February 29th - Bubble Riots
01 Mar 2004
More from the camp at Al-Sha'ala and a circus in the home for disabled people.
Marwa pointed to a young man, his arm in a sling, a striped towel wrapped around a plaster cast. “My brother,” she said. A pile of bullets on the ground, Sattar explained that you can melt them and sell the brass for 500 – 1000 Dinar per kilo. You can scavenge them anywhere. A few days ago, while he was working on one, it blew up and took his finger with it. A finger’s cheap enough though, when 500 Dinar a kilo is your only income. At the current exchange rate, a pound is worth just over 2000 Dinar and a dollar a bit less than 1500.

The kids ran out shouting ‘boomchucka’. There’s a tiny boy called Hussein whose head was bandaged the first time I went to Al-Shuala, in November. He was shy, scared of me, scared of noise, scared of crowds, hiding behind his mum. Yesterday he came running and hugged me, held the parachute and shook it, shouted and begged to be the mouse.

In the middle of it all, Abbas sat in his dad’s arms, the burns on his legs either scabbed over or healed. In his eyes there’s still surprise that so much pain was possible but he gave me a gorgeous smile. It cost 42000 Dinar [about 18 pounds] altogether, in taxi rides, the doctor’s fee and medicine to save Abbas’s leg. Abu Ahmed wanted Peat to go to Abbas’s dad and tell him exactly how much money he paid, because there was a rumour that he gave Abu Ahmed $100. There’s so much leftover suspicion that we have to be really careful to do everything in the open.

The doctor hasn’t been for over a month now. There used to be one every two weeks, through the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, but the woman who sorted it out has left the country and the doctor stopped coming. It only costs 500Dinar to be seen by a doctor in the hospital, but the cost of a taxi there makes it impossible to go and, in any case, they couldn’t pay for the medicine.

The area that used to be a lake of waste water is now completely drained and they’ve been able to take in the entire compound so there are no toxic ponds left at all. Still most families are quite a walk from a water source. There’s one tap in the roofless farm building where some have made homes and one beside the bit of empty ground where we played with the kids, where they hope to build the school: 5 classrooms, 3 toilets .

“If we have a school then it will be our village. No one can take it away from us then. We will fight for it,” said Abu Ahmed.

Enfants Du Monde, a French NGO that’s been here for years, even during the sanctions, opened a new orphanage a few days ago. The girls from another EdM house have moved into the new place, some more girls have joined them and some more boys moved into the old place. We did a show at the opening. A few days after, we were playing parachute games with the girls from the orphanage next door, on a patch of grass outside. We wanted to include the girls from the new house but the manager of the place we were working said no. It was impossible. The girls next door had been street children.

When you first walk into the home for disabled people in Al-Adamiya, it looks pleasant and colourful. The manager evidently cares about the kids and women there, it’s clean, there are pictures on the wall. But there are 58 staff altogether, working in 3 shifts, an average of less than 20 workers per shift for 110 residents. There are boys aged 4-18 and girls and women from 4 years into old age, suggesting a need for more intensive supervision than that.

Every day is different but this was differenter than most. Some of the kids and women have disabilities that are only physical and not so severe but others are almost completely unresponsive. With so few staff and resources there’s not much stimulation. They try to teach the kids to eat and use the toilet properly, if they can, but little more. There’s no education, no therapy, no rehabilitation. The staff can barely keep up with the most basic needs of the most helpless; can’t even start with supporting anyone to fulfil whatever potential they do have.

It meant there was a row of youngsters in wheelchairs lining the walls of the courtyard and a small bombardment of wild children desperate for our attention, grabbing at the juggling clubs, the music box, the broom, us. There’s one who bites. There’s another who made Peat wish he didn’t have a beard. A couple of kids were pushing another in his wheelchair. It was only when I saw it parked at a bizarre angle, making his knees point at the sky and tipping his head back, that I realised his chair only had 3 wheels.

A dark skinned girl in a nightdress had green snot encrusted on her face and didn’t want to let go of me. A little boy sat half hidden behind someone else’s wheelchair, overwhelmed. When everyone else was distracted, I sat quietly beside him for a bit, pulled a few faces, tickled his belly and blew some bubbles. By the time we were bundled by the other mobile kids, he was giggling.

Sam had lost his mobile phone and was quite annoyed about it all morning. By the time we finished the show and escaped to the dressing cupboard it didn’t seem to matter anymore.