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May 27, 2020

Life between Iraq and a hard place

The recent experiences of living in lockdown have brought back memories of when my husband and I lived abroad for over 30 years. The strange similarities between the two situations certainly make for an interesting comparison.

There were two very challenging periods living in Iraq, from 1980-88 and 1990-96, with the fear of lack of food, lack of physical communication with family and the daily news bulletins being echoed in today’s socially isolated world.

I clearly remember the shortages of food, water, electricity, security and fuel in Baghdad over those years of hardship. We collected water in pans, buckets, or any receptacle available, from the water tankers circulating the streets. We queued for essentials such as bread, oil, sugar, flour and rice: it became a daily chore. Usually fresh vegetables and fruits were readily available, so the help of a young lad on the street, who was only too eager to carry shopping back home in return for a tip, proved to be of mutual benefit when the car had no petrol.

A decade later, with sanctions taking effect from 1990, the population was issued with ration vouchers in order to try and prevent starvation. However, certain essentials such as meat, dairy products and other foodstuffs appeared on the black market, commanding exorbitant prices.

In 21st century Britain, we’ve plenty of water and fuel, but empty shelves in supermarkets, relying on others for deliveries of essentials and stocking up on the basics is an echo of those other difficult times.

In Iraq, essential workers such as teachers and some civil servants were selling their furniture to buy necessities to feed their children. Ironically, it’s an oil-rich country, but there were fuel shortages making going to work, shopping for food and visits to family members a constant challenge. To add to the strain, the climate in that region is extreme, with temperatures ranging from -6C in winter to 48+C in summer, usually rending one unable to think straight.

There are different pressures on essential workers in 2020, and different reasons keeping us away from family and friends, but the worry and isolation is very similar. The volume of news stories, wanting to stay informed but finding news bulletins frightening, is, like in Iraq, a daily pressure.

However, today we are blessed with the wonders of modern technology. So many electronic miracles help me feel surrounded by friends, neighbours and family members, even if they can’t visit or come close. There’s a feeling of being part of a community, through offers of help and a cheery word from a stranger at a distance. In our time in Iraq, a letter would take one-two weeks to arrive, and trying to telephone was a nightmare.

It is good if we can count our blessings and value the wonderful people around us providing help, care, advice and concern for our wellbeing in these strange days while Covid-19 is being fought. Such times make us question the true values of life. Diana Alsaadi Age Friendly Ambassador and member of the Age Friendly Steering Group