Chilling accounts of near death in Baghdad

July 10th, 2007

While we at Chat the Planet work on more distribution outlets for Hometown Baghdad and as we plan a follow up to the project, I have been following a few incredible blogs coming out of Baghdad. It’s hard to imagine that the situation has continued to get worse since we completed shooting HTB late last year. One blogger in particular, Mohammed at Last-of-Iraqis, has had a terrifying few weeks and his blog gives an amazing account of one Iraqi’s repeated close calls with death.

Consider this passage from his post yesterday:

As soon as we got down from the taxi and walked a few steps near the Olympic club , I heard a gun shot !! It was loud with echo!! I’m sure it’s not AK-47 and I’m sure it’s inside the building because of the echo….. Then there was another shot …..It was so scary , so close and so loud , my wife was in panic , she was so scared I pushed her from the side-walk to the building wall (so that we would be a harder target) there was no one in the street but us .We stood there for a few seconds , then there was silence , we decided to continue , we walked and just before the concrete ex-checkpoint there was a gunshot and I saw the impact of the bullet beside me , another one in front of me , I pushed my wife to the nearest building and we hided there.

Or this passage from his post entitled “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” from a few days ago:

I saw a mini bus in the middle of the street , there was glass around it , it was clear that this mini-bus was exposed to drive-by shooting so I concentrated my vision on it and pointed my handy I reached near the bus I heard gun shots!!!it was extremely close to me!!! I turned my head and I saw a police man pointing the AK-47 at me and shouting :”YOU , Stop right now , I swear by Ali I will kill you”

Saif’s Instructional Guitar Videos

July 2nd, 2007

Hometown Baghdad viewers should know that when Saif isn’t booby-trapping his house with barbwire, smoking shisha, or talking about his beautiful wife Noor, he is playing guitar. And so he has decided to make a series of instructional videos for people wanting to learn how to play in a variety of styles. Here are the first two. If you like them, subscribe to his youtube channel.

Lesson 1: Triple Stroke Rasgueado

Lesson 2: Forward Arpeggio

New HTB site launched

June 28th, 2007

The new site was redesigned by graphic designer and web developer Marco Castro. Thanks for doing such an awesome job, Marco! My goal with this redesign is threefold: 1) make it easier for HTB new comers to find information about the series and to watch the videos; 2) give new and existing HTB viewers a way to follow news about the cast, crew and Chat the Planet; and 3) give people an easy way to continue conversations that are generated by the videos.

There may be a few kinks left in the site so if something doesn’t work or if links are dead, send me an email or post a message in the forums.

The Final Episode - “Jimi Hendrix”

June 19th, 2007

The final episode of Hometown Baghdad.

In the coming days, we will be transitioning to a brand new I’ve combined a number of viewer suggestions with my own thoughts. The result is a new site layout that should help people find all the videos a bit more easily and help viewers engage in more conversation.

Also, watch out for us on ABC’s Nightline in the coming days.

Episode 37 0f 38 - “One of Thousands”

June 13th, 2007

The shocking and severely disturbing finale to Ausama’s videos in Hometown Baghdad.

Ausama asked me to post the following note to the viewers of Hometown Baghdad after his final video was online.

Dear all,

First of all, I want to say that I never thought that we would be able to connect with anyone in the way that we have. I never imagined that we would make any kind of impact. I just wanted to say this before I began.

I carry love and passion for my country of Iraq, for my glorious city of Baghdad, for my house, for my family and for my people. It is what made me able to do this. My love and passion made me continue to tape in some of the hardest, saddest and most dangerous situations. It also gave me the responsibility to show you our lives, the will to keep going no matter what, and definitely the desire to show you our love for peace.

What we really tried to accomplish with this project is to show you our lifestyle; to tell the truth about what happened and what’s happening to us normal Iraqi citizens; and to show you that we’re not so different than others around the globe. We only have different cultures and customs. I humbly hope that we have succeeded in this.

I can’t express enough my thanks to Chat the Planet for giving me/us this magnificent opportunity, Thank you so much, Laurie, Mike, Kate, Barrett and everyone else who contributed to this project.

Of course, I cannot forget and will never forget the outstanding courage of the Iraqi crew members - Mr. Ziad Turkey, Fady, Nezar and Adel (the sound man). They challenged death many times to reach us and shoot with us. May god keep them safe.

This has been an extraordinary experience for me. It gave me new perspectives, the opportunity to meet so many new people, and to reach out and speak to the world.
I’m also thankful to you - the viewers. I’m so thankful to everyone who has watched our videos. I can only hope that you liked what you saw, and that you liked us even if we sometimes had different opinions.

No matter what happens in the future, I can be sure that we all seek the same things - Peace and Happiness.

I’ll end with a quote. It’s one of my favorites.

“To light a candle is much better than cursing the darkness.”

Thank you and Good Bye,
Salam / Peace,
The cradle of Civilizations, Iraq

(spoiler alert - watch the video!) Producing this series involved a lot of breath-holding on the part of us American producers and indubitably a lot more breath-holding on the part of our Iraqi cast and crew. Every shoot day was a risk. Every time Fady reported in that they had safely and successfully captured some as-of-yet-unknown aspect of Iraqi life under war was cause for relief. For one, it was another step closer to our shared goal of showing the human side of the conflict. But way more importantly, we made it one more day without incident. And so when Fady sent me an IM that Ausama’s uncle was killed, we were extremely upset. We had come to know and love Ausama through the little we saw of him in his casting interview and what we heard about him through Fady and the rest of our crew. His loss was felt deeply in our office.

It didn’t occur to me until about five minutes ago that most rational people in Ausama’s situation would have given up on our project. Turned their cameras off. Sent our crews packing. Who wants to work on a project with Americans for a predominantly Western audience when the US army has just killed your uncle? But Ausama did not stop. He did not shut us and the rest of the world out of his life. He allowed himself to be filmed when he was feeling his most vulnerable, and his most angry. He remained committed to continue sharing his life and opening himself up, “even if we sometimes had different opinions,” as he says. It is a testament to him and his family that we are able to tell his story.

Episode 36 - “Zaghareet”

June 8th, 2007

With this episode, Saif’s story in Hometown Baghdad comes to a close. The final episodes with Adel and Ausama will come out next week.

Update: After watching this episode, Saif was moved to write a note to everyone. I am posting it here. He starts with a quote from an email that we received from HTB viewer Maura.

“When I thought of Iraq 4 hours ago, I thought of militants with guns and veiled woman kept indoors. I didn’t think of rock music, video games, college classes, family dinners and days spent just fooling around with friends. When I thought of Iraqis, I didn’t think of kids just like me–kids who just want to laugh and date, play rock-n-roll, tease their siblings and hang around with their friends in the park.” Maura, Viewer

This is what we achieved in our show, Hometown Baghdad, thanks to God. First, I would like to thank my wife who has stood beside me all the way. Thank you, Mr. Ziad Turkey, the director. Thank you, Mr. Michael DiBenedetto, the online manger. Thanks to Laurie Meadoff and Kate Hillis, the executive producers. Thanks to all the people who worked on this powerful reality show. And thanks to all the people who watched, rated, posted, supported me and encouraged me throughout the series. May God keep food on our tables and women in our beds. :)

We risked our lives and did our best to transfer the truth to the minds of our viewers. We filmed with the background sound of bullets and choppers. We filmed while the power was off. But we filmed and continued filming to the last moment when we were forced to leave our country. This has all been for you, Baghdad. The city of Sinbad, the city of Shehrazad, the city where we belong.

It was a great honor to share my life with all of you. I made many friendships with people who were ready to help. They are really great people by any standard. It has been an honor working with the Iraqi crew who were very brave, and the American crew who did a great a job of making the series as you see it now. It has been a unique experience in my life, and I am proud to have done this for my country. It was a patriotic job. And in the future, I hope I can do more to help my wounded country.

A true Iraqi,

In the coming few days/weeks, we’ll be hearing more from Saif on the blog about where he is now and what he has been doing since filming ended on Hometown Baghdad. As this video shows and as he will tell us, Saif’s struggle is far from over. I’ve written this here before, but I’d like to restate that the stories of Iraqi exiles and refugees need to be told. And more than that, they are fascinating, compelling, heart-breaking and occasionally uplifting. And that is a project that we at Chat the Planet would like to pursue. We have officially begun to look into the prospects of continuing the stories of Hometown Baghdad, call it Leaving Hometown Baghdad if you will (name and plans subject to change, of course). Wish us luck with the funding and logistics preparation. And feel free to contact me with encouragement, support, ideas, etc.

On a semi-related note, if you are interested in the lives of Muslims in America, check out this trailer for an upcoming documentary about Flying While Muslim.

Episode 35 - “Trouble Finds Its Way”

June 4th, 2007

Upon returning from a peaceful few weeks in Syria, Adel makes two upsetting discoveries.

In response to some reader demand, I put together a more extensive Behind The Scenes page that shows the producers at work on Hometown Baghdad.

Ausama also wanted me to share some videos from the great Iraqi Oud (Middle Eastern Guitar) player Naseer Shamma.

Episode 34 - “Back to Baghdad”

May 30th, 2007

If you thought Adel was upbeat in Syria, wait until you see Ausama hitting the streets of Damascus. But the vacation is over. And now he returns to Baghdad.