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Sab'a Nissan, Al-Samawa, Iraq

Al-Samawa Reviews

vicIII vicIII
345 reviews
"Ma'alesh!" - "Take It Easy!" May 18, 2017
I worked in the Soviet technical assistance group that used to work at Samawa cement factory built by the Soviet Union in 1978-79. The group members stayed in a city quarter called "Sab'a Niss'an" ("April 7th"). The place is on the southern outskirts of the city of Samawa in the south of Iraq.

It was a privilege for us to have our own library there, of course. We had the books that remained from the construction team that had worked in the area five years before us.

The place where we lived on the outskirts of the city could be called "an open camp". We had our own open-air movie theater, a library and three apartment houses. We did all the maintenance of all premises and of our apartment houses ourselves.

As to the movies, they were all brought from the Soviet Embassy in Baghdad where we, an interpreter and a group representative, used to go on business every other week.

Most people coming to Iraq do not speak Arabic. As for me, I stayed there for a year and managed to learn a couple of phrases necessary for everyday life, especially those intended for shopping. Those phrases were in a local dialect for it’s no use studying different Arabic phrase books.

The classic Arabic is an ancient language dating back to the times of Prophet Mohammed. It exists in the press and in books. The dialect Arabic is typical for every country and even for separate regions of a country.

The Iraqis showed their innate inquisitiveness, need for communication, gift for languages and good ear for music. They could repeat any spoken Russian word or phrase almost without any accent. When it was my turn to repeat Arabic words and phrases, I could hardly repeat simple phrases in Arabic.

If you speak some Arabic, study the Iraqi dialect showing your sincere desire to master the language, the Iraqis will lend you a helping hand immediately, even if they have some urgent business to do. They will gather around you and train Arabic sounds patiently with you supporting your effort in every way without any mockery or irritation, but with sincere desire to help and a merry joke. They will advise you to speak Arabic as much as you can.

The Arabic language is closely connected with gestures. Sometimes a gesture can be understood without any words. So three fingers put together as a pinch and turned upwards mean: “wait a minute”, “take your time” (in Arabic “dakicka”).

If you address a man busy with something he will show you “dakicka” without interrupting his business, which means, “just a minute, I will be free in a moment”. But even if you have some urgent business, do not be so naïve as to believe this minute fully corresponds to the astronomic minute. For example, having finished his business, the man you addressed can take his things and leave showing you the same “dakicka”.

You are waiting patiently when the promised minute will pass, then wait five more minutes and begin to wonder if Mr.So-and-so is going to come back soon. You may hear that Mr.So-and-so will be back soon,”inshallah”, that is, “if Allah desires”.

You begin to think that “dakicka” is a loose concept with the Iraqis and keep asking your questions. A messenger comes to tell you only one word: “bucher”, which means “tomorrow”. So the “dakicka” means a day… Don’t think your study of Arabic is over now. You have to understand what “bucher” means.

The next day early in the morning you hurry to the office of Mr.So-and-so being absolutely sure you will see him by all means that day before he disappears somewhere “for a while” (“dakicka”). Coming to his office you do not see the man. After half an hour of waiting you hear another comforting “bucher”. It turns out that Mr.So-and-so left to see his sick relative last night.

Tomorrow will never come. It’s your fault that you have wasted your time and nerves. Nobody wanted to offend you by direct refusal. You should have understood it yourself. After the first “dakicka” was shown you should have said merrily, “Fine, see you tomorrow, then” and leave.

So it’s better to wait. The problem will be solved by itself somehow or will disappear altogether. Everything will be fine, “inshallah”! In this case the Iraqis say simply,”ma'alesh”. Whatever happens, “ma'alesh”, which means “Never mind”, “Take it easy”, and "No problem”.

Iraqi men are good mixers. They often walk in groups of five or more and spend much time in bars or open-air cafes drinking tea or beer, talking and observing the crowd of people.

Tea is the favorite drink of Iraqis. They drink it everywhere and any time. It is made in small kettles. Iraqis drink their tea very strong and sweet in small istakans (glasses). Wherever you come – to a company, a bank, an office, a workshop – you will be offered a small glass of hot strong tea. You will have to get used to that strong tea. An Iraqi drinks from six to eight glasses of tea a day, not more.

You don’t have to praise tea, but if you have already drunk it somewhere, you can’t refuse a glass of tea. Just pretend that you take a sip of tea stirring it with your spoon. Tea drinking is the first bridge to intercourse with unfamiliar people in Iraq.

Practically in every office or a private workshop, on every street or lane there is a tea-maker, a man who makes and carries tea. He is called “abushie”, that is “father of tea”. He serves the office-workers and customers. You do not have to order tea. It will be brought to you two or three minutes after you come to a company or a workshop.

Liquors are means of intercourse too, but only after work in the evening. I remember anisette that is called “arak” in Iraq. They drink it with ice and dilute it with water, which gives the drink milky coloring.

If you sit in a pub where at first several groups of people can be seen, you will be surprised to see them merge into one big group lively talking and discussing things. After the locals see you are a foreigner, they will start speaking “English” with you and will ask you by all means how you like it there. The attitude to foreigners must have changed within the last ten years. I believe it’s more watchful now.

The Arab greeting is worth mentioning, too. It’s quite different from what we got used to: short greeting and a business talk at once or parting. During my stay in Iraq I observed Iraqi greetings.

After the traditional “Assalam alaykum” (“Peace to you!”) there is a dialog where the Iraqis clear up questions about each other’s health and the health of all relatives. Then the interlocutors begin to clear up general state of things and mood, with due interest and attention without any haste. It would be simply impolite not to ask the established number of questions about health and mood. Complications and troubles are not discussed or spoken about.

The Iraqis always answer the question “Shlyonak?” (“How are you?”) by “Zehn” (Very well”), even if they are in trouble indeed. They keep saying,”inshallah” (“Everything is in the hands of Allah!”).

The long procedure of mutual questions can suddenly be interrupted by another question, “Shlyonak, aynee?” (“How are you, the apple of my eye?”), which does not mean you have to repeat your previous answers about your health, mood, relatives, etc. You can just begin to wish your interlocutor good luck and success mentioning Allah and asking Him to help in fulfillment of your wishes (“inshallah!”) So if you want to establish contacts with Iraqis, mind your own business, don’t be hasty in a conversation, be patient, learn to greet people in the Arabic way and adopt the Arabic unhurried manner of intercourse.

Unhurried manner in speech and in gestures is perhaps the main distinguishing features of the Iraqis. Too bad the situation is so tense nowadays that traveling to Iraq is out of the question to many people. I am glad I had a chance of staying in Iraq for an year and studying the habits and ways of that faraway mysterious country.
The Tigris at Samawa
Where I was in Iraq
The map with administrative divisi…
1 / 1 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
maykal says:
The endless greetings and the concepts of dakika and bukra sound very similar to Sudan!
Posted on: May 21, 2017
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vicIII vicIII
345 reviews
Land of Two Rivers May 19, 2017
Iraq, the Land of Two Rivers, has a long history and great traditions. It has a tremendously varied landscape - from the palm groves of the central and southern plains to the snow-clad mountains of the north. Iraq is also called the cradle of civilization. It has a lot of ancient sites, among them Babylon and Ur.

I have never planned visiting Iraq, but, as they say, all roads lead to Baghdad. According to the old tradition of our foreign languages college, at the end of my studies I was recommended to work as an interpreter in a developing country. Such a recommendation was issued every year to encourage several successful graduates of the college. Not everybody got a job abroad afterwards, though, but my file worked then. I was told in August that I had been selected. I was given the address of a Soviet technical assistance company in Moscow where I was to arrive at the end of September.

Therefore, my knowledge of English came in handy, and I got a decent job in Iraq right after my graduation from the teacher-training institute of foreign languages in 1982, which was a miracle in those times, for you could not even dream of getting such a well-paid and honorable job abroad! I was not even a Communist party member to be able to apply for such a job. I am glad I was selected and I think I managed to do everything that was in my powers fulfilling my job duties.

I spent a year in Iraq working as an interpreter at a cement plant built by the Soviet Union in the seventies.

In the Soviet times it was customary for the Soviet Union to build lots of industrial enterprises in the developing countries of Africa and Asia and to send technical assistance groups. Those Soviet groups, like ours, managed practically all the factory operation. Besides, they were a good source of stable income in foreign currency for the Soviet Union.

I worked in the city of Samawa, Al-Muthanna Governorate, in the south of Iraq, 280 km/171 miles from Baghdad. In addition, our technical assistance group managed to visit some historical sites on our days off. We had a field trip to Ur, an ancient town on the Euphrates, and spent several days off at Lake Sawa.

In addition, I went to the Iraqi capital on business, but did not have any guided tour there. It wasn't a quiet time for sightseeing. The Iran-Iraq war was in full swing. We, Soviet specialists, feared our contract might be canceled any day, and were prepared to leave the country through Kuwait in case the decisive offensive that the Iranians had assumed in September 1982, turned out to be successful. Thank Goodness the offensive petered out, our contract was not canceled and I stayed for the entire period of my stay - for a year - in Iraq. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me! It was also a good financial start in my career for I earned quite a lot there, so much that for my year's salary I could pay for an apartment in a condominium for my family and furnish it.

Since I stayed in Iraq for a year and worked there as an interpreter at a Soviet-built cement plant, I made some observations and had a lot of impressions.

What I managed to do outside my work as a member of the Soviet technical assistance group:

- I managed to visit several ancient sites together with our group;

- went for a walk in Baghdad during my business trips there;

- explored the city of Samawa during our shopping tours;

- used my knowledge of English and tried to learn some Arabic.

My counterparts, the Arabic employees of the cement factory, used to tell me I had to study Arabic more thoroughly, which I neglected, though, saying that I had no spare time for that.

Young Iraqi people prefer colorful pants and jeans. Many people prefer light tones in clothes. In winter, when the temperature falls below zero (which was rare in the south where we stayed), they put on a sweater or a jacket.

I personally was sorry I did not take more warm clothes with me. Even zero Centigrade was a catastrophe there! I was frEEzing!

The Iraqis are attached to their traditional clothes – long shirt with a stand-up collar and long sleeves called "gallabiya”.

The Iraqis wear blue gallabiyas. Men in the country wear fawn-colored shirts.

Women are dressed much more modestly. The elder women usually wear long coverlets and do not cover their faces.

An Iraqi man is free in the choice of clothes unlike Iraqi women.

You could compare Iraqi men and women with representatives of fauna where the males have brighter and more diverse coloring than that of the females.

Overall, it was a great experience for me to be able to work abroad at the Soviet-built enperprise! It was good money, good company and good travels!

The time was not safe for more sightseeing, but still we managed to see and to experience a lot!
The Euphrates in Samawa
Samawa, Iraq
Our cement factory, Samawa
1 / 1 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
maykal says: day I hope to be able to walk in Baghdad.
Posted on: May 21, 2017
BASAIC says:
I was offered a contract to go there with great wages but the job fell through.
Posted on: Mar 16, 2017
vicIII says:
I agree, but I was lucky since I had a one-year contract with good wages...
Posted on: Mar 16, 2017

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