Iraq’s Amazon.com could leapfrog to Bitcoin

* 2 min read

Mredy.com is the famous and largest e-commerce website in Iraq. I am not sure about the launch date for the site, but possibly around 2011.

Even though it is considered the Amazon.com of Iraq, as an e-commerce site it remains at an early period of technology. The site is not equipped to handle online transactions such as credit cards, PayPal or similar services. It is not because Iraq lacks the technical expertise of implementing such technologies, but it’s due to the primitive banking system of the country.

mredy

Mredy.com is currently providing the largest online display of products and services in Iraq, ranging from cars, properties, local shops and other services. The home page has a simple clickable Iraq map divided by provinces for a quick search. Ad placement is believed to be the main income generator for the site. The public is able to place ads to advertise their businesses countrywide.

I browsed the site for a quick look, and I was surprised to find a Chinese company listed a range of services for Massage and Fitness in Baghdad. Knowing the culture, I wasn’t surprised to find out it had one of the highest counts at 16,121+ views. The company offers:

“ايدي خبيرات صينيات متخصصات” which translate to “with Chinese expert lady’s hands”.

Apparently, the Chinese have defied the unemployment challenges to come to Iraq and provide comfort for people in a city that remains torn by sectarian and civil unrest.

http://www.mredy.com/?mod=show&lo=kom_68&l=ar&i=1045661&%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%87%20%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%87%20%D9%84%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AC%20%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D8%B4%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%87

For others who are interested in procuring any tangible products through the site, arrangements are made to rendezvous. Considering the current state of Iraq, a car bomb could explode anytime and anywhere, which could affect the prices drastically. Many neighborhoods are not safe to go to and others are controlled by different armed militias. The buyer and seller try to meet in one of the known places in Baghdad (outside their neighborhoods) preferably near a police or army checkpoint.

The name of the site drew its popularity from a legendary local market called “Souk Mredy” in Sadr city. According to Wikipedia (Arabic) it was established circa 1972. It is THE place for forging government IDs, producing fake documents, and degrees ranging from high school diplomas to PHDs. It is a widely held belief and a common joke that many Iraqi politicians and parliament members are holding degrees from the Mredy market.

The website and the local market have an Amazon like slogan, “You can find everything in souk Mredy”. During U.S. occupation in Iraq and still continuing today, different weapons and drugs were and are being sold. Sadr city was one of the major battle grounds for the U.S. Army

“People could even find stolen helicopters for sale and dealers for human body parts.” I was told by a friend of mine who uses the website.

In an oil rich country such as Iraq with a primitive usage of banking systems, I wonder about the promise of cryptocurrency – the utopian world of decentralizing banks and removing the third party. Could the country leapfrog PayPal or credit cards to a Bitcoin economy?

 

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2014 memoir in sketchnotes

2014 Memoir sketchnotes

Happiness from Lalastan

* 4 mins reading

Happiness Inc. has become one of the latest franchises in America. A lot of books are written and sold about the subject. I am not sure what is happening to the Privileged Rich West. It seems certain these books are written for a class of people who are abstracted from life’s reality and live in a bubble of their imagination. Take this quote for example: “A study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for a person’s daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise.

Or the following statement from a book I recently read: “Studies show that each common interest between people boosts the chances of a lasting relationship and also brings about a 2 percent increase in life satisfaction.”

Happiness Inc.

When I share these statements and similar paragraphs from “Happiness” books with my friends,
they laugh…I laugh.

It’s cheap to buy books to research and write about the subject. I could read about 100 of them, not even, 50 will be plenty. In fact, I read about five books and they all started to sound the same. All I need is six months to a year off, no worries about the family, and to be good in writing, then I can write a book about how to be Happy by obtaining daily pleasure using repetitive habits.

Habits are the essential part of the enterprise. Most books written on the subject talk about habits – a routine that is done on a regular basis.

To write a book about “Happiness”, I need to come up with a list of nice-named habits, write about how to form new habits or break old ones. Include the word happiness or its derivatives in the title and try to get published. If I can’t find a publisher who’s interested, then I could self-publish it on Amazon. It no longer matters if a professional publisher doesn’t think enough of the work to risk the sizable expense of an e-book.

Oh I forgot to mention, there is a list of apps that will help achieve and measure happiness

Ba-da-bing – Happiness delivered!

I know about “Happiness” first hand. I read a lot of American books about happiness while I was in Baghdad in the middle of a warzone.

All of these books suggest forming a habit to accomplish certain goals in life, and the achievement of personal goals should make a person happy or happier.

Following their recommendations, I formed a reading habit. On a daily basis, I was reading about two hours. By the end of 2014, I finished 104 books.

Was I happier? Did I feel a sense of fulfillment? Do I wake up every morning with the distinct impression that my life satisfaction has increased by approximately 5%?

Any goal I accomplished such as reading 104 books, I felt the same. When I finished my master…When I visited 22 countries…When I lost 4 inches off my waist…When I bought my first Lexus GS300…All felt the same after a few days or weeks. All these goals have ephemeral pleasure.

I am neither a doctor nor do I have degrees in psychology. But I want to share this little piece of wisdom from my own experience. By the power vested in me from my life experience, I declare their version of “Happiness” is a marketing scam perpetrated on us by privileged idealists.

I have seen some authors on YouTube go further in their ridiculousness by making statements like: “do this…you will be god” or write steps to follow in their books to pray to the “Power of Intention”.

I get completely turned off. My thoughts are to burn the book – not even worth recycling it.

Most of these authors wait for their muses to take them to Lalastan during their daily writing habit. I read about some authors who have weird daily habits when waiting for their muses. They come back with inspirational wisdom from their utopian visit. They write for people who mostly have been kidnapped by the same muses.

I couldn’t find an English word to describe that kind of person who makes such absurd statements I have quoted here – and many others I have not. I know a word in an Iraqi colloquial language that portrays such people perfectly: Batraneen.

I truly believe these authors have not faced major adversity. They have not tasted the meaning of crises such as serious illness, wars, lack of money, being a refugee, nor have they felt ethnic persecutions in their personal life. But, some might have experienced minor levels of difficulties such as losing a job, not able to finish their school, not being able to buy a luxury car, or some other insignificant obstacles.

I was told to tone down my criticism, and there is a better way of saying what I think. In fact, I wanted to go further and list their names, but I didn’t want to market their books. The truth is, this is how I feel about authors who give people lists of “how to” be god (at least they write god lowercase “g”).

Most of us don’t want to slap a naïve, idealistic teenager just for being naïve – but how long will it take “the marketplace” to see this for what it is?

People like me who came from the Iraqistans of the world have a different perspective on happiness. As a person who witnessed and experienced four wars and years of sanctions in Iraq, I can tell everyone that unexpected problems will come to our life. Bad and worse things will happen to you and me.

A major source of happiness for me is preparing for the adversity and taking actions to minimize their impacts. For example, I noticed that every time I resisted a marketing temptation to buy expensive unnecessary items and saved money for the unexpected, I am happy.

The biggest piece of wisdom I can give anyone is to seek a “Better Life”. Read books by the non-charlatans to learn how to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically in life. Life is a workout. Obstacles are training sessions preparing us in life against the terror of the unknown.

For people who are depressed or facing some adversity, I recommend this story – an extraordinary triumph over life – “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls.

 

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Twitter Romance

Twitter Romance

I was brainwashed too

* 5 min + thinking

Dedicated to Charlie Hebdo: In honor of those who died for the principle of free speech. I couldn’t declare my admiration to the Jewish people publicly when I lived under Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I couldn’t write this before. I am writing it now. I was a victim and fully understand the psychological pressure – and the fear – of speaking our beliefs and thoughts.

Je-suis-Charlie

I remember some moments from my past vividly. Especially those that have served as turning points – where the past and the future intersect. Where the way I was gives way – to the way I will be from that instant forward.

And this will strike many people as odd, even hard to believe, but for me one of those moments was the first time I ever saw a Jewish person, face to face.

Someone who was raised, for instance – near Chicago, would wonder how that could possibly have been significant. But for someone like me, who grew up in the Middle East, and was subjected to years and years of Arab-Israeli propaganda – from before I can remember, until I left at the age of seventeen – it has all the significance in the world.

And it’ not just me. One day, not too long ago, my friend Mohammed came to my cubical at work for a quick chat. “Hey” I said “I’ve got a question for you. Do you remember the first time you met a Jew?

Of course!…. Why?” he asked. (of course?)

I went on “I’ve been thinking about writing a piece describing the first time I did. And I was just wondering… I’m not sure about it. Anyway, tell me about your story and I tell you mine”, I said.

Mohammed’s description went like this:

When he first arrived in America he was working at a gas station. Right next to it, there was a banquet hall and the daughter of the owner used to stop in the gas station to buy the usual things. After seeing her a few times, they started to make some small talk, and shortly after that they were flirting with each other. Then she happened to mention she was a Jewish.

He was shocked.

He said to me “It was my first time talking to a real Jewish person, you know instead of seeing them on TV, and I started to remember the soap opera Rafaat al-Hagan.”

“Yea…Yea…” I answered “I remember that, and every time Rafaat opened the door…There was that dramatic music like something very important was about to happen… tarara-rarara… rana-tarara” (I was recalling the theme music). We both laughed.

Egyptian movies and soap operas are famous in the Arab world. Rafaat al-Hagan was a very well-known TV show – played by an Egyptian actor: Mahmoud Abdel Aziz.

I didn’t see it this way at the time, but it was definitely part of the propaganda in Iraq – still, it was a good show. It’s based on a true story about a spy whose name is Ali Suleiman al-Gammal, better known as Rafaat al-Hagan in Egypt – and as Jack Beton in Israel. He spent 17 years working clandestine operations in Israel. Egyptians idolize him.

Mohammed continued, “Talking with this Jewish girl brought those movies and TV shows back into my head. I started to feel bizarre. I got scared. I was imagining all kinds of conspiracies. I started suspecting she would somehow exploit me and I would end up an unwilling Israeli agent. After a while I started turned cold toward her.”

“Man…It was so stupid… to think and to feel like that, all because of our ridiculous media and educational system that taught us to hate the Jews. Now I think – what if I had married her? I might have been rich and not worried about a job for the rest of my life.”

Mohammed paused for a few seconds reminiscing about childish thoughts. Then shook his head, smiled and asked “What’s your story?

It was in Amsterdam when I saw them,” I told him.

“I was 17 years old. We had just left Jordan on the way to America. We had a stop for about six hours at Schiphol Airport. We were sitting in the transit area waiting for our plane. I spotted three Jewish people praying. I literally froze in place for a few minutes looking at them. I was mesmerized.

It hit me. It really hit me. It was a moment when I realized how brainwashed I was.

I felt all the hatred put in our brain through the media…day after day…for all those years…since childhood.

I turned to my family, I said ‘Look…look… right there!….Jews’. We all looked at them for a few minutes – in their black clothes and praying. When you’re seeing something for the first time, all your senses are wide open – it seems like you don’t even blink.”

My conversation with Mohammed ended with the two of us looking at each other and wondering why, but then just walking away – without any answers.

“I’ll talk to you later.”       “Yeah.”

As it happens, I had done my time working at a gas station too. I worked at a Marathon in Chicago. There, I met a Jewish man who was born in Iraq. I couldn’t wait to ask him about his past. I’ll never forget his face and the way he talked about his childhood. His eyes started to tear up remembering his family house in Baghdad. That conversation too, was followed by the same shaking of the head, with no way to really explain it or understand it. Just trailing off in sadness and sorrow.

Iraq has a rich history of Jewish presence. Their positive influence remains alive in the memory of many in the older generations. For example, a Jewish man named Sassoon Eskell played a major role in the creation of Iraq and was the first finance minister who forced the British Petroleum company to pay for Iraqi oil in Gold Pounds.

Think about the influence of the Jewish people and their contributions to humanity. John Von Neumann was Jewish, and considered the father of programming. Andrew Grove developed Intel that gave birth to home computers – another Jewish guy. It was two Jews who gave us the revered Google that we can no longer live without. Facebook too, was created by a Jew. My favorite psychologist Daniel Kahneman is Jewish. James Altucher, my favorite entrepreneur and bestselling author – also Jewish. And of course Jerry Seinfeld, my favorite comedian, who has made millions laugh – and continues to. Did I mention Albert Einstein?

It would seem that Jewish intellectuals and scientists have contributed to humanity’s collective progress, at a disproportionality high rate, in comparison other groups. (Recent estimates place the total Jewish population at less than 20 million worldwide – well under half of one percent.)

A great book about human suffering called “Man’s Search for Meaning”, was written by a Jewish man named Viktor E. Frankl who survived the Nazi Death camps. I wish it was translated into Arabic, and distributed to those Iraqis who have recently been displaced by ISIS and are now suffering.

During Saddam’s time, unfortunately, books that sympathized in any way with a Jewish perspective were forbidden, by law, from being translated. That’s right – books were banned. Books!! Take a look back at history on policies like that – it’s never a good sign.

In that time, the Iraqi educational system marginalized the history of the Jewish people in Iraq by completely removing the Jewish history from the school books. The Jewish influence and their contribution to Iraq was not only ignored, it was covered up.

As time passes, I believe the loss of the Jews from Iraq will prove a significant burden on that country. And with the region drifting towards an apparent Christian exodus, it seems to me that Iraq will have a second blight over the land. Or maybe it’s more correct to call it a third, because the brain drain that Iraq has had to endure, due to intellectuals and artists being unwilling to continue living under those conditions, has drastically altered its path.

Twenty years after seeing that Jewish family praying in the airport, it still baffles me when I compare the past and present. When things like brainwashing and prejudice are suddenly held up to the light of day, and revealed for what they are – there is no going back.

I wonder if Iraq had not displaced the Jewish community, how could that have changed the course of Iraq’s history?

I was Punked in 2014

* 2 mins

Read 104 books, visited Greece, published 39 blogs and a new domain name called www.KneeNose.com, joined a meeting that had a conference call with President Obama, and I worked with an Army captain who later became Senator Michael E. Hastings in Illinois. All are examples of a few good, funny and interesting things that happened during the year 2014. It was full of good memories, but unfortunately many others I don’t remember.

However, this blog is about one of my fresh memories, a funny story that generated so many laughs and became a source of many other jokes among my friends and I. Before the year was about to end, I got punked. My friends sold me freely distributed bottles of water from our compound. Yes, I paid for free boxes of bottled water. My friends couldn’t stop making fun of me for a few days. Here is how it happened:

Pallets of drinking water are available for free inside our compound. However, earlier in the year, we had a specific brand that I didn’t like. The water is clean, but has no minerals, which meant if I was dehydrated after a workout, I could’ve drank four bottles and remained dehydrated. I was simply filling my stomach with water. As a result, I used to buy a different brand from the local market in Baghdad.

Prior to my return from a temporary assignment in Basrah, the embassy had switched the water contract to the band I like.

My friends knew of my return date; they told me on the phone that they bought five boxes of the water I liked and put them in my room. I was happy. When I arrived, they were waiting for me at the front of our building. I had not seen some of them for months. They started to jump and dance jokingly welcoming me back. They helped carry my luggage inside my room, and immediately started pointing to the boxes of water.

“Hey…man…here’s the water we bought…we even carried it in for you”. My friends said.

I didn’t even have my backpack off before they started to talk about the money and how I should pay them now. I should have been suspicious right then.

Anyway, I paid them $15 right at the spot and it was over.

Next day, I went outside for a few minutes to get some sun. They didn’t expect to see me at their smoking area. I don’t smoke; there was no reason for me to be there. The moment I turned the corner, I was shocked. I saw the same water I drink…a pallet of my favorite brand sitting outside for everyone to grab for free.

They exploded with laughter. They had planned to sell me the entire pallet of water behind our building.

Word of the punk spread through our section during the day. For the next two days, my friends were trying to sell me everything around, even the phone on my desk. They demanded that I write about the prank to remember it for the rest of my life. I promised I would.

After a few days, this practical joke inspired me to create a new “Happy Memories” category in my blog. My aim is to capture those small random events and deposit them in long-lasting memory account, by writing about them. I am connecting the dots in my life. And, I want them to be more than just a picture post on Facebook that didn’t tell the whole story.

It serves as a reminder of good times during my life. Unfortunately, many of our good memories fade away. I feel the bad ones tend to stay with us longer.

In writing about my good times, I hope to serve two purposes. First, it is a mood booster for me that increases my level of happiness. Just as having a large bank account gives us a sense of security, having a large account of good times will increase the sense of happiness.

Secondly, someone said that the average kid laughs 300 times a day, for the average adult it is about five times. I hope to spread my good mood by sharing it with the public. If a random Internet surfer lands on my blog and reads about my funny story, I hope to remind him about his or her good times. It acts as a boost of happiness for the public.

Every sad, happy, special, and interesting memory is like a dot in our lives, and by writing and connecting them, then sharing with the public, we enlarge our lives – we leave a legacy to our families and friends.

 

P.S. My friends are running buy 2, and get 1 for free special. 

 

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Between Baghdad and Baghdaddys…a drunken man prayer

* 4 min

2014 last day

As I started to write this blog at work on the last day of the year, I turned back to look through the window. I looked through to the horizon. I see Baghdad, yet I am in America at the same time. I pause. I think about it. I think about my life. My brain is mixed with thoughts of joy and pain. I see walls with a few gates that separate two different worlds, and I am part of both. It is very difficult to fathom. I live on land that is under the full sovereignty of the U.S. Government with different rules and values, and outside the wall is Iraq. I started to reminisce about my life and my entire 2014. My brain transcended me in the cyberspace of my thoughts shuttling between the past and now – a far past and now.

I remembered my childhood twenty five years ago, and how I spent my new year’s eve. I use to spend my new year’s eve in a church. We (Christian families) came from many different areas and met in a small church in downtown Basrah. We gathered in the early evening hours at the annexes. Families brought their favorite dishes. We socialized, ate, and played many social games – happily and safely.

At around 11:15pm before the last hour of the year ends, we went inside the church. I vividly remember sitting on one of those faded brown church benches separated by red carpets. We spent the last hour in prayers. We welcomed every New Year with eyes closed asking for blessing and protection for our lives.

I was between those believers. My eyes were closed, as the hour passed my life took the quantum leap from one year to another. With the passion of a teenager, I prayed to Melchizedek. I thanked him for his blessing. I thanked him for keeping my family safe through wars. I asked him to protect and bless me in the coming New Year. I (we) prayed for peace and prosperity for Iraq…for wars to end.

We welcomed the New Year. We stood praising our Lord. After that, as a group we left the church and visited families from one house to another, wishing happy new year to each other. We lived free under the safety of Saddam’s dictatorship, because people felt safe to walk and drive at night. There were no fireworks; there were celebratory shots fired into the sky. This was the way of expressing happiness and celebration.

Present time…late hours of the Eve

It is my third year in Baghdad. I am celebrating New Year’s Eve at a place called Baghdaddys, which is a bar inside the embassy. I am with friends and co-workers. People are drinking. I am drinking whisky. The music is loud. I am mingling with the crowd holding my glass in my hand. I am having fun.

Baghdaddys serves as a church on Saturday, but a bar during the week and that reminded me of the old days when I celebrated New Year’s Eve at the church. My buzzed brain is mixing the past and the present. I am not praying this time. But I am drinking and dancing…inside a church…weird….very weird.

Much later in the Eve

I was buzzed and remembered the wall…Baghdaddys and Baghdad…two worlds apart. A dictator who once stood protecting it from evil is dead. I thought of my old prayers…our prayers.

“Did God answer our old prayers?”, I thought.

Killings and explosions are the fireworks of this country. Basrah and Baghdad are empty of Christians. Up in the north, Christians are displaced in tents by an evil – ISIS.

As I am drinking, I am thinking about my Assyrian people and their suffering. They are in tents in the mountains. They will walk in the mud to greet each other – Happy New Year’s eve. Churches are blown up. And all they are praying for now is for the snow not to fall on them.

Those prayers for Iraq, what happened to them? Did we really know what we prayed for? Back then; we didn’t see Saddam as a blessing.

Did Melchizedek ignore or answer our prayers? Did he turn his face away from us? And after all this, Jesus asks me to love my enemy? Who ISIS?

Sorry Jesus…It stops here. Our Assyrian Nation is being massacred. It is a modern Holocaust happening right before our eyes. Where the fuck are you?

Twenty-five years ago, we were asking for peace and prosperity, now we have evil.

 Mid night Eve

I was more buzzed at Baghdaddys by this time. I went by a group of friends. I stood there. Again, greeting smiling and joking. We were having fun. People were discussing different subjects, others were sitting by fireplaces. We were cheering and picking on each other. These were simple jokes that made our night.

“Is that a real Rolex?” I said to one friend.

“Excuse me?…Yes…My wife bought it for me…Should I walk with the certificate in my pocket?”, he said

“No…but if you are next to a beautiful girl…People will believe it is real, because you got a beautiful girl on your arm”, I said.

The Rolex and the wife became a topic for a few more jokes.

Everybody being buzzed, we laughed about stupid jokes like these.

Counting down and jumping around…Screaming with joy, we welcomed 2015 dancing to the sound of music, drinking. We hugged, kissed, and wished each other a Happy New Year.

I turned to my friend Muhammad and I said, “Happy New Year brother…Here..have some Black Label…”

“I don’t drink brother, but do you have some Chai Label instead?” he said.

We laughed…

Between buzz and drunk

At this point, I was really gone. I was walking to my room laughing to myself, laughing out loud. My friends who were sitting outside our building about 300 feet away heard my laugh.

I was laughing about the irony of this life.

I looked up to heaven trying to talk to God:

HopeNeverEnds

“Thank you for everything…

Thank you for all the pain…Thank you for the suffering…It is Maktoob on us…our Assyrian Nineveh to fall…to go through this pain…They are suffering for carrying your name…

You didn’t stop it.

But, please give my people peace in their hearts. Be there with them.

My people need you…Humanity needs YOU.

People lost faith in you…I lost faith in you. You became just another legend…Melchizedek

Humanity is ripping itself apart. Everybody is claiming their exclusivity to their own version of YOU.

All this chaos is because each one has a franchise in YOUR business.”

Next Day Jan 1, 2015

The next day, I was walking to go eat. Some people stopped and said to me:

”Thank you for the Black Label last night man”…

After I finished eating, I stood taking my tray back…Someone looked at me and smiled and said “thank you man.”

I guess I was going around and passing out drinks to everybody.

 

 

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