By February 2003, Iraq had endured over 12 years of draconian UN Sanctions, imposed to punish the Saddam Hussain regime for the invasion of Kuwait. A UN agency estimates 500,000 Iraqi children to have died since the sanctions were introduced. Meanwhile, the world was fixated with the debate on the existence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Opposing the Saddam regime from within Iraq, Yusif is an underground blogger who risks his life to come to London to campaign for the immediate lifting of UN Sanctions. As political intrigue thwarts his heartfelt attempts to highlight the suffering of his people under the embargo, he finds himself increasingly taking refuge at Mesocafé, a little Baghdad in West London. With their Arab, Assyrian, Jewish and Kurdish heritage, members of the Iraqi community allow him into their lives, sharing with him their stories and dreams.
Here, he meets Zaynab, the cafe owner and purveyor of advice for marriage and love; for work and business. There is Tawfiq, a young Iraqi refugee spending the little money he has on phone-cards to call his wife in Jordan. There is Suad, a successful PR executive, unable to come to terms with the death of her young husband at the end of the 1991 war. There is also the beautiful Bisan who, in between translating books from Arabic to English, relives her childhood memories in 1970s Iraq.
Beneath their banter and humour, the regulars at the cafe are touched by the meeting of souls, as Bisan and Yusif get to learn about each other.
While trying to convey to Western officials he meets the tragic consequences of the sanctions on his motherland, it begins to dawn upon Yusif that the real reason he has been allowed into the UK is the impending war on Iraq. He soon recognises his impossible position endeavouring to focus on UN Sanctions at a time when the powers that be are arguing over starting an invasion of Iraq.
Yusif’s wary and anxious state of mind is tempered by the blossoming relationship with Bisan. Through her honesty and evolving feelings for him, she adds a thread of equilibrium to Yusif’s stay in London.
Maqha / Coffeehouse, by Faisel Laibi Sahi, oil on canvas, 350 cm x 150 cm, 1984
©Ja'far 'Abd al-Hamid (2006 - 2013). All rights reserved.