“All my life I wanted to write but I couldn’t. I studied French literature, and my dream was to write what’s on my heart, but I couldn’t. I didn’t start writing till 2003, the year Saddam’s regime fail. Saddam was a policeman dwelling in my head, and I was scared to think on his presence; even if I was thousands of miles away from Iraq. ” Iraqi-American author Layla Qasrany writes about the various meanings conveyed by the place-name “Haditha, Iraq.”
Haditha, always on my mind!
What’s the first that thing comes to an English-language reader’s mind when hearing the name Haditha? Nothing but the November 2005 incident. Haditha, this beautiful town, is unfortunately associated with the bloody images of what the US Marines had done that year.
When you do a search on the web about Haditha , all you get is: Haditha killing, Haditha shooting, Haditha-Iraq war, the ghost of Haditha. The internet gives basic geographical facts on this Iraqi city such as its famous dam and data regarding this place, such as its location in al Anbar Province (240 kilometers west of Baghdad).
For me, the memories of Haditha go way beyond the killing; it’s such a fascinating town and it’s the people who make it that way. I was born in this peaceful place that lay along the banks of the mighty Euphrates River. My parents moved there from an Assyrian Christian village in northern Iraq in 1946. My father was a medic at the hospital in a camp that belonged to the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). The oil camp in Haditha was an important station for the pipeline that started in Kirkuk and ran through al Anbar Province where the pipeline got pumped before making its way to Haifa and Tripoli on the Mediterranean. A high percentage of IPC employees were from various Iraqi ethnic groups like Assyrians, Armenians, Kurds, and Turkmens who were accepted graciously by the locals.
The Hadithi doctors in the emergency room called my father “doctor” as a gesture of appreciation for his abilities with his magical hands. It seemed that every patient he treated went home healed! He was a deeply spiritual man and this best manifested itself in his work with the infirm.
It was there where I first learned to enjoy nature. It was there that I became accustomed to living near bodies of water and it is no coincidence that I now live along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. I explicitly remember the unique and calming sounds of the waterwheels that existed in Haditha and other parts of Iraq and Syria. Those who left this town decades ago still long for and fondly remember those indelible sounds. At home we lived an organic life where the only electrical device we had at home was a radio next to an oversized loud washer that my mother had for over thirty five years.
In Haditha, where people never locked their doors at night, is where I had a joyous childhood. I played with my sisters outside on hot afternoons till dusk. Moreover, I’ve learned from my sisters how to imitate a Hadithi bride and her Henna painted hands by crushing a variety of dry leaves to stain our own little hands. One time, we snuck into the neighbors’ wedding just to see the bride and the way she was seated atop of an elevated platform. I ran with my peers in the green fields and the stony desert. The sharp-edged caves were homes for foxes and in the narrow cracks wild purple desert flowers grew into plush nesting grounds for pigeons.
I was five when I asked my mother to buy me an abaya, the long black veil. For me, the Iraqi abaya was and will always be a symbol of femininity rather than a religious veil. Women wore sleeveless tops underneath it on hot summer days. When my mother finally got me one, I enjoyed wearing it until it caught fire one day as I foolishly wore it in the our backyard with my sister’s high heels (five sizes bigger than my own shoes) wishing to look like local women I normally saw in the market. Luckily, my mother snagged it from my head. That was the first and last abaya I ever had. I still long to have one.
The word Haditha in Arabic means “new” so every time someone mentions this ancient town, he or she speaks Arabic! It is believed that the Romans settled there since the waterwheel method and the canal system were used by the Romans for irrigation purposes.
I strongly believe that Haditha, in the near future, will be a tourist destination where ferries will be taking people from one bank of the river to the other for sightseeing. I can already imagine people sitting beside old bridges relaxing, drinking cardamom tea while listening to the sound of water falling off the old wooden waterwheels and small cruise ships are traveling down the river serving lavish dinners of grilled fish and local music playing in the background filled with sounds of the Arabic flute made of apricot trees.
Beautiful, historic Haditha, a town filled with peaceful and tolerant people–those are the ways I remember such a city. The rest of the world may have its own image of it, but I certainly have my own!
Layla Qasrany an Iraqi-American writer who published her first novel in Arabic (Sahdoutha) in 2011.