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I went to sit in the garden to peruse two different versions of the draft constitution. It was 7 pm and the electricity had just gone out for the sixth time that day. There was no generator because people usually allow their generators to rest during the evenings- the sun is on its way to setting so while it’s still light outside, the heat is bearable.
In the yards of most Iraqi houses, there is often an old, rusting swing large enough for three adults (or five children). The swing is usually iron with white, peeling paint, and its seat is covered with dusty mats or cushions so that one doesn’t rise from it with a grid-like pattern on ones backside from the crisscross of the thin iron bars.
Our summers and springs in Iraq revolve around those sofa-like swings or ‘marjuha’. As the summer comes to an end, Iraqis often have their evening tea outside in the garden, in the waning afternoon light, with plastic chairs gathered around the swing and a folding table in the center. At night, when the electricity goes out and the generator can’t be turned on, we gather outside and sit on the swing, careful to keep bare legs and feet high enough to avoid insects lurking in the grass.
When adults want to have a confidential conversation far from curious ears- you can find them out on the swing. During family gatherings, when the cousins want to hang out and gossip away from the prying eyes of their parents, they’ll be on the swing. Every family member has a photo on the swing- and every child has at some point fallen off of it.
So four weeks ago, I went out to the swing carrying two different versions of the draft constitution. Though the electricity had gone out, it was still too early to light the kerosene lamps indoors. After beating the dust out of the striped cushions and making myself comfortable, I began with the Arabic version of the constitution.
I had been reading for five minutes when a rustling sound in one of the trees caught my attention. It was coming from the ‘tooki’ tree near the wall separating our garden from our neighbor’s driveway. The tree is on our side of the wall, but more than half of its branches extend over to Abu F.’s side.
I don’t know the name for tooki in English, but it can best be described as a berry-like fruit. It’s either deep purple in color- bordering on black- or red or white. The fruit, when ripe, is both sweet and sour all at once. Our tooki tree is the red tooki type and while the fruit is lovely, it also stains everything it touches. Umm F. (Abu F.’s wife) constantly complains of it staining their driveway. Every once in a while, she revolts against the tree and attacks it, armed with a large pair of rusting hedge clippers.
This thought occurred to me as I focused on the rustling leaves and sure enough- a moment later- I saw the hedge clippers rise ominously from behind the wall clutched in a pair of hands. Snap, snap, crunch… and a medium sized branch fell towards their driveway.