An Iraqi couple finds love amid the shattered glass
Amid the carnage of Baghdad, romance can still be found in the eyes of two young Iraqis, who first exchanged glances through their kitchen windows.Skip to next paragraph
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Living in different apartment buildings – but only 10 yards away as the potato flies – the coquettish Fatima and the persistent Bashar launched a bumpy 15-month courtship.
"She was cooking in the kitchen. I was cooking, too, and I saw her – it was love at first sight," says Bashar, clearly elated over his recent engagement to Fatima, the oldest daughter of matriarch Karima Selman Methboub, a sturdy Iraqi widow with eight children whom the Monitor first profiled in 2002.
This tightknit family has been feeling the brunt of the war (by one count, 16 nearby bombings in a three week span) but like many Iraqis they are too poor to flee. In recent months, they have been blessed by the engagements of two daughters, yet buffeted by a string of car bombs which prompted a rare neighborhood candlelight vigil to "challenge the terrorists."
The latest blast on Sunday shattered their apartment windows for the second time in a month.
"We are very scared," says Mrs. Methboub, whose 12-year-old son Mahmoud had just been sent outside to buy sandwiches for lunch and a chicken to roast. The force of the blast, the fifth bombing that Mahmoud has witnessed at street level, knocked the boy off his bike."I can't stay here," says Methboub. "This area is targeted and we don't know why. Every time there is an explosion, we are fixing everything.... I am feeling very sad for Iraq and Iraqis. Why do these things happen?"
The kitchen window that broke Sunday had been the aperture of love for Fatima, 19, who has always been an elusive bride. She has turned down a host of suitors in recent years, even rejecting one – to her mother's horror – at the courthouse where she'd gone to sign the marriage contract, after gold had been exchanged between the families.
"I never accept any man quickly," states Fatima, showing off two gold engagement rings from Bashar, one carries a bright diamond-like stone. Indeed, few know her coy ways better than Bashar.
"He begged me to go out with him, many times," recalls Fatima with a smile. "When I refused him, he painted his kitchen glass white, so I would not see him."
Unused to being rejected herself, Fatima pelted Bashar's kitchen window with potatoes, onions and tomatoes whenever she wanted to get his attention. Sometimes she enlisted young Mahmoud, who had a better throwing arm.
"She was so arrogant, like a queen," recalls Bashar, 31, a businessman who sells quality used cars and has had a small contract to sell water to shops in the Green Zone, the fortified area in Baghdad where the US Embassy and the Iraqi government operate.
But he says marrying Fatima is "his destiny," and he isn't deterred by her hard-to-get past: "Iraqi women, especially, will tell you that a million men came after them...."
But with the violence affecting every corner of Iraq's capital – despite a much-vaunted two-week-old "surge" of US and Iraqi troops – even matrimony feels fragile. "The situation is so unfair... because we can't guarantee our lives [together]," says Fatima.
Her 17-year-old sister, Amal, who kept a diary during the war, has seen the costs, too. "Many young people are married a short time, then they are killed. They leave orphans behind," she says telling a story about two brothers she knew, each with two children. "They both died. This family was destroyed."
The Methboub family has survived intact even as the death toll among Iraqis climbed to more than 3,000 a month at the end of last year. In 2006, the UN calculates 34,000 Iraqis died. Some estimates are far higher.
But the violence comes uncomfortably close. A month ago, a series of blasts began ripping through their neighborhood.