All She Wants to Do Is Dance

Here’s NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston this morning, describing a beloved woman, a fixture of her community who’s been driving children to school for 28 years:

She is so popular her nickname is “Dollar;” she says that is because everyone is chasing her to drive their children.

[She] is a big woman — both tall and round. She has long, wild red hair and is partial to tight-fitting, leopard-skin tops and oversized gold costume jewelry. She is the kind of woman who lights up a cigarette and offers to read the fortunes revealed from the grounds in coffee cups.

“Dollar’s” real name is Azhar Abbas. She drives her van full of schoolchildren in Al-Andalus, “a prosperous neighborhood of two-story houses on the southeast side of Baghdad.” Temple-Raston included a profile of her in a longer piece titled “Iraqi Women Face Risks Behind the Wheel.”

In this country where nearly every woman on the street is either veiled or in a long, black abaya, Abbas stands out. The only time she wears a headscarf, she says, is when she buys gas.

“All the gas stations here are controlled by the Mehdi Army and special guards, so to get gas I have to wear a headscarf,” she says, holding it up and laughing.

“The other day I went to the petrol station without my headscarf on and they told me next time I better start wearing it,” she says.

When her young sons told her it was just too dangerous for her to keep driving, Abbas told them it was impossible for her to stop. Driving was in her blood.

That initial description of Abbas in her leopard-print tops and oversized jewelry reminded me of several larger-than-life women I have known — people of whom I’m enormously fond for their love of life and their cheerfully boisterous insistence that the world deal with them on their own terms. But as courageous in their own way as those women are, none of them lives in a place like Baghdad. None of them drove a van full of schoolchildren every day while living under Saddam’s dictatorship and then kept driving through the chaos of invasion, of a bungled occupation and civil war.

Read or listen to the rest of Temple-Raston’s piece on the perils facing women behind the wheel in Iraq and appreciate that this is what Abbas faces every day.

Azhar Abbas is awesome.

If you’re looking for a hero from this miserable war, here’s a good one. And if you say a prayer tonight, remember to mention her name.

  • yawzoa

    She’s clearly an Al Queda plant and need immediate waterboarding.
    Our government at work. Thanks, Washington.

  • Freeze Rabbit

    All I can say is, she really sounds like an amazing woman.
    And I’m scared for her.

  • http://users.livejournal.com/_dahne_/ Dahne

    Holy crap. That is balls.

  • bad Jim

    It’s the red hair.
    Seriously, I’ve known women (and men) like that. You can’t tell them what to do, or not to do. You can only hope they’re on your side, and make sure your side is the one they want to be on.
    It’s not surprising that she can even cow al-Sadr’s guys.

  • http://xanga.com/ihavenothingprofoundtosay Robb

    I heard that story and had tuned out for a minute, and I got confused for a moment – I thought “Wait – She dresses like that in Baghdad?!?!?” I was astounded when it was over.
    Awesome indeed.

  • Jeff

    I heard that story and had tuned out for a minute, and I got confused for a moment – I thought “Wait – She dresses like that in Baghdad?!?!?” I was astounded when it was over.
    She was almost certainly safer under Hussein than she is now. But she got a purple thumb! Whoooo!

  • http://jesurgislac.wordpress.com Jesurgislac

    Holy crap. That is balls.
    No, self-evidently not. That is courage with style.

  • thirstygirl

    Which reminded me to go my monthly check on Riverbend and realise, with sadness, that she hasn’t updated since October.
    These women are amazing. Their grace and courage is beyond impressive.

  • Donalbain

    Someone on another blog I read described it thusly. We may have brought “democracy” to Iraq, but we certainly have not brought freedom. If you are scared to drive a car because you are a woman, you are not free. If you can be arrested for being gay (and then denied an amnesty that applies to everyone except terrorists and homosexuals), you are not free. Given the choice between democracy and freedom, I would say that I rate freedom as a higher, nobler goal.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Praline

    God bless that magnificent woman. Here’s hoping for her long life; the world needs people like her.

  • mom de plume

    Jesu–I think you’re thinking of huevos. Mas huevos. (Anybody is welcome to fix my Spanish.)

  • http://raisedbymoogles.insanejournal.com Pepper

    Can I be her when I grow up?

  • http://d_84.livejournal.com cjmr’s husband

    And there you have it: the difference between the “Political” freedom to vote for whichever theocrat you want, and the “Physical” freedom to go out in public without worrying about being shot.
    Y’know, this war *might* have been worth it if there were some possibility of “Real” freedom at the end.

  • http://d_84.livejournal.com cjmr’s husband

    I am Dollar Montoya. Prepare to *ride*.

  • Lauren

    It doesn’t even have to be a choice between freedom and democracy. If people have REAL freedom, democracy almost inevitably follows. But putting elections before freedom is like adding the yeast after you bake the bread.

  • Jeff

    Sorta kinda on topic, has anyone heard from “Baghdad Burning” lately?

  • http://worldsandtime.blogspot.com/ Spherical Time

    That’s a great story. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • rampancy

    Didn’t the person who wrote Baghdad Burning flee to Jordan? Hmm, I’m not sure, my memory’s fuzzy on that. I am sure that she is alive though – thank God for that.

  • Stephen Heath

    Fred…can you email me? I am playing Pilate in JCS at the Keswick next week and I want your take. The hand washing, the supposed liver disease, and other nuances made me think of you and wonder if you might add any interesting tid bits from which I could draw.

  • Jeff

    Didn’t the person who wrote Baghdad Burning flee to Jordan?
    She made it to Syria, posted twice, and I haven’t heard of her since. I **think** she’s safe and I **hope** she’s safe, but there’s no way to tell for sure.

  • rizzo

    “None of them drove a van full of schoolchildren every day while living under Saddam’s dictatorship”
    Education was mandatory under Saddam and she could buy gas without the head scarf.

  • Ken

    But putting elections before freedom is like adding the yeast after you bake the bread. — Lauren
    That’s because elections are a very visible adjunct to freedom (though I think the 18th Century term “Liberty” would be better). So everybody goes for the sizzle (Elections!) instead of the steak (the social infrastructure of “Liberty”). Everybody goes gaga over the media event of elections.
    Even the dictators. Remember Baba Saddam holding elections (at which he was UNANIMOUSLY re-elected)? And the Third World African hellholes where Glorious People’s Leader for Life is re-elected by a bigger margin than the country’s entire population? (200+% turnouts are common.) And the Soviet Union and their wanna-bes all over the world? And the California State Assembly, where the incumbent re-election rate is a flat 100%? (Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him?) Even the hereditary dictators took over the trappings of elections.


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