate.
That's when it happened. The moment of realization. There I stood at the gate, and the moment happened to a Beach House track blaring through my headphones into my ears: I was one foreigner of many in sheep’s clothing. Looking native as ever, I stood along side 3 Africans, a handful of Chinese guys, an Italian, and an immodest amount of Caucasian men. The terminal was flush with ethnicities, but was I as native as I appeared? I’m not sure I will ever know. 

"observe the wonders as they occur around you. don't claim them. feel the artistry moving through, and be silent." rumi


thesis download

My beautiful followers,

I have received several requests to check out my thesis that I keep referring to. For a free link to a digital copy, email me at I am happy to share the 100 pages of goodness.

You should be able to preview online here

Layla Shaikley

mama's alma matter

A whole afternoon of mama walking around and talking about what this premiere university used to be and memories of boys chasing her in the school cafeteria. Baghdad U's Dental School.

the dystopian [non]fiction ii

Exterior view of al-Faw

Interior image pre-war. Source unknown.

Interior image post-war. Source unknown.

       Despite the cramped and filthy hole where Saddam was captured, he was the owner of many lavish and garish palaces. 8 presidential compounds have been listed by the UN, containing grandiose mansions with guest villas, huge office complexes, warehouses, garages, man-made lakes and waterfalls, gardens, marble rooms, and many other luxuries. Saddam's holdings included a thousand buildings spread out over 12 square miles (Cambridge, Mass is 6.4 square miles). 
     In a boat tour of Basra, along with water buffalo (COOL!) and farmers, we were able to boat past Saddam's Al-Faw palace, feeding into my sick curiosity of how he lived. One palace of 99. This palace, in particular, was inhabited by the British military upon their arrival to Basra. U.S. Commanders also inhabited the palace's 62 rooms and 29 bathrooms. The British, who had hold of the ancient port city, left the palace to Iraqi government officials. 
      In 2008, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki discussed turning this palace into the Basra Museum.

basra med

Dr. Thamer shows mama his photo as Dean of Basra Med

College entrance

Mohammed looks at a book by Dr. Thamer with Dr. Thamer

The lab

Lecture hall


                Deans in Iraq are the equivalents of Lindsay Lohans in LA. They are the Eric Schmidts of Silicon Valley. As we left our hotel, a group of twenty somethings stopped us. "Hi doctor," said the boys as their eyes humbly met the floor. Each boy shook our host's hands and continued on. Our host and a good friend of Baba's replied respectfully.  At a restaurant, the waiter who seated us did a double take, "hello professor." 
               Approaching strangers is relatively standard in the land I am most familiar with. Ashton Kutcher goes to Mr. Chow to be photographed by paparazzi. However, rather than directing praise towards entertainment celebrities, Basra's superstar is none other than its Med School Dean Dr. Thamer Hamdan. 

"for the sake of the flowers, the weeds are watered"

          Our little armed boat tour. By this point, the guns didn't make me so uncomfortable.  I just read a Rumi poem that nailed this moment on this little old boat. Every object and being in the universe is
 a jar overflowing with wisdom and beauty--a drop of the Tigris that cannot be contained
 by any skin. Every jarful spills and makes the earth 
more shining, as though covered in satin. 

vernacular iraqi housing

Courtyard style house, with all program around open courtyard

       In our tour of Basra, our hosts offered to show us their grandparents' house. When they mentioned that it was of original Iraqi design, I jumped on the opportunity.

      With fine attention to culture and climate, vernacular Iraqi housing was more common before the British entered the country in the 20s. The house is based around an open courtyard, which mitigates extreme heat known to the country in the summer months.  The courtyard also provides a place for women and children to live in privacy. 

Living room upon main entry
     The house begins at a bent entrance, traditionally reserved for male guests who are not supposed to watch the female inhabitants live. The bent entrance leads to a courtyard, which has for many centuries, been the dominant element in the plan of the Iraqi house.  Excavations at Ur have shown similar courtyard houses dating back to 2,000 BC.

Outdoor kitchen

Stacked horizontal circulation

View from first floor down to courtyard

      Socially, the courtyard has met the need for private and secluded open space for family activities. This is dictated by religious-social criteria. 
      The courtyard is spatially the focal point of the home. It is the general and central space that every moment in the houses passes through, begins, and ends.  This space reduces circulation space within the house. This space also provides a place for children to play and be watched by their mother.

Column to roof detail

        Check out the timber studs too. The tree trunks span between walls to which timber boards are nailed, and two layers of woven reed mats are laid, followed by a layer of earth and finished with brick paving. The ceiling is made up of long timber boards with timber trims covering the butt joints. 

Interior of 1 of 17 rooms

     The roof is constructed the same way, but rather than earth layer there are two layers of a mud and straw mixture. 
       The roof is finished with brick paving or locally-produced cement tiles known as Kashi. 


   Back to the topic of Iraqi vernacular. Shanasheel on the external elevation are small and few in number to reduce heat gain in the summer and provide security against burglars. These windows are too high for passers-by to look in the house. 

Mass grouping of homes

Oriental courtyard houses are grouped in mass form to expose an absolute minimum area to the sun.  The groupings produce alleyways that are shadowed by external projections of the first floors and roofs of these houses.  These help keep the external environment cool in summer and protected against rain in the winter.  

     There is a definite hierarchical order in the formation of these alleyways.  Many enclose large blocks of houses, which are divided into smaller blocks by narrower alleyways that lead to closed alleyways (American equivalent: the cul-de-sac). The closed alleyways provide more security for inhabitants, as they exclude nearly all strangers and passers-by.   
     In the early 1930's, foreign architects arrived in Iraq who did not understand or appreciate the sustainability of this type of courtyard house plan, and a Western or Closed style house became introduced.

Sections drawing of courtyard style home