Wednesday, May 11, 2011

live from agrabah

Our hotel

Concrete barrier outside of the hotel

Hotel interior courtyard

Skylight in the daytime


Basra is home of many oil fields

 And the stark juxtaposition to Basra's surrounding urban fabric.

            Formerly the Sheraton, the concrete portion of the building had remnants of shrapnel hits during the worst of the war. Since then, a Turkish company invested $55 million in renovating the hotel, to be called Basrah International Hotel.
            We entered the hotel after a comprehensive bomb check to see a plethora of ethnicities and countries represented. Pardon me, but my reality check must have bounced. It's all business men and army personnel in the oil ample South. So bizarre. As my brother Mohammed shrewedly noted, our palace-esque hotel was probably the biggest target in town, and most likely the least safe.  "Take me to that old brick home with the fabric doors," he joked while pointing out of a majestic floor-to-ceiling window. 
I recalled a conversation that I had with a mentor/professor of mine just a few weeks ago. A Caucasian American, he had lived in Cairo and loved the "layers of history" in the urban fabric that the Emirates lacked.
I snapped a picture for him.  There I was, sitting on a plush chair. In front of me, a mahogany coffee table. Before that, a floor to ceiling glass wall, and a marble ledge. Before that, a stone embellished entrance that hosts Iraqi flags. Then, a gate. And, a 10' concrete wall. Then, a river walk from the 60s. Last, a river abundant with antiqued watercraft. Literally, layers of history.
 Remember Aladdin? The first and last movie that I saw with my baba at the theater. The movie from which my Halloween costumes throughout elementary were based off of (Princess Jasmine, FTW--like every other Middle Eastern girl I know).  Well, my childhood dream of really being Princess Jasmine became fulfilled while in Basra.
Forget Agraba, I feel like the Princess Jasmine of Basra, and I am not allowed to leave the prison gates. All the Basra folk talk about Baghdad like it's a death trap. Yet. I roamed the streets without problem there just a week ago! I even found a manicurist in the super-conservative Kadhimiyaa (it took me nearly 2 hours of salon hopping, but I did it! Every salon asked me if I was a bride, as good single girls in Kadhimiyaa would never walk around with painted nails).
         My sister Zayneb approached me. “This is weird--people look at us like we are superior because of our bodyguards and 5 star accommodations. I really don’t like it.”

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