A Sense of Community on One of the World’s Narrowest Streets

By Ayoub Hassan, in Baghdad
No matter whether you are fat or thin, old or young, the same rules apply to anybody planning on going down the narrowest street in Iraq. At only 45 centimeters at its widest, the street commonly known as “darbounah” or “narrow” street, in central Baghdad, was noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for its narrowness. It is second only to a German street called the Spreuerhofstraße, which is only 31 centimeters wide.
In fact, this famous Iraqi street is more like a crack between the walls of the buildings in a neighbourhood dating back to the 19th century. When going down this alley, you have to watch out because there is only enough room for one person to traverse the alley at a time.
“Please allow my female neighbor to pass because this place doesn’t accommodate two people,” Abu Nour, one of the locals living on the street, told your correspondent, who had not realised there was a woman standing at the other end of the alley waiting for the stranger to pass by.
There are actually dozens of homes in this narrow alleyway. Some of the neighbours live here because they inherited the homes from their parents, others have come here because of the low rents thanks to the impractical nature of the address.
“Can you believe I carried my dead mother draped in a sheet from my door to this end of the alleyway?” Abu Nour explains, because he could not bring a coffin or mourners into his home. So he and his son had to carry their relative through the narrow alley to the broader street, where the funeral ceremony could begin properly.
As you walk the alley, you touch the bricks of the houses as you go. The narrow alley is topped by air conditioners as well as electrical wiring. Generators crowd the pathways. Claustrophobia is a natural feeling. The residents here say they suffer from a lack of sunlight and believe that this causes health problems.
Bringing home appliances into your house is also difficult. Another resident, Abu Uday, recounts how he had to carry his refrigerator across the rooftops, with the help of friends, and then even had to demolish a small part of his roof in order to drop his new fridge into his home.
Another of the residents, Ahmed, talks about his wedding day and how he had to get the various pieces of furniture into his house, piece by piece, over a period of about four days. On the day of his wedding, his bride was forced to walk behind him down the narrow alleyway. “We were unable to walk side by side,” he laments.
The narrowness of the alley also means that the neighbours are well aware of everything the street’s residents do. “Everyone on this street knows when I return home,” says Abu Ali, who works as a butcher. “As soon as I approach one of the windows or doors or any house in our alley, I feel like everyone notices the smell of meat on my clothes or hears the sound of the knives and chains I have to carry,” he suggests.
The smell of cooking food is also a constant and the neighbours tend to know what people are having for dinner, he continues.
On the other hand, the narrowness of the street has also fostered a sense of close community. As you go down the street, door or windows open and neighbours pop their heads out, smiling and ready to welcome a stranger into their small, modest homes to offer them a cup of tea and talk about one of the narrowest streets in the world.

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