Farnaz Fassihi is the deputy bureau chief of Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Waiting for An Ordinary Day, a memoir of her four years covering the Iraq war and witnessing the unraveling of life for Iraqi citizens. In May 2006, Fassihi was awarded the prestigious Henry Pringle Lecture Award for her Iraq coverage by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her coverage of the EgyptAir flight 990 crash won the New England News Executive Award as well as a finalist nomination for the Livingston Award.
Question: How did you come up with the title?
Fassihi: It was sort of towards the end of finishing the manuscript. I had always wanted to have ordinary day or the sense that ordinary life had been interrupted in the title of the book, but I couldn’t really come up with something that captured it, and I was talking to my book editor Clive [Clive Peterland]. We kept, you know, playing on how can we put “Ordinary Day” and came up with “Waiting for an Ordinary.” And the reason that I wanted “Ordinary Day” is because, you know, Iraqis, as I say in the book, often tell you as soon as you say, you know, what’s going on and how are you feeling, they’ll say, “Until now we are waiting. Until now we are waiting.” And it struck me as, well, what are they waiting for? You know, what is it possibly that they want? And I think it’s just the return of ordinary, normal life.
Question: Was life more ordinary under Saddam?
Fassihi: I think life was ordinary in terms of the mundane, daily things that make up life. It was definitely a lot more secure. You know, Saddam was a dictator. There’s no disputing that. But I think the Iraqis knew were the red lines were. If they didn’t get involved with politics or with activism, they could have a day to day normal life, go to work, come back, you know. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t this total catastrophe of not knowing whether you’re going to be alive if you go to work, which was kind of the state of affairs until recently. So, you know, that’s one of the things. Security is the number issue. The other thing is infrastructure, you know. There’re still about 5 or 6 hours of electricity on average, sometimes even less than that. Clean water is a very big problem. Some Iraqis are digging up wells in their backyards and trying to manipulate the piping system to get more air, more water, sorry. And so, you know, municipal services, like picking up the garbage and sewage systems, these things are also very problematic.