The other night as I was walking home from my Place of Gainful Employment, I couldn't help but notice on the corner patch of grass outside a pretty pink villa, a wee little boy labouring under the weight of a massive assault rifle. Now, this being a wee little boy, I immediately dismissed the rather alarming notion that the rifle might actually be real. But then, this being Iraq, I immediately accepted the (still) rather alarming notion that the rifle might actually be real. As I drew near, several thoughts rifled through my brain:
1) Both the wee little boy's sheer inability to raise - let alone carry - the rifle properly (he was partly scraping and dragging it along the pavement) and my now well-practised and somewhat expert assessment of the rifle - even from afar - indicated that this was no toy.
2) There were no adults in sight. At all. Not that that would make much of a difference if the rifle were loaded.
3) His slightly older sister of (maybe) 8 years was doing an admirable job ignoring him from another part of the yard. Not that that would make much of a difference if the rifle were loaded.
4) The rifle was probably loaded.
Yes, it probably was loaded because to an Iraqi, an unloaded gun is like a zebra without its stripes - something completely incomprehensible and utterly useless when it comes to shooting other people (or themselves). Even those guns fired off into the air to signal something even questionably joyous are loaded with live ammo. I have heard that in Kurdistan, more people are killed these days by earthbound bullets (who knew that bullets are wont to follow Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation?) ... which is why I stay indoors during all elections, census polls, all national and religious holidays (Muslim Syrian and Chaldean Christian), or whenever one of our pregnant neighbours approaches full-term.
But no fear: until very recently - and this is from my students - every Iraqi house had at least one firearm in it. Now that relative peace has embraced Kurdistan, homes still have guns, but in fewer numbers. Are they loaded? I ask my students. And then I go on to explain that we can't keep a weapon loaded in our homes back in the Land of the Round Doorknobs.
They look at me like I'm feeble-minded - or at the very least, like my government's policies on gun control are. How can you defend yourself? they ask. As I begin to explain how firearm safety truly begins at home, I am quickly interrupted.
Look, Saeed says (again, in a tone which suggests that I am mentally feeble). What if I am a businessman in Canada? I have to conduct a business transaction with someone in a different town. Do you think I'm really going to drive with a million US dollars in my trunk without a gun or a rifle beside me on the front seat? (Rolls his eyes.)
Well, usually we transfer money electronically and in the past used bank draughts or cheques, I offer, knowing full well that these concepts are totally lost on what is by and large a bankless society. Everything is a cash transaction here, and I have no doubt that when Saeed needs to buy something in Kirkuk, he speeds out of town with a trunkful of cash and a clutch of guns on his lap.
I am marginally consoled by the fact that fewer people are buying fire sticks these days, but they are still everywhere. Everywhere. (Well, apart from the mall where no-guns-allowed signs [see right] greet customers from every door.) I have walked into my Place of Gainful Employment on many occasions and seen AK-47's lying on the waiting room chairs or leaning against the water cooler left, presumably, by one of our guards. The degree of indifference or insouciance they exhibit waving those things about - or, better yet, abandoning them while they tap a kidney - is a little unnerving.
I can only imagine then that the cautionary tale of our less fortunate guards (in the Cairo branch of My Place of Gainful Employment) hasn't reached the ears of their Kurdish brethren. The guards, nodding off on the job, their sleepy heads jerking, jerking, jerking finally made contact with the muzzle-side-up (!) rifles held fast between their knees and kaboom! They - note my use of the plural pronoun, for this happened on separate occasions - blew their damn fool heads right off.
Although there is something intrinsically Darwinian in this
... and did I stop like any sentient decent human being, chide him thoroughly for waving about a firearm, take the rifle away from him, ring the door of his house, and berate his mother for allowing her unattended four-year old to play with live weapons on the street? Did I do the right thing?
Hell no. I ran home as fast as my jaunty red flip-flops could carry me and didn't look back. Besides, what if the rifle hadn't been loaded? I wouldn't have wanted to jump the gun, after all.