It's the third day of Ramadan for Sunni Iraqis and the second for Shiites. Even the first day of Ramadan here is different for the two sects. From sun up to sun down Muslims abstain from food and water in an act of faith and discipline.
Tonight we sat down to break our fasts together over bowls of yellow lentil soup, potato dumplings stuffed with meat, chicken, meat, yoghurt, rice and stew. Everyone was happy to fill their empty stomachs. I looked at the staff around me, a group of the displaced, they looked tired from a days work and more than four years of war.
Next to me Suheib sat, the 22-year-old young man loves Arab female pop stars like Nancy Ajram (the Britney Spears of the Middle East.) He drives with one hand on the steering wheel and the other propped up on the window sill to show his youthful cool. His father was once our most trusted driver but he was recently displaced to Syria with his family, afraid that Shiite death squads would come after him. It was a miracle the elegant pilot survived this long. To be a pilot under Saddam Hussein's regime you had to join the now illegal Baath party. Suheib now works in his place and sends the money to his family.
Across from me Sahar sat, she is the mother of the office. Before Iftar dinner she heated the dishes and brought everyone together for the meal. Her son sat in front of the television with his soup, her daughter next to her. She lives in the hotel, the summer heat so stifling she had to leave her neighborhood. The roadside bomb that killed two young children sealed the deal, she's already lost one son to this violence. She's been living with us for about three months.
Omar, our office manager, also lives here, displaced from his neighborhood. He sent his family to Syria and shuttles himself back and forth between the two nations. He stays on in Iraq for the money, there are no jobs in Syria for an Iraqi and he has to support his young family. But now even the commute is complicated.
Iraqis never needed a visa to visit neighboring Syria. But now after about one million have been displaced to the neighboring nation, the Syrian government requires a visa. Omar worries it will be more difficult for him to see his wife and two young children.
We eat quietly and on the local station Sharqiya, Mat al Hakou, (someone is dead) plays. The title of the special Ramadan series is a play on words. The Arabic word Al Hakoumat means government. The show breaks the word a part, Al Hakou Mat or Mat al Hakou, someone is dead. The edgy political satire is shot outside Iraq to safeguard the comedians' lives. They sing about everyone fleeing Iraq, "the only ones left are the government and parliament." As we finished soup and moved on to the main meal, a woman in a sparkly blue dress did stand up comedy.
"I had an argument with an American woman," the woman said, " She told me look at us, we are free. I can stand in the middle of Washington D.C. and curse the President of America."
The woman in blue rebutted the comment. Iraq is free, she insisted.
"I can stand in the middle of Baghdad and," she paused. " uh. Curse the President of America."
The table bust into laughter. No one openly criticizes the Shiite militias or Sunni extremists that control their neighborhoods. No one openly speaks about their political allegiances less there be someone in ear shot who will kill them for their beliefs.
Another comedian talked about the cinema, there are no movie theatres that people frequent in Iraq now. He asked the audience to join him at the cinema. The man takes two chairs to the roof and from there he watches the capital. It is a movie worth watching, every night it is "Horror," a true "Thriller," killing and bloodshed. Come up and watch, he invites the audience. "It's a movie worth watching."