A SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The following text is a draft that needs further work. It was written in 1995 and sent for reading to a friend, Julie Ann (Jewelz) in Minnesota. Jewelz and I had started a project of writing our autobiographies. The idea was that we read and comment on each others autobiographies. Circumstances didn't allow the completion of the project.
is the outline. I hope you will not be disappointed as you start discovering
the "angel" and the "monster". Don't blame me later
for what you will be reading. No genuine autobiography without the plain
truth. It is an exercise in self-discovery.
are only the main bare facts with little or no explanation. Many "main
bare facts" and themes are omitted because of space considerations.
For instance, I left out a theme of extreme importance in my life, that
of my relation to women. I don't mean only love and intimate relations,
but also relations with women who played a major role in forming my
person, starting with my mother and ending with my lifelong friend Sonja
well, this is only an outline. Please excuse my terrible English. I
am working with a limited vocabulary.
respond to your recent messages soon. If you have trouble in retrieving
this file just delete it and let me know. I can divide it in smaller
portions and re-send it. Take time in commenting. There is no hurry.
Just let me know if you have received the file.
to your autobio, I will soon start asking you questions.
then, fasten your belt! Here we go....
An Autobiographical Outline
I was born on February 12, 1937 in the town of Khalat Saleh in the southern Iraqi province of Al-Umara.
My mother Munira Sayyed Tahir (1915-1973) came from a family of craftsmen, carpenters, and shoemakers in Al-Umara. Her mother, my grandmother, was a remarkable woman. I developed a strong emotional relation to her. She was a tattooed and illiterate woman. She had a strong character. Her Tattoo, manners, her dark blue and black clothes make me believe that her family was not very old in Al-Umara. It seems to me that they immigrated from some village or a tribe. She had the traditional appearance of tribeswomen in the south. My mother, her sister and brother were different. They were, so to speak, westernized.
maternal grandfather, was a Turk, an employee in the Turkish administration.
He had another wife and children back in Diyarbeker in Turkey. He died
shortly after the British occupation of Iraq in 1917. My mother's relatives
still live in Al-Umara.
I was four years old our family moved from Khalat Saleh to Kifri, a
small town in the east of the province of Kirkuk in the north. Along
with us came also my grandmother, my aunt, who was now a school teacher,
and my uncle. I don't know why they moved with us. My uncle went first
to Baghdad were he worked as a policeman, then as a collector in public
transport. In the years to come many of our relatives would visit us
in Kirkuk, but none of us went back to Al-Umara. However, when I was
twenty years old, I went to Al-Umara. Once I made a trip to the Marshes
in the south with a relative from Al-Umara and some friends from Baghdad.
Later, my sister Naira would marry that relative. She lives in Al-Umara
since more than twenty years.
Our family remained on the move because of my fathers continuous transfer from one town to another as a result of his quarrels with his bosses. This moving from one place to another would remain a feature of our life for sometime. It has been the main feature of my life so far. Once I calculated the number of countries, cities, towns, villages, houses, apartments, rented rooms, boardinghouses and other places where I had lived. The number was around thirty.
During the Second World War and the following years we lived in four towns. We finally settled in Kirkuk after my father's early retirement in 1953. We rented a house not far away from where my aunt and the others were living. With the exception of my father, we always maintained a close relation with them.
1955 when our youngest, my brother Jamal was born, we became a family
of nine persons: father, mother, four boys and three girls, and we were
I went to the primary school in the towns were we happened to be living during the years of our wandering. I was the favorite of my aunt and remained so even after she married and had children. My first school experience was with her. She registered me in her school, which was for girls only, one year earlier than the legal age. I also remember her teaching me the English alphabet before I had learned the Arabic alphabet. When I passed to the second year I was transferred to a school for boys.
went to secondary school in Kirkuk. During the first two years when
my family was still wandering in the province, I lived by my aunt, uncle
and grandmother. But even after my family settled in Kirkuk, I used
to go and live with them for extended periods of time. I "run away"
from the sad and tense environment at our home and from my father's
quarrels with my mother.
my secondary school years I started writing and publishing short stories.
I also did some translations. Those were the years in which my friendship
with various would-be writers, poets and artists started. Years later,
we will be known as the Kirkuk Group. We were of different nationalities
and religions, a reflection of the multinational composition of Kirkuk,
and indeed of Iraq as a whole. Almost all of us had sympathies with
the left. Later, we would suffer a lot because of that.
three weeks in custody we were brought to court accused of forming an
illegal organization. Friendly leftist lawyers achieved our release
for lack of evidence. From that time on I would have a record as a leftist
in the archives of the Special Branch.
I quitted the job after one year and joined a night course for teachers training. The next year I became a rural teacher in one of the remotest villages in the south of the Kirkuk province, almost bordering the province of Baghdad. That lasted only for one year and was rich in experience, travels with trains, horse riding, and hunting.
was transferred to teach art in a secondary school in Kirkuk. Before
I started my new work in September 1958, an important event took place:
on July 14 the army supported by the people and opposition parties toppled
the monarchy and proclaimed Iraq a republic. This event is known as
the July 14 Revolution. From that day on, Iraq would experience instability
and repression which would culminate in the establishment of the present
dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
I was happy and satisfied but that didn't last long. On February 8, 1963, a bloody military coup led by the Arab Socialist Baath Party (ASBP), overthrew the military regime of General Abdulkarim Kassim, leader of the July 14 Revolution. The General and his closest men were executed. A terror campaign was unleashed against all those who did not sympathize with the ASBP. Thousands of people were killed, executed, tortured and imprisoned. This lasted until November of that year when another coup toppled the Baath government and brought some relative calm to Iraq. That was the start of a semi-liberal military regime which would last until 1968 when the ASBP would return and remain in power until now.
was among the victims of that campaign. I was arrested in March 1963
and tortured in The Olympic Club in Baghdad which became a
I was sent to Kirkuk. Arriving at the police headquarters I found my
eldest sister Amal detained. In the period after the July 14, 1958,
she joined the Popular Militia to defend what we then called the Revolution.
She was set free on bail, brought later to the Fourth Military Tribunal
in Kirkuk, and finally released. (Amal died in 1988?). I also learned
that my brother Farouk has fled to the mountains of Kurdistan.
I was stubborn and persistent enough to brush shoulders again with those
monsters and make a try. All applications for passports had to be approved
by the SP. So I went there with my application. I was a bit afraid but
I never imagined what was awaiting me. While revising my file, the officer
processing my application discovered a court sentence in the file. A
court in the northern city of Sulaimania had sentenced to death in absence
a man for killing someone. The first and father's names of the fugitive
Kurdish fellow where exactly as mine. I was kept in solitary confinement
for one week and endured two nights of interrogations (The hours of
the night were the preferred working hours of the SP). Meanwhile, telegrams
were sent to Sulaimania to inquire about the grandfather's name of the
wanted man. After a week, they received the answer and the name was
not the same as my grandfather's name. I was taken to the office of
the Director General, offered tea, the permission I was seeking, and
a lot of apologies (Journalists still enjoyed some prestige at that
time). I don't know what would have happened had the names of the grandfathers
coincided. That was the most horrible experience I had in my life so
far. Only the fear and loneliness I would experience later in 1984 in
Costa Rica (mentioned later in this outline) would surpass this experience.
In January 1967 I traveled to Berlin to participate in a training course at the International Institute of Journalism in Berlin (IIJB) in the ex-German Democratic Republic (GDR) -East Germany. Iraq had at that time well-developed relations with the then socialist countries of Eastern Europe and with the ex-USSR. I stayed for some months more after the course doing press photography training, and returned to Iraq in December 1967.
On September 28, 1968 I left Baghdad to Germany with a grant from The Journalists Syndicates in Iraq and GDR to study journalism at the Faculty of Journalism at the Karl-Marx-Universitaet in Leipzig (KMU) - the old University of Leipzig, now renamed again Universitaet Leipzig.
In 1973 I concluded my studies and joined for two years the IIJB as a lecturer on practical journalism. In 1975 I quitted my job and went back to Leipzig to do my doctoral dissertation on the function of the press in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. I concluded it in september 1979 with the Doctor Rerum Politicarum in political science and journalism.
summer 1977 I met my wife Ana Mercedes Rodriguez, who was studying Psychology
at the same university, during a students trip to the USSR. We married
in 1978 and came to Costa Rica in December 1979. I got work at the National
University. But the change was drastic. I could not stand living in
Costa Rica. I returned to GDR in January 1980, Ana followed six months
September 29 our daughter Munira Cristina was born. I decided not to
go back to Algeria. Again, a fresh attempt in 1983. I went
I got work at the University of Costa Rica. I was expected to start lecturing in March 1984. My Spanish was still very poor and I had to work hard in preparing my lectures writing everything I would say. I had no friends around, no help from anyone.
year, 1984, became the most difficult year in my life. I was in a depressive
mood, more lost, hopeless, and lonely than I was during my first stay
in Costa Rica.