I Was Saddams Prisoner

Chapter Nine

"Dawaam" started in the early hours of the day, and halted temporarily in the afternoon. It resumed in the evening and continued till midnight. These were the hours of Tahqeeq, when detainees were called in for questioning. Weekend began from Thursday afternoon, and ended till Saturday morning. Things were usually quiet during the weekend. Friday was a good day, because each of us was given 'Baidh', a boiled egg in the breakfast.
Usual breakfast consisted of Shorba, a thick paste with an offensive smell, and two half-baked Sammoon which was definitely unfit for human consumption. The crust seemed to be brown and baked enough for eating. The inside of the bread was a sticky blend of flour and yeast, which choked as we tried to swallow. A boiled egg on Fridays was an invaluable gift of God, treasured and valued. I remember when on a particular Friday, we were only eighty-six in the cell, and the Haras opened the window and asked:
"Kam Wahid" - How many of you?
And our headman, gathering all the courage retorted:
"Mitayn Wa Thdashar-Wallah". Two hundred and eleven. By God.
The Haras gave two pales full of eggs-and we had enough each to last us for three days.
Our ears now turned to the outside noises. When the trolley carrying lunch approached, someone would announce-"Ghaza, Ghaza" - and ask us to arrange ourselves in the Majmooa of tens. Plastic bowls were then distributed to each Majmooa. It was the same diet everyday. Oily, half-cooked rice in big plastic containers which resembled bath-tubs for babies, and a slimy pungent curry which sometimes contained large square bits of tough meat. The headman and his aids then filled our bowls. Bones in the meat, quite rare though, was an essential raw material. We washed it and then set down for hours and sometimes days rubbing it against the hard floor till it assumed the shape of a glossed round pin. Then we flattened one tip, and with a nail from the shoes on the rack, we bore a hole in it. This was the needle. It was prohibited item just like the rosary, but it could be conveniently concealed. And then we pulled out threads from our tattered shirts and threaded the needle to stitch our torn shirts and pyjamas. It seemed Time had travelled backwards, for we were using implements of the 'Bone-Age'. It was beautiful, this needle. Abu Fahd, a Druze from Syria treasured one dearly, and said, "I will carry it with me when I am released, and place it in a Mathaf (Museum)."
"Dolkatukum Ya Ikhwan-Dolkat" - the headman always announced when he knew tea would be served in the evening. A Dolka was a plastic jug, which was filled with black tea having strong aroma of camphor. It was very sweet. A jug for ten. And the same curry which was left over from lunch. If there were some crumbs, we dipped them in the offensive liquid and ate.
The Dolka had another use also. Water from the taps was always sizzling hot. "No cold water, Sir, you are Mawqufin. You are not in your houses." This was the water for drinking, wudhu, washing our clothes and ourselves and for the toilets. Water was kept in the Dolka for hours to cool down. In Hammam, it was collected in the trough till it became usable for bath. And when a particular Dolka was ready, scores of inmates quenched their thirst with small sips, which would at times only wet their lips. During my four months and two days, cold water was available for ten days when some anniversary was being celebrated in Iraq. Mukhaberat seemed to be in a condescending mood. Wudhu meant a quick jerk of your palm below the water flowing from the taps-if you were not careful, blisters formed on the palms. We could not wash our torn pyjama suits - because there was no spare suit. So we washed our shirt first, shook it till it dried, wore it around the loins and then washed the pyjama. And if the Muhaqqiq decided to call one right then, one rushed downstairs with the dripping suit. 'Harval Ya Maloon, La Umma Lak' - the Haras would roar.