A Day In Baghdad

Between the Tigris River and Mutanabbi Street: Brownbook spends a day exploring the charms of Baghdad


Rima Alsammarae


Ayman al-Amiri & Ammar Shamary


Staring at the Tigris, you can really go deeper and deeper into the past; it evokes hundreds of years

When we began working on this issue, a number of concerns were raised. We wondered, for one, what we would find due to the current situation. Our goal has been to explore today’s Baghdad, from music to street culture to coffeehouse etiquette. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the everyday life of the capital with the hope of emerging with an honest portrayal of life outside of conflict. Fortunately, such a goal was easy to accomplish.

Throughout our research process, we spoke with various Iraqis and other visitors to Baghdad, each of whom represent the different walks of life inherent to the city. Of the countless conversations we had, whether with singers, café owners, poets or photographers, the Tigris never seemed far away. It stayed, like a protective friend, on the corner of every dialogue waiting to jump in and guide the conversation.

From family picnics to Baghdad’s rowing club, its waterways are a backdrop to weekend getaways, daily athletics and a morning cup of qahwa. ‘The Tigris itself offers the poet many emotions, pictures and colours,’ says the poet Nabeel Yasin. ‘At night, if you cross the bridge, you can see the lights reflected on the river, on the water.’

The legend of the Tigris flows beyond Iraq’s borders, too. For the Iraqi diaspora, the river provides a sense of continuity – for as long as it flows, a sense of return is held. And for many living outside of the country’s borders, the idea of returning to Iraq, to Baghdad, provides endless comfort.

Others, too, sense this overwhelming pull. ‘I left Iraq on July 12th, 1978… leaving behind my family who didn’t know that I intended not to return. But 25 years later, almost to the day, I did come back,’ said Azzam Alwash. It’s this constant reel of memories, whether real or imagined, that for many of us replays again and again, transporting us to the banks of our beloved river.

As Yasin put it, ‘Staring at the Tigris, you can really go deeper and deeper into the past; it evokes hundreds of years.’

This article appears in Brownbook’s January/February 2016 issue.

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