Dhi Qar – Ala’a Kole
The grave, located about 300 meters from a military checkpoint in Tal Al Lahm, a district south of Nasiriyah, seems to be an ordinary burial site, marked only by a stone about 1.5 meters long.
Yet somehow it has become a symbol of romantic tragedy and young Iraqis have been coming here to leave candles or flowers or to pray for mercy for the buried person in what has become known as the “tomb of the stranger”.
On the stone is engraved a cross, the year 1982 and next to it are the initials of a Polish girl called Tala and her lover. Tala’s partner was one of many Polish labourers working on the highway between Nasiriyah and Basra in the early 1980s; a Polish company had been contracted to build the new road.
Local author Akeel al-Harbi remembers the story well. “When her lover came to Iraq to work, Tala kept writing to him. She told him she would send him a special Christmas gift. In fact, that gift was her. She travelled from Poland to Iraq at Christmas to see him. Unfortunately she had an accident near Nasiriyah and died,” al-Harbi recounts.
The Polish girl was buried in Iraq by her lover – near where he was working – even though he would eventually return home. The highway was competed in 1990. And over the years, this sad stranger’s grave, near the main road to Basra, has become well known. The grave has not been sabotaged or defaced in any way because the locals respect the graves of strangers. Instead they have lit incense here, left flowers or sprayed rosewater over the grave, which is almost 40 years old now.
Local poets and authors have even written about the lonely grave. They feel as though it is a story worth telling. Alaa al-Mughashgash says he wrote a poem about it because he feels there is great emotional value in it. Abdel Khaleq al-Zuhairi has written a short story about Tala named “Love in Tal Al Lahm”. Al-Zuhairi said he heard about the tragedy from one of the Polish workers around 20 years ago and he has never forgotten about it.