A Marsh Arab’s story

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


My name is Faris and I am of the Ferayghāt people, one of the tribal groupings of the Maʻdān, that is the Marsh Arabs as you say, neutrally, in English. Sadly, the word Maʻdān is now often used in Iraq as a slight, aimed to inflict hurt and belittle. But I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I will keep my memories of those former marshlands, now burnt to a crisp and virtually uninhabitable.

So much for my past: where I lived, happily and less so, throughout my childhood and as a young adult. Today, though, I “stay” in Fife, Scotland. I am a refugee, forced to leave my homeland far behind me, gone but never forgotten.

I am getting to know the local culture here, ways of living, speaking – e.g. “stay” rather than “live” – and song. I love music, and also humour – without being able to laugh at life I don’t know how I would’ve kept going through these last, painful, years. “It started up in Fife, and ended up in tears” sing an Edinburgh band, that national capital located far closer to me now than Baghdad was before my long journey. In truth, for me the tears have never been far away, whether in the lands of my birth and upbringing, or now here, in Fife.

Climate change is an important part of the story, but does not encompass the whole. Upstream dams, both in Iraq and beyond, have denied my marshlands of water. My parents told me that for many decades our homeland was drained on purpose, in a vain attempt to reclaim farmland and, later, in active persecution. But it was the ever-rising temperatures that finally killed off those marshlands, and the attempts that were made to breath new life into them. What marshland can survive the torching heat that I, myself a hardened son of the soil, was forced to flee from?

Old Bridge at Guardbridge (Credit)

My faith keeps me strong, and I constantly give thanks to Allah in my prayers for leading me to this, odd to me, place of refuge. Is it a coincidence or is divine providence that I have gone from one place of Eden to another? My homeland, you see, is known as the original Jannāt `Adni, or Garden of Eden, spoken of in the Holy Quran and also in holy books of the Jews and Christians alike. Now, the river Eden flows through the town of Guardbridge, the town I must now call home. I am still trying to do so; “it started up in Fife, and ended up in tears”, my tears that is. The Eden never leaves Fife, will I stay here forever too? Or return, like river water to the sea, to Iraq one day too?

Even amongst my tears, and my yearnings, I find this Eden here, and Eden there, coincidence funny and somehow comforting – as perhaps I am meant to do? Allah moves in unknowable ways, and I am thankful for all His blessings. Allahu Akbar.

I would never have guessed, let alone known that I would end up in Scotland. Not least since, until recently, I was unaware that such a country existed! In Iraq, people talk of England and the English, or the British, but not really Scotland or the Scots. Yet the Scots are truly a welcoming people and I have been treated with great hospitality since my arrival; hospitality is proud trait of the Ferayghāt people, and one that we mark as a sign of civility.

Scotland has had it tough in recent years, and for some of the same reasons as Iraq. In common between us, the price of our crude oil has collapsed, swamped by new supplies and discoveries made possible by new technologies, and undermined by the steady switch to electric vehicles. Scotland has also accepted many tens of thousands of climate refugees, its cities swelling with new populations even as its coastline and tidal river estuaries and “firths” invade its coastline, notably (to me!) swelling the Eden and pushing up against the gardens of the town’s most exposed “sea-view” properties. This has stretched services and further rocked the finances of the, newly independent, Scottish Government. An independent Scotland is exciting, but Scots have found that independence is very tough and – dare I say it – that they weren’t really ready for just how difficult it would be to manage their own economy. That they have pulled through is due to both their our stubborn nature – a stubbornness that I have been at the wrong end of – and determination, and also due to the people that they have welcomed to their shores, the New Scots.

Yes: us immigrants are proving our economic worth, helping to pull our adoptive country back to its feet – if I may be so bold. In so doing we help ourselves and help repay Scotland’s hospitality to us. We who are from countries like Iraq where the State has barely functioned in our lifetimes, do not readily rely on any State to provide for us – instead we provide for ourselves. Perhaps that is why so many of the new enterprises are run and owned by immigrants? I myself work for a Kuwaiti in Dundee who has set up his own company supplying offshore support vessels (boats) to the North Sea petroleum industry here (which increasingly focuses on natural gas, not oil), and for the fast-growing marine energy sector too.

Even as a New Scot there is no danger that I will deny or forget my heritage from amongst the Maʻdān. Every Friday at dhur (noon) I hear the Khutbah (sermon) amongst fellow Sunni Muslims at the newly built Guardbridge mosque and I am part of a Fife-based community of Marsh Arabs immigrants which, together, maintains our traditions in this new and strange, to us, land. I am teaching Arabic as an additional source of income – Arabic is an increasingly popular language to learn amongst Scots here, who are keen to open up to, and trade with, the world rather than just rely on their historic trade links to the south, with England. That makes me proud too. I think I will be happy too. My beautiful new bride thinks so too. A native of this land, she quoted to me a verse from another Scottish band, as follows: “For the family ; For the lives of the children that we’ve planned; Let’s get married; C’mon darlin’, please take my hand”. The wedding is next month and I cannot wait.


Daniel Gilbert has comprehensive experience as a consultant for major natural resources projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, and with regards to water, mining, petroleum (the ‘extractive industries’), and solar power. Daniel is a former Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science under the auspices of UNESCO, located at the University of Dundee. He holds Masters Degrees from both Dundee and Edinburgh universities and has given natural resources sector presentations at the UN in Geneva, the World Bank in Washington DC, and at a high-level UN Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

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