Monday, July 16, 2007

Back From The Plantation

If only it was a cannabis plantation instead of a rice plantation.

Last Tuesday at around midday Nahida's brother dropped Nahida and I at Allawi, supposedly there's been a direct Shamiya-Baghdad route running for the past two years. But we were too late and all that we found were minivans when we got there. Nahida's brother then dropped us off at the spot where the Diwaniya cars go and we agreed with a cab driver to take up the three rear seats to ourselves. We then had to wait for two more passengers to take up the two front seats. But anybody that approached us was then drawn to another cab driver with a people carrier car that was offering a better deal. After a long wait, Nahida went to check out the Shamiya spot and came back with a Shamiya driver. We then had to wait again for another two people to fill up the front seats. Eventually some strange guy showed up and Nahida convinced him to ride with us.

The dude was an interesting character he said he had escaped from Iraq during the Intifada and moved to Lebanon and spent thirteen years of his life there only to come back after the '03 war ended. He works as a contractor and hadn't been in Iraq for over a year. The poor guy kept on complaining about the heat and how half of the population have become cops or soldiers.

The road to Shamiya is a four hour pain (was a two hour drive before the war). We couldn't take the highway because it's considered too dangerous, instead we drove on two lane roads and passed through cities. We'd go through a jammed checkpoint every fifteen or thirty minutes. During the first half of the way we got caught behind a convoy of fuel trucks which slowed us down and caused a major jam whenever it reached a checkpoint.

We then got to Hilla and as the car came to a halt at a checkpoint the engine turned off and wouldn't start again. We pushed the car aside and understood from the driver that the fuel pump in his Caprice Classic (also known as a Dolpheen) needs to cool down. Well after a long wait, it still didn't work and we got a ride with another car to get us to Shamiya. There was one checkpoint that got on our nerves as the tattooed policeman insisted on thoroughly checking our luggage so as to insure messing everything inside up.

We got to Shamiya at around five o'clock. Fozzy picked us up in his car from the city. We saw a little progress on the new bridge that was contracted prior to the war, but had only begun after the war. On one end it faces an alley. It was the first time Nahida and I see the new tarmac road along our street that the Americans contracted. The first night was quite cool actually because for the first time in ages I got out at night and had tikka and narguila at a cafe by the river.

When we got back there was a pissed off farmer carrying a Kalashnikov. He had a go at Fozzy because his plot of land wasn't irrigated. I just watched the farmer yell at Fozzy whilst Fozzy's right hand man, Nabil, tried to calm the situation. I later understood from Fozzy that the farmer had missed his chance to irrigate and then had not followed up the work of the shovel guy in charge of irrigation to make sure he got some water earlier the same day.

I conveyed what I understood from Fozzy to my dad to ask him what should I of said in such a situation. Dad told me that I should express of my disapproval of such behaviour on behalf of the farmer. In a later phone call, he brought the subject up again, and took side with the farmer and told me that it's the irrigation manager's fault. We pay the irrigation manager to deal with this. And if a farmer gets so heated to come to Fozzy that it shows how much the farmer cares. Dad's already not happy with the irrigation manager and wants to get rid of him. So dad wanted me to make a big deal about it and form some kind of confrontation between the farmer and the irrigation manager and make it a point to show fault on behalf of the irrigation manager.

I then asked Fozzy and Nabil about the whole deal, and it turned out that the farmer in question is simply a trouble maker in the first place. And then when I conveyed the name of the farmer to my dad, he instantly scrapped all the fuss he wanted me to make.

The next day I tagged along Fozzy who had to pick up a receipt and give it to the warehouse next door so that some guys can pick up a batch of government subsidized fertilizers. After that Fozzy and I walked around town to look for a fan because the guys at the office that handed him the receipt asked for a fan. We picked one out and bought it the next day and gave it to them. We later then checked out a piece of junk that was become to a new irrigation pump and a new pipe that Fozzy had installed to separate our irrigation network from the 'agrarian reformed' network. The agrarian reform guys figured had figured out that they need not run their water pumps since ours were working and fed into their network so Fozzy had a pipe installed to get their water go through our network without mixing.

After dropping off the fan, some guy who had participated in the installation of the our mill took us to a neighbouring city to check out some mill machinery imported from China. Fozzy really wants us to upgrade to the new stuff because the milling machines we have are terribly out-dated. But last year my dad was reluctant to upgrade. Perhaps I'll be able to convince my dad to upgrade, but there's no rush yet. And it shouldn't be too hard to convince dad considering one new production line would mill rice twice as fast as the four production lines we already have and with far fewer workers.

The government gives batches of unmilled rice that it has purchased from farmers at a heavily subsidized price to private mills. The size of the batch is based on the number of production lines (not on capacity) and guarantees in the form of real estate. Once a mill has processed that certain quantity, it may try to get a second and then a third batch until the government has no more rice to milled.

This nearby city's plantations were so much nicer than ours. The river there was wider and nearly touched the edged of the land. We sat and listened to the guy's selling the milling machines in their home and there was talk about the government, Fozzy wanted to see if there was anything indicating any change in government policy in the milling industry, I think the answer was no. The government wouldn't do anything to piss off the farmers even more because they are the main support base. Apparently this year's scam on the government was done by selling rice imported from Iran to the government. We wound up having lunch at there. I didn't imagine I would've been caught in the lunch trap so early in my stay. But fortunately it wasn't too bad, even though it was fish. And I don't like the fish there. But I do like tuna.

The weather in these parts are a few degrees cooler than Baghdad. And I guess the humidity from the irrigation that's taking place helps too. From now till September the plantations will go through three or four phases of irrigation. Each plot of land is bordered on two sides by streams. One stream feeds water into the plot that is slightly slanted so that the water then runs off into the drainage stream on the other side. However on the last phase in September the drainage stream is closed off and the water is left still on the plot. It's when the that water is left still that the mosquito spawning begins in earnest. Will try to avoid going there in September.

It's during this summer period of irrigation that the government makes it a point to give more electricity to the plantations so to run the irrigation pumps (this was practiced before the war too). I never did count the number of hours that we got over there but it was much better than anything we have been getting in Baghdad in a long time. It might have been something like ten hours a day. But even with ten hours of electricity we're still dependent on running our pumps on diesel too. We've got a couple of one hundred year old British water pumps there that used to run on some obsolete form of petrol that's been converted to run on diesel. It makes a sweet choo choo sound when it runs.

The increase of electricity during this period does create a suspicion that the government chooses not to supply the same amount of electricity the rest of the year. I asked how come the municipality doesn't get some major generators and just hook up the people with electricity that way. I was told that that was tried in Najaf but the Najaf government couldn't get its hands on the diesel to run the generators.

I spoke to dad everyday whilst I was there. He would re-iterate what I'd have to get done and ask how far I've got. And I'd ask him about the situations that I'd see unfold before me. So at this point, I hadn't started on any of the things I was supposed to do. Fozzy handed me a bunch of deeds that I tried to make some sense out of. Then Fozzy took me to meet the lawyer, one of two people that my dad told me to meet to get the ownership of plots transferred to me. The lawyer ran me through the steps of red tape required to do the transfer. I'd have to get a new version of the deed from the local surveyor's office and then make a request that then has to be taken to another 2 local government offices and then finally to a regional office.

There was a nice guy at the lawyer's office a few years older than me who jotted down the steps in more detail and told me a bit about his experience transferring a couple of plots. He told me it took him about six months to get them done. And at this point I'm imagining that I've got a hundred of such deeds. The lawyer also explained to me that the government offices don't have the capacity to process more than a hundred and fifty applications a month, so I'd have to do them in small batches. From the start the lawyer suggested that I only transfer the plots whose value outweigh the cost of processing. But I explained that so far the idea is to do all of them for now.

The day after I saw the other person that my dad told me to see in his home. My dad had told me this guy who works at the surveyor's office was going to be more valuable to me than the lawyer in so far as getting things done. This guy also started off with the idea that I shouldn't bother transferring all of the plots to my ownership but that rather there were a few big ones and that he'd have them done for me in a week as soon as he gets back from his 'Omrah' trip in two weeks but in the meantime I could get a new version of the deeds of those plots. The Omrah trip, like the Hajj involves going to Mecca but not during Ramadhan or the Hajj time of year. Luckily the other guest at his house was an employee in the same office and offered to help me out too, because we're all related.

I was introduced to a lot of people whilst I was there, something which I dislike because I'm terrible at learning people's names. And the people I was introduced to were, more often than not, related to me. It got really silly at one point when I was shopping for some snacks and cigarettes and as I walked out of the shop Fozzy told me that the shop keeper was my relative too. The nice effect of this is that everybody's nice to me. Fozzy expressed his surprise to find the people at the bank acting a little nicer than expected to me. Bank employees are usually unfriendly and strive to be as unhelpful as possible, but instead they had me sit down under the air-conditioner to talk and joke with me. I guess it falls down to the novelty of me.

After I had open a current and savings account I asked one of the employees to do a 'taghviya' thing for me. A paper that authorizes that bank to withdraw money from my deposit account if my current account doesn't have enough funds to honour a check I've written. The employee told me to forget about it so I went to the manager. The bank manager said he had thought that I had opened only a current account because he hadn't signed the savings account form and then he pressed a buzzer. He explained to me that he hadn't a sample so that he may write one up for me. What ticked me off was that I did take a partial sample of it when I had opened the bank accounts in Baghdad but had forgotten it. But I was glad I got out of the office before one of the employees came in to get told off by the manager.

Any ideas I've had about marrying a farmer girl there has been struck off. I have now understood that over there a groom meets his wife the day of the wedding.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Summer Laziness

Peacefully bored, or just about. There's a subtle feeling of anticipation nagging somewhere in my head. It's nearly four in the morning. For the past few days, I've had Miz and Mos sleeping over and I've been messing up my sleeping schedule. I now wake up around two in the afternoon or even later. I might go out tomorrow, out of the house that is. I wonder how long I've been house bound. Can't be more than three days. I went to the bank didn't I.

Nahida wants to go and take the generator to someplace on the other side of the city to get it repaired. It's a chance to take my laptop to the repair shop to, but I'm hesitant to take it there. Nahida tells me that there's an internet cafe at the farm. That might not be true, but it's about time that they do have one. An internet cafe might also mean that there would also be a wireless internet provider. I still wonder how long I'm going to last over there. Why does that place have to be so dirty and everybody so conservative. That place needs an untraditional upper class or to be exposed to foreigners perhaps.

My uncle's going off to meet up with my dad in Lebanon tomorrow. He's finally going to leave. I don't know if he plans to move back in or not after he comes back, but I don't want to ask either, because that could be interpreted as inviting him to. After he does, I've got draw up some plans to avoid him from moving back in when he comes back from there. Such as instructing Nahida to turn off the generator line when he comes back and telling him it doesn't work anymore. Another idea would be to collect all the stuff that he's left behind in a big box and have it ready so that when he comes knocking in the door I'd be able to hand it over to him and make up some excuse why he can't come in.

I can't believe that it's been two weeks since my summer holiday began. And I haven't begun any of the plans I had to make the most of my summer. I haven't even bothered to print out those Arabic verbs I need to memorize or go to the swimming pool. I was hoping Miz would come along with me but he doesn't want to pay the annual membership fee. And I missed all my chances, which weren't that many, to go with my uncle. He doesn't like the outdoor pool and the indoor pool is supposedly under maintenance. Nahida's having trouble getting in touch with my Arabic tutor which is odd. My other idea was to start studying some maths. I'll take my math book with me to the farm and see if I can find a math teacher there to tutor me in my free time. What I need to do is get a piece of paper and write this stuff down to make it happen. Things are easier to get done if I write them down. Today I did complete the third chapter of eight of Super Paper Mario so at least I'm getting something done.

The oldest friend, the only one that I've remained in touch with from my days in Paris got married today. He got married in Lebanon and invited me over since it's nearby to Iraq so I told him I'd try to come, but then told him I couldn't make it. I felt guilty over that. And the same thing is happening with K who's getting married in Germany and unlike everyone else I don't have the visa excuse. And as much as I'd like to attend both, I'm broke. It seems like it's one of those odd ways that life's trying to pressure me to get to work. I've got to take over that damn smelly farm.

Why does Nahida want to go out tomorrow... tomorrow's the day with the most traffic. It's the day that most employees go to work for appearances sake. She says it's evens tomorrow, Miz called later telling me that tomorrow's odds. And it's not really that hot outside except when you're stuck in a traffic jam of which there will be plenty of tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I was planning to be at the farm by now, but I'm still in Baghdad. And Nahida tells me she spoke to my dad and delayed my trip a few more days. My dad's been speaking to me a lot recently, lecturing me about the farm and telling me what I must do.

So far I've got two objectives, the first is to start transferring ownership of my dad's plots of lands to me. I didn't think that was a big deal until I had a look at the maps and my dad explained to me that he has an inheritance share in so and so sectors and each sector is split up into many smaller plots and each of these plots has an individual title deed whose ownership is shared among the inheritors of my grandfather. It looks like there's over a hundred of these little plots. It's starting to look like quite a big project on its own.

The second objective is to start taking over the farm accounts from the manager and to run some sort of petty cash account for him. What's surprising about this is that my dad's finally going to trust me with vast amounts of money. Today I opened bank accounts in Baghdad and when I go to the farm I'll have to open a couple of accounts there too. And then I'm supposed to take account of the manager's expenses and feed his petty cash fund at the end of every month. I wonder if this really means that Nahida and her husband would no longer be in charge of handing me my pocket money.

Whilst I was there I asked how does a bank make a profit. The bank manager explained to me that because of the security situation the bank does not rely on loans to make generate revenue but instead makes deposits at the central bank which gives the bank a higher rate of interest than the bank gives out to its customers with deposit accounts.

Well summer's started, and I have begun to spend money a bit more freely. I got myself a Japanese modded Wii a couple of days ago for 390 bucks from the only shop that sells them. Nintendo is not popular in Iraq, the reason according to the guy at the shop was that there never are any great football titles on Nintendo systems.

The Wii's great fun, the games work fine and are in English. But since the thing is Japanese the Wii menus are in Japanese and there's no choice to switch the menu language to English and it seems I won't be able to make any use of any of the online functionality. And after I slapped in a game the console performed an update, and I'm no longer able to access the settings menu.

It takes the piss that the manuals are in Japanese too. I'm wondering how in the world am I going to get some Wii and DS interoperability going on, or if that's even possible. I've even the read that that Wii points, the credit system to make online purchases, are region specific. I'm thinking that I might some day sell this one and then buy a legal Wii.

So far I've got 5 games: Wii Play, NFS Carbon, Mario Strikers Charged Football, Super Paper Mario, and Zelda. The games are a dollar and a half each. There is a bright side to having a modded Wii. The one game I'm looking forward to now is Mario Party 8, but I've yet to get more Wiimotes. The shop owner was only willing to sell me one but for nearly 50 bucks. Maybe I could get my dad to send some to me from Lebanon.

In the mean time I should start trying to figure out how to get in touch with my feelings. Maybe, I should try to get down and start meditating. Shut up the chattering monkey in my head.