Via Basel: The Big House in Baghdad

The Big House, 45 years and several owners later


Via Basel: The Big House in Baghdad

In the early 1930s my maternal grandfather, Abdul-Ahad, a successful merchant, moved his family from Mosul, his ancestral city, to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, to expand his business. They lived in several houses, but in 1942, to accommodate his growing family of six children, as well as a constant flow of out-of-town family visitors, he embarked on a grand project. The result was “the Big House in Baghdad.” 

Built on a corner lot on the periphery of the city at that time, and a short distance from his beloved Syriac church, the imposing two-story, fourteen-room mansion with a spacious flat rooftop, two balconies, a covered front porch, and a decorative large gate was a sight to behold. It included a coach house, a garage, a nice backyard with trees, shrubs, flowers, and a grape vine structure. 

It was there in that outdoor setting where my parents had their wedding reception on September 10, 1944. I was also born in that house two years later. My mom’s family incorporated my dad, a young dashing army officer with minimal resources, into their fold, and so we lived in my grandpa’s house for several years, until the early 1950s when my dad built his own place for his young growing family. My early years in grandpa’s house had a magical component to it and here is a poem attempting to describe one of these experiences. 

Baghdad Morning  with Grandpa

Early dawn, a cool summer breeze,
a  rooftop littered with skinny metal bed frames,
a sleeping multitude but one.
A little boy opens his eyes, notices empty bed,
stealthily tiptoes towards the open door,
accelerates as he rushes down the stairs.
Catching his breath on the ground floor,
he dashes out the front door,
taking a sharp right turn to the covered porch
straight into the open arms of baba jiddu,
a gentle, kind, and most humble one,
who then turns his attention to the samovar.
Coal burning, water boiling, tea brewing,
a ritual passed on for generations before him.
Boy and jiddu lie down on soft, homemade quilts.
Soon, tea is ready to be poured
into small transparent glasses—Istikans.
The day has just begun
in the Big House in Baghdad.

Grandpa Abdul-Ahad had a lot of wonderful qualities, but the one that is etched in my memory was his kindness to all people, sadly one that is in short supply these days.

Jiddu is Arabic for grandpa & baba is dad. The combo was the boy’s  unique way to address his grandpa.





Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.

Big House in Baghdad, Part 2

Big House in Baghdad, Part 3

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