Before he went crazy and thought he was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Saddam Hussein did some pretty okay things; minus the murdering people, minus the bloodshed, minus robbing people of their families. In Iraq, education was free. Health care was free. People could study abroad if they wanted to, all expenses paid. Every citizen was guaranteed a paying job. Back in the seventies, before the wars and all that sh-t, as my mother says, Iraq was a great place to live. Minus the fear of saying the wrong thing and dying an untimely death.
The other day, my mother called me in hysterics. "Our land! Baghdad! A--hole!" She usually greets me with "Where are you? Are you dead?" If I fail to answer her calls immediately, I've been raped and murdered by an old boyfriend who dumped me in an incinerator so as to cover his tracks. She watches a lot of Lifetime and Investigation Discovery.
"Your what?" I said. "Our land!" she said. "Someone tried to steal our land!" My parents left Iraq thirty years ago, and apparently, from what I learned in this conversation, still own a plot of land there, courtesy of Saddam Hussein. Apparently he had given everyone who had a PhD from abroad a plot of land at a discount. My mother loves discounts.
I went to an Ivy League school and all I got was a fat bill from Sallie Mae.
I'd never heard about this plot of land, so my first thought was Vacation Place. After all, our family has only timeshare in Cape Cod -- I mean how many times can a person visit the potato chip factory? Or play mini golf? After a minute of fantasizing, I realized that 1.) Summer vay-cay in Baghdad is not a viable possibility and 2.) This land was just one more thing my mother forgot she had bought. Why was she so upset? She has so much crap, as my father says, crap that she doesn't even need. But then I realized something. When you almost lose something you forgot you even had, you are allowed to be upset. Especially if it's a piece of your homeland.
I told my mother to relax, that it was by the fate of God -- not that I'm religious but such bold statements usually work in times of high anxiety -- that she found out this news. It was fate that her sister, who still lives in Baghdad, was looking to claim her husband's inheritance, fate that her lawyer knew of my parents' land and said it was almost sold but that the seller could not provide the proper identification. Between me and me, I was shocked that after all this time the land was still there, fully in tact. Doesn't it have like a residual tank or something just sitting on it?
But no, the land was still there. Ready to be sold. "This a--hole was a PhD just like us! That's how he faked everything!" Recently my parents told me to get a PhD. Shoot for the stars, they said. I gloated about this sudden shift in all they thought was right with the world and asked her how much this PhD jerk was going to get for the land. "Almost a quarter of a million dollars," she said.
Wow. Maybe I should get a PhD.
I told her to get herself on the next plane to Baghdad. She agreed -- she wants to find the PhD a--hole and wring his neck. But her mother, who also still lives there, refuses to allow her to come. She'll take care of it. She doesn't want my mother to come to Baghdad. Surely she will die.
I've heard that any war has lots of casualties. But who knew that the life you never had could be one of them?
My parents often say Iraq is gone. Just gone. And while they do not say this with such sadness -- they are amidst trying to get the rest of our family out of Baghdad and into our home in New Jersey. I don't know which is worse, honestly -- I see what they mean. And it's not the tear-jerking 'take me back to my homeland, this is where I belong' schtick. After all, my father is soft-spoken and docile and my mother wears mini-skirts and buys me wine. They are not exactly typical Arabs.
For my parents, Iraq was on its way to being gone long before its war with America. For me, it's a shame its leader had to be so crazy, and that our leader had to be so crazy too. And while we may never go back to Iraq, at least we know part of us is still there.
Unless someone who thinks he's really smart tries to steal it again.