Updated: Mar 7
After retiring from PwC, I took on a full time role in the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. One of my tasks involved visiting our teams in Iraq and seeing our charitable work in action. My July 2019 visit had been triggered by a report of an attack on our office in Basra.
As I was traveling at short notice, I had to pick up a visa on arrival. This took two hours and some patience. My Iraqi colleagues were waiting for me and took me directly to our office.
The damage to our front gate caused by a small blast was not as bad as I had expected, which was a relief. It was clear that someone had tried to make it look worse with a hammer. Not at all convincing. The extent of the damage had been exaggerated.
Next was a visit to our hospital. A generator had been stolen, but otherwise the building was intact. Outside, the temperature was around forty degrees centigrade. The wind blasted the superheated air into my face. It felt as though I was standing front of a huge hair dryer.
I also visited our two schools and saw boys and girls eager to learn. The primary school had been built by AMAR and offers high quality schooling southern Basra.
The secondary school was doing well in its first year. One of the parents had told me that "these youngster will be the ones to help rebuild Iraq. After thirty years of conflict, my generation is too tired".
The playground surface was in need of maintenance. Someone had removed the artificial grass and replaced it with rubber tiles. Some of the tiles were coming unstuck. The kids did not mind and were just happy to have somewhere to play.
In the evenings, I went back to my hotel and rested. Outside I could hear dogs barking and the sound of distant traffic. As the sun set, I could also hear the Maghrib call to prayer. Later, as the sun’s light was seen to have gone from the western sky, I listened to the Isha call to prayer, which marked the onset of night time. Having spent time in many Muslim countries, I look forward to hearing the sound of the calls to prayer whenever I return. The sound reminds me that I am far from home, but is also comforting.