Initially I worked on jobs in and around London and once in Brecon, Wales, but then one day I was asked if I was interested in working on an upcoming project that was due to start in Iraq. Some months previously It had been mentioned that I might be sent to work on a new contract in Hong Kong, but in the end a friend of mine at the office went instead as the job I was working on in Britain hadn’t been completed.
A few weeks later I was on my way to Baghdad with three colleagues. These were exciting times for me, the chance of getting to know Baghdad, a city steeped in history, while at the same time earning a salary, was like winning the jackpot in a lottery. In fact the company paid 90% extra salary for working abroad, plus a £2 daily allowance for refreshments, which was never spent as the firm also paid all expenses, such as accommodation and food and so the drinks were included here.
I remember that first trip by taxi from the airport in Baghdad to our hotel in the city quite well considering it was so many years ago. The heat, the statues of Saddam Hussein, the date palms, everything was new and exciting. We stayed at the Abu Nawas (Nuwas) hotel, which was not far from the banks of the river Tigris which flows through Baghdad, its banks as I remember being lined in parts by restaurants specialising in fish caught from the river.
That first trip was only for five weeks, working on the survey for a new bridge across the Tigris in a part of the city known as Adhamiyah. It was a great introduction to Iraq and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The hotel was of a high standard with an excellent international menu and quality service. In the evenings we would walk down to the river and stroll along the promenade in the cooler evening temperatures, soaking up the atmosphere which for me was so new and fascinating.
I remember one morning during that first trip, having a break playing football with a group of kids on a piece of dry, dusty wasteland which served as their playing field. Football is the same in all languages and on this occasion served as the perfect ice-breaker, bringing us together in a special moment of friendship even though we couldn’t understand many words of each other’s language.