Remember the agony when you spied a really gorgeous woman in a bar; and your pick-up line bombed? Well, you’ve still got it good, trust me. It’s not easy being in love in Baghdad these days. Asking a girl out and getting her to agree may not be too difficult, but arranging the actual date can be a bummer. There are no bars or clubs, for one thing. Even a romantic walk in the moonlight can become dicey, what with the possibility of a bomb going off anytime, anywhere. Be that as it may, young love will always find a way; and couples in Baghdad have learnt to adapt to the new reality.
Take young Kareem Abdul Aziz, for example. His last real date with 24-year old Dalia was hair-raising, but not quite in the way he had hoped it would be. “The worst was when we were talking in a cafe one time and we heard a nearby explosion and gunfire,” he recalled. “We weren’t sure if the streets would be safe enough for us to go home.” That ended one of their few real dates since their first encounter about six months ago.
But Kareem was not one to give up so easily. He makes it a point to send her a tender text message or email every day. Plus there are those two hour cell phone calls late at night, when he whispers sweet nothings into the ear of his beloved. The local cell phone service provider plays an unintentional Cupid here, by offerings huge discounts on local calls made between midnight and noon the next day.
Baghdad has changed almost beyond recognition, since the US invasion four years ago; and little or nothing remains that would inspire romance or help it flourish. Instead, the streets are lined with concrete blast barriers, topped with barbed wire and plastered with black banners announcing yet another death. Young women fear being out alone even in daylight. Female high school and university students travel in groups, delivered to and collected from classes by trusted taxi drivers or parents. The city’s streets empty well before dark. Parties are unheard of. Cinemas are shut, some turned to warehouses. Other places associated with dating – cafes, fast food spots, ice cream parlors and riverside cafes – have mostly closed.
Abu Nawass, a medieval poet from Baghdad, who wrote about wine, women and song, has Tigris riverside promenade named after him. Before the invasion, it was a favorite spot for strolling couples. It has been mostly closed since 2003. Any public display of affection, no matter how innocent, can attract unwanted attention. In some neighborhoods, religious fanatics, Shia and Sunnis alike, admonish couples for being in a “prohibited” relationship. Then there’s the fear of kidnapping for ransom, or being seized by sectarian death squads.
One of the few things the Americans did right, after taking over Iraq, was to set up a cell phone system in the country. Sure, they probably did it to facilitate communication among themselves, but it had an unexpectedly advantageous spin-off. Cell phones have become the absolute must-have on the city’s dating scene. Many Baghdad couples use text messages on mobile phones to stay in touch, or carry a budding romance further. Another favored means of communication is the internet, which is now widely available in Baghdad. Young Iraqis look to chat rooms and dating sites hoping to find a partner.
The difficulties associated with dating have led to the revival of an old custom. There is a marked rise in arranged marriages, popular up to two generations ago. Many young and educated women are willing to settle for much older men. If the latter have either money a residence permit abroad, or both, their eligibility goes up dramatically. Was it Mae West who famously declared, “love is dandy, but it doesn’t pay the rent?” Probably not, but you get my meaning.
Source: Associated Press