Baghdad - October 29 2012
The GEMSI team split up after Beirut for both safety and visa concerns. Yet a car bomb in Beirut made it clear that neither Baghdad nor Beirut were safe places. We can either ignore the violence and live with it as most others do in these regions, or work through it.
Something that the world might not know is that in the same week the car bomb went off in Beirut three car bombs went off in Baghdad. Three guards in front of my neighborhoods checkpoint (yes, every neighborhood has armed guards at their only entrance) were killed, and bombs were left as booby traps for those who come to rescue them. My uncle's house where I was staying was suddenly my prison as the streets filled with military men in dust colored bullet proof vests preventing anyone in the neighborhood from coming and going. Six of those men came into our house and searched for weapons, thankfully my clothes were covering my giant box of scary looking electronics.
The funny thing about this is that it's not considered abnormal. In fact a few hours later Salih, our Iraqi GEMSI team member, picked me up in a cab and we went out to a copper etching workshop run by Laith one of the Baghdad Hackerspace crew.
Even though this trip was a week long, there were enough examples of destruction within normal everyday life for me to begin to see it as normal too.
Iraq finds itself in an extremely complex situation and I certainly don't understand all the nuances. From my experience I see it as a country filled with money from oil, an infrastructure demolished by war, a people set back by years of sanctions, and a dysfunctional government creating a free for all who can grab resources. Starting Hackerspaces in Baghdad might sound like the least of their worries, but after arriving a week ago I found what I hoped to be true.
Hope that GEMSI would discover creative people that are driven to make, that long for real work that is innovation based, that want to connect Iraq with its long history of discovery, and that want to find friends with goals set out to improve the country and themselves through building a collaborative community space. Jabor, Laith, Layth, Salih, Muhammed, Aly, Ali, Mujtaba, Nouf, Taha and everyone else who came to our meetings were so full of ideas and excitement. In a single week we met up for projects every single day, for tea every night, and we consistently had a full room of over 20 people. We connected to share what we knew with each other, but also who we are with each other. And in a country where knowing who you can trust is often based on their last name, calling ourselves Baghdad Hackerspace and showing love for one another is a serious and beautiful thing.
I'm proud to be a member of the upcoming Baghdad Hackerspace, no matter what they wind up calling themselves :). I hope they know that they have a network of over a thousand hackerspaces globally and hundreds of people through these spaces, and Kickstarter, that are supporting them and their efforts. And I can't wait to see what they can and will do to take people's flat impression of a country which only produces violence and fold it up into a beautiful origami bird that will soar into the future like an egress over the tigress.
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