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.


Don Cox said...

"If only it was a cannabis plantation instead of a rice plantation."____You could at least plant a small patch for convenience. ____As for the heat, cities generally tend to hold heat once the bricks warm up. And modern houses in Iraq don't seem to have the traditional cooling towers. I wonder why not?

Anonymous said...

Did they have an internet cafe at the farm, Shaggy?

-- Tilli (Mojave Desert)

snafoo said...

ahhhh... there's more to post... i'll finish it tomorrow perhaps.