As we arrive in Baghdad - it’s just after dark - Jantine, the three Kirkuki Mohammeds and I walk over to Meshmisha fruit juice bar to meet Mustafa, Munaf, Firas and Ahmed. There’s a girl sitting on her own at the table behind us. M. and I both spot her – though we see different things.
I think of the girl Marieke and I talked to at an NGO, that was lured away from home by a lover boy, raped and left behind at Meshmisha without ID. I wonder if the same guy has done it again. M sees a girl who is ‘Not Occupied’. He immediately steps up to the challenge. ‘Pen, paper,’ he demands. He writes down his name and phone number, goes inside to ask for paper napkins and as he comes out again, secretly drops the note in the ashtray in front of her. She picks it up, looks at it, throws it on the floor.
I would take that as a no.
M says ‘Pen, paper!’
Jantine says: ‘Why don’t you write something on the paper like “you’re beautiful”, that is a lot more convincing.’
He writes name, phone number, folds the paper, brings the paper napkins back to the counter and drops the second note to the same girl on his way back. Why?
‘This shows I’m persistent!,’ he says confidently.
She doesn’t move for minutes. Than she picks up the note. She hardly looks at it.
‘Why didn’t you write that you think she’s beautiful?,’ we ask.
‘Didn’t you notice that she is hardly looking at her phone? A girl her age not sending any messages? She is most probably illiterate.’
A little later the waiter asks her if she wants anything else, or otherwise she has to leave. She gets up and walks off.
The next day M receives a phone girl. It’s the girl. They talk. M says: ‘I waited until three in the morning for your call!’ It’s not true, he confesses to us, but it is what women want to hear.
She calls back a while later. ‘We need a place where we can meet.’
M who’s not from Baghdad, is confused. ‘Normally only my married male friends are asking me for a place where they can bring their girl friends. I think she must be a prostitute. Have I gone through all this trouble to hit on a prostitute?’
She joins us that night. It turns out she is homeless – she was living together with her stepmother, they got into a fight and she left the house. She’s now sleeping at her work. And indeed she can’t read or write. Women in Baghdad are not allowed to book a hotel room, men are not allowed to bring women to their hotel room. Women shelters are not allowed. She’s only 17.
That night she sleeps with M and the others in the house. Next morning we call the women’s shelter – fortunately Yousif took Marieke and me to one during our last trip, so we had a place to take her to. A family has taken her in already. M is very proud of his achievement. His seduction skills have certainly improved from the moment I first met him – when we drove in his car and he actually bumpted into the car before him when pulling up at the traffic light. Being alone with a woman in a car for the first time terrified him. Well done M.