September 20, 2002
Halliburton/Gorshen KTL to Develop All-Male Resort in Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia (WMDave News Service) – Cruising the streets of Baghdad, Akbar is foraging through the streets, visiting barren shops and half-empty market pushcarts gathering supplies. “I love shopping,” he confides. “I can’t help it. Even when there’s nothing new in the markets, I go out - you never know, you just might dig up Aladdin’s treasure. The other day I got these shoes - do you like them? Alligator! Aren’t they a scream? On my mother’s grave, and only 400 dinar [approx. US$20]. But I have to meet someone soon, and before I do, I gotta get a copy of the Cairo al-Ahram, get me a date, and see if this old warrior can still bust a move.”
We are in the Al Karradah neighborhood in the heart of Baghdad. “This used to be the nicest neighborhood,” he confides sadly as we walk through the hectic streets. “Really close to the National Theatre, views of the Tigris [River], clubs, bars, it was the scene, honey. Ooo, follow me.” He looks down an alley behind some sandbags that have been hurriedly piled up by soldiers. He looks around and, seeing the coast is clear, we hurry through the dark alley.
Turning a corner, Akbar points down a empty balcony-lined narrow street. “A little deserted these days, with all the young men getting called up. But back in the day, if you couldn’t get a date here, then you just need to tie a kebab to your[self] and let the dog lick it off. [There were H]usbands just for days!“
The sound of light footsteps echoing through the alleyway betray someone else’s presence. Another young man is shyly making his way through the little street, helped by a crutch. His left leg has been amputated below the knee, probably as the result of a leftover land mine from the last war in Iraq. He clothes are worn and have many patches, but is clean and presentable young man. “Mmm. Rough trade,” whispers Akbar as he makes eye contact with the young man, then turns his eyes away. Akbar faces the young man again, then holds up the newspaper that he had been carrying under one arm and shows the man the headline of the Thursday Cairo Times.
Inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq there is little hope, little laughter, and no chance to relieve the stress caused by living under the constant threat of an imminent US invasion. With most young men (and many older men) either called up for military or security services, or just scrambling to find enough to eat, the opportunity for like-minded men to meet was becoming more and more rare.
But if you were to follow the Tigris River downstream about 300 miles, you might see a different story if a San Antonio, Texas property developer has its way. Should Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba’ath party either step down or be removed from power, Halliburton partner and subcontractor Gorshen KTL of San Antonio plans to develop East of Eden™, a resort community for single men in the Mesopotamian Valley here along the Tigris.
“We know it’s a great spot,” said Chaswirth “Chuckie” Solis, Senior Property Developer. “These Arab guys have been meeting up along here for about 5,000 years. It’s very cruisy,” he added with a conspiratorial wink. “See that spot over there?” Mr. Solis pointed to a rock outcropping in a grotto beside a spring-fed pool. “Supposedly that’s where the great T. E. Lawrence got his first taste of an Arab man’s hospitality. Hospitality in the Arab world is legendary. We just want to be a part of that.”
Amenities are to include: water skiing, polo, several nightclubs and discos with multiple split-level dance floors, plus a cultural center for musical theatre and light opera. “In addition to all that,” Solis added and outreach to Iraqi teenage boys, “assuming there will be any left [after the expected US war and occupation],” he continued ruefully.
Vice President Dick Cheney is apparently a big fan of the project, and not because his former company Halliburton is engineering some of the logistical solutions. “The Vice President, of course, as a public servant has no direct involvement, but he is keen on it, I can tell you! He plans to visit every Memorial Day, when we have our annual SplashFest,” said Jennifer Millerwise, the Vice Presidential press secretary. “The Vice President knows it’s gonna be great. This is the kind of initiative that like to see American companies implement more and more often out here – solutions for emerging markets. That’s what Americans do best.”
“Of course, without a regime change, initiatives like this don’t have a chance. There’d be a raid by the [Iraqi dictator’s] Red Guard every single night.” Asked if his wife would be accompanying Mr. Cheney, Ms. Millerwise said, “not likely. This particular development, as I understand it, is only for men above the age of twelve.
In this secular Muslim society the separation of men and women is not as strong as in other Arab nations, and many Iraqi men feel uncomfortable sharing their vacation time in resort communities. “That’s a very healthy attitude, in my opinion,” said Francis Barbarossa, media liaison for the Arab Gentlemen’s Resort Association. “Men need a place to go where they don’t feel the scrutiny of women, or where they need to behave a certain way. A relaxed, open atmosphere is ideal [for Arab men].”
Akbar would agree. He has just returned from his rendezvous in Baghdad, and is sitting in a café drinking the Baghdad version of “sanction” coffee – burnt flat bread crumbs soaked in boiling water. “It is very difficult being a young man today [under Saddam’s Ba’ath party rule], trying to meet other young men.”
Perhaps, with a new regime, a new day will dawn over Iraq…