New Year’s Eve of 2016 felt eschatological in Baghdad. Good won over evil. Victory was in the atmosphere. Iraq borders reshaped. Iraq declared Thursday 31st a national holiday after a triumphal success over ISIS in Ramadi. A political joyfulness and New Year’s fireworks filled the air. I was one of a small group celebrating New Year’s Eve in Baghdad. People felt the greatest New Year’s Eve in Baghdad in the last 40 years.
Around 9pm, I packed my backpack with 1.75 liters of Absolut Vodka bottle and dozens of Indian Tonic cans and left my room. The sky was clear after the previous rainy day. Stars were visible. I walked on mud and between puddles of filthy water to a place sequestered between 12 feet T-Walls. A trailer converted into a bar and an outside fireplace we’re protected between those walls. And in a land where it is customary to have celebratory gunfire, I started the last bonfire of 2015 out in the open hoping for a safe night with friends and co-workers.
The cacophony of our music and the sound of helicopters landing and taking off continued all night. It was hard to believe that a possible retaliation attack by ISIS could occur any second. Death is always present in Iraq.
Drinks became our escape from the omnipresent dust and everyday working in Baghdad. As we fed the fire, we spent the night sharing stories, news and discussed future possibilities. Some of us smoked cigars while sitting and feeling like kings. All of us missed loved ones. FaceTime and Viber had different meanings – an anti-loneliness antidote.
The military blimp balloon reminded me of “The World Is Yours” scene from the Scarface, and somewhere around my seventh Vodka-Tonic with impulse, I climbed the stairs over one of the nearby trailers overlooking the airport and a few taxied airplanes on the terminals. I danced on the sound of the Arabic Music while getting a few glimpses of the view, asking myself, “how far will I fly?”…from Baghdad to Chicago, from Arabness into Englishness, from Iraq-ism to American-ism. It was a vast distance that fate agency took me to battle destiny vs. choice.
The feel of fixing another drink took me down. Talking to friends and listening to music, a fantasy of ordinary life, I wished I were at an Assyrian party in Chicago, Dubai, Cannes…anyplace with someone I love and where photography is allowed. I missed celebrating New Year’s Eve with family and friends, and I promised myself this would be my last one in Iraq.
We all gathered around the fire near the count down. Someone brought a big bottle of champagne and opened it at midnight. We hugged, danced, and welcomed the New Year. But starting the New Year without kissing the red lips of someone I love made me feel lonely.
In the early hours of 2016, my mind started to ask questions for the future. I look at the galaxy above; a line came to mind from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses Novel “the fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one.” To that, I toast, let the charm of the new hour bring a new promise to our one-time existence to make it stupendous!
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