I had arrived in Iraq to start a new teaching post. It was 3am and my new boss and his right-hand man didn't look like they wanted to be at a busy airport swarming with unruly, nonplussed security at that time of the morning. They quickly drove me to my new residence, a three-story building in the Czech Republic Embassy but rented out by my school, Amideast.
They wanted to greet me and say goodbye.
'Oh!’ said Imir shaking his head in disbelief he’d forgotten the most essential element, ‘There is your prayer mat.’ I turned my head, wondering what small print requisites I had committed myself to. Sitting on my "prayer table" was a 400-point thread count carpet. This was the holiest of holy personal effects. I wanted to say I didn’t know which way was up let alone the direction of Mecca but I didn’t want to further aimless conversation. There was no room left on my mental hard drive to deliver any customer service after two days of hard traveling.
They said their goodbyes with welcoming pats on my shoulders, bienvenues, rushboshes, با تشکر از شما برای آینده and strong-grip handshakes… this posting was for the benefit of both of us. My school and I could now proceed. And as their mud-spattered taillights on the Opel blinked and moved out of site, I was no longer as tired as I was. But it was but an hour until my first sunrise in Iraq.
The first prayer call is at 5:15am and across the flat rooftops of my suburb of Ainkawa, an inspired man broke the morning’s silence with a Koranic chant. It was a time of silhouettes, escaping the darkness, fading constellations, echoes, and prayer repetition, and all of this solidified a stunning welcome to my first time to the Middle East. A few minutes on, a rooster notified Ainkawa that it was time to get up and realize you are still in Iraq and that today might be the last day of the rest of your life.
On the Czech Consulate’s balcony, I sat on a worn old business chair beneath a sky of sweet air and a scattering of stars. I knew I wouldn’t sleep, so I made a large mug full of coffee. I packed my pipe with a blend of tobaccos; Cavendish, Dutch Regiment, and Red Bull. Orion was bathed in a curtain of daylight. He wouldn’t walk across our sky for another 14 hours. And what will happen between now and then? Nothing could ruin the day!
As I walked around the marble floors in my socks, the large stein of coffee I’d made fell. It threw 32 ounces of coffee in all directions. I surrounded my doorway as I saw it rapidly heading towards the stairs, which went three stories down to the living room. I was facing a messy disaster! I looked around at my unpacked luggage and frantically searched for towels or…
I am not sure how you make amends with Allah. I don’t know if you sacrifice a goat, reduce your carbon footprint, or stop pirating movies. I don't have 'Acts of Allah' coverage in my insurance policy.
But in an attempt to stop the coffee from spilling down three flights of stairs, I instinctively grabbed the prayer mat. I threw it into the puddle. It was soaked. I wrung it out and soaked it again before I realized what I had done. I had used the holiest material carpet in a whole damn country that saw it as a holy artifact, and I treated it like it was dirty underwear. I guess I'm lucky there was no Iraqi flag around.
I have an explanation, a reason, as well as an excuse. To the powers that be, but make no mistake; this was a mistake.