Bomb blast walls are good for many things, most of them including some type of combustible. But on my first day in Iraq, I discovered another great feature, underestimated by most people: they are an excellent source of shade.
Blast walls provide shelter from the sun – a welcome gift here at the outskirts of the Arabian desert. And if you’re lucky, they provide something else too: art.
I mean: don’t expect Uffizi-grade art. Most of the graffiti has a certain naive quality, child-like almost. Added to some of the drawings are slogans, full of hope. “For freedom and peace, against violence and war!’ for instance, or: education and equality for all!’
Still: these blast wall murals do something very basic that art is supposed to do: to adorn, to embellish daily reality, to please the senses, and thus: the soul.
These walls seem to try and guide people out of the daily casino of the bomb attacks. To move them beyond the random bouts of cruel carnage.
Not an easy thing to do sometimes; while I was taking in this painted concrete, 24 people were killed by gunmen in Hawr Rajab, near Baghdad. For no apparent reason. Blast walls don’t tend to protect you from armed pedestrians.
In some places in Iraq though, like in Erbil, blast walls no longer serve their grim original purpose. At least, most of the time.
But massive and high these structures still remain. And thus, besides keeping explosive ridden vehicles safely on the other side, today they kept the hot sun away from my head, and through their painted concrete canvas, put a smile on my face.