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Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos Paperback – August 1, 2010
An American aid worker of Palestinian descent, Omar left an anxious family and a job at the World Bank in the Washington, D.C. area, for Baghdad in 2003 in order to help Iraqi women navigate the post-invasion turmoil in her new position at Women for Women International. Her book chronicles her experiences in war-torn Iraq, detailing the curtailed options facing many Iraqi women and the increasing dangers facing aid workers. Omar also outlines the tension between American troops and nongovernmental organizations, highlighting the risks involved in turning to the army for help. In the midst of the chaos, Omar forges life-long friendships and benefits from the generosity of the Iraqi people. As the country tilts perilously close to chaos, Omar is forced to evacuate briefly, an experience that brings home all that her life in Iraq means to her. Omar provides a rare glimpse into facets of Iraqi life not often described in American newspapers and magazines as she describes not only the dangers but also the joys, small and great. --Katherine Boyle
"Omar provides a rare glimpse into facets of Iraqi life not often described in American newspapers and magazines as she describes not only the dangers but also the joys, small and great." - Booklist
"Giving both an insider's and an outsider's view of the unfolding drama of Iraq, the memoir should prove worthwhile reading for anyone who has a keen interest in developments in the Middle East." - Book Pleasures
"We gain a picture of Baghdad beyond the Green Zone and through the eyes of a bright, young, idealistic humanitarian." - A Traveler's Library
"A must read." - East County Magaine
"You may not be able to lay Barefoot in Baghdad down for a while. This book will capture your interest." - South by Southwest
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Normally when I don't like a book I realize that I am not the target audience for the book and note that in my review, but I should have been here..and with that said...I have not been able to figure out who the target audience is for this book.
The book isn't written for those who want to learn about the Middle East since in the first part of the book the author does a poor job at explaining basic issues and terms. She starts off the book by using a lot of industry and/or Baghdad specific terms and abbreviations. In rare instance she defines international agency abbreviations, she does so only once often only providing their full name. Examples I can remember off the top of my head include: the green zone, the fridge, NCCI, CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority), USAID, NGO, CARE and the list goes on....(on a side note...if you are reading this book on a Kindle you can touch a world and pull up every time it is mentioned in a book...a feature that I often use when reading a book with lots of characters).
I didn't feel the book was written for anyone interested in the Middle East, women's issues or the international development community either since the author seems more interested in talking about her social activities than telling us stories of the women she is employed to help. The cause that the "Woman for Woman" program is working for is so important and there are so many woman that need help it is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, when Manal tells stories of her work, I was often disturbed since her arrogance and bitterness seemed to do more to hurt the "Woman for Woman International" organization and their causes, than to help. In addition, the author's immaturity and arrogance (this is reflected in way she voices her very strong opinions and the stories she tells about herself in the book) will be offensive to many. Middle East politics is a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with more class and restrain than this author used.
The author still sees the world in overly simplistic black and white terms and suffers from the "I am right and everyone else is wrong" syndrome. I know a lot of this is due to her lack of maturity but there are a lot of other authors out there who have the emotional intelligence to handle these issues with more tact. ...and their stories are fascinating to read, unlike the ones in this book.
I also found her attitude and how she talked about others disturbing. For example here is what she said about some of the other aid workers... "I wanted to lean over and smack him"..."the caretakers were obnoxious and rude"..."I resisted the urge to take off my shoe and beat the Iraqi translator." This was very prevalent in the first half of the book.
The last section of the book which is almost entirely about her "courtship" and marriage, Manal comes across as a much nicer person. Although a lot of what she said did not ring true to me. For example she both worked with and was living in the same home, "unchaperoned" as the man she later marries but they were never alone? This part of the book is interesting for a non Muslim since you do get an insight into Muslim "courtship", engagement and marriage practices. "Courtship" is in " " since men and female are supposedly never left alone until they are engaged and the family approves of the match.
Would have rated higher if not for all the political terms, but understand them to be necessary to identify the groups and their objectives. This was a great insight to Iraq during that time .
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