What I am about to tell you happened a long time ago and it all began the day the first foreigner arrived to Nasiriyah, our holy city. He drove a fancy car, and wore French attire and shiny shoes. Not long after settling in, he began to evince an interest in objects of historical value. Soon, people were flocking to him to show him the articles of virtu that they had inherited from their forefathers, which ranged from ceramic pots to stone figurines and old paintings. He paid in American dollars.
The news about this antiques trade spread like wildfire, and before long, it had encouraged half of the city’s population to dust off their shovels in order to go profane and plunder the graveyards of their grandfathers, who had up until then been resting in peace for centuries. They were willing to pull out all the stops for the few simoleons they might earn from basically giving away the artefacts they had dug out from what their ancestors had decided to take to their graves. As soon as they had stripped the corpses of all their jewelry and ornaments, they ran back to the foreigner to obtain their greenback reward.
Not unlike the rest of my neighbors, I was also driven by greed and dreamt of the day when our city would achieve prosperity thanks to the munificence of these men driving fast and furious cars and making money rain over us. I grabbed my own shovel and headed toward the ruins lying a few kilometers from the city, to where the Sumerian city of Ur used to stand. As soon as I set foot on the archeological site, I was struck by the majestic beauty of the vibrant red ziggurat. It was built of mud-bricks during the Third Dynasty of Ur and its architectural sophistication attested to how advanced the Sumerian society used to be.
I climbed the over one-hundred steps that made up the monumental staircase at the front of the ziggurat one by one, all the way to the top. The view over the land that witnessed the dawn of civilization was absolutely breathtaking. I spread my arms, closed my eyes and breathed in deeply to savor the aroma of history lingering in the air.
Suddenly, I heard a voice that sounded like it was coming from the Earth’s interior, as if the prophet Abraham had risen from the dead just so he could bark instructions at me.
“Take off your sandals, for you are standing on sacred ground. You have entered the house of Nanna, the God of the Moon.”
A chill shot up my spine. A storm broke out of the blue, and amidst thunder and lightening, the spirit of a man carrying a basket with construction tools over his head and wearing a long polka-dot apron manifested himself before me. He had brought a board with him, on which he wrote in the first language to ever be spoken—ergo, in cuneiform characters:
“I am King Ur-Nammu and have been sent here by Nanna, the God of all gods, to guard His temple.”
He then ushered me to a bench at the other end of a long colonnade stretching to the East of where we had been standing. The bench carried an inscription that read: “Here is where judges come to sit.”
The Sumerian king offered me a glass of cold water to drink.
A little while later, many people from my town started to appear at the site. A whole army showed up as well. Next thing I knew, a solidly-built man began to yell at me, “What is that you are holding in your right hand?”
I was still clutching the shovel I had brought from my house. I looked down at it and started feeling terribly ashamed for the reasons that had led me to come to this place. After taking a moment to think, I shouted with my head held high, “This shovel is what I am going to use to defend my cultural heritage and fight all those who want to steal it!”
I hadn’t just said that to get off the hook, I meant it as well. I was going to do everything in my power to keep outsiders from exploiting the impressionability of my people to plunder our own cultural treasures. Excited to the core about having a purpose to serve, I started running toward the crowd.
The Author, Abbas Ajaj Albadri: