THE SECRETS OF JADRIYA BRIDGE: One of Baghdad’s busiest throughfares has many stories to tell

By Fatima Karim in Baghdad

Sometimes when the winter sun rises over the banks of the Tigris River, Baghdad looks like a painting. Seagulls fly into the blue sky over the Jadriya bridge and the water dances beneath it.

But it’s not often that Jadriya bridge is this peaceful. The concrete bridge is just over a kilometer long and links two sides of Baghdad separated by the river: the Karkh district, as the west bank of the Tigris is known, and the Rusafa neighborhood on the other side.

With three lanes going either direction, the bridge was designed by a Czechoslovakian engineering company and then built with the help of a now defunct German firm, Polensky and Zoellner. It was opened in 1982.

Jadriya is always one of the most crowded bridges in Baghdad due partly to the importance of the various institutions and markets all around it, including the University of Baghdad and Nahrain University. Often there are traffic jams on the bridge. And this is what makes it so attractive to street sellers who ply their trade there: They get a captive audience.  

Mousa Mohammed gets up early every day to get to the bridge, where he sells potato chips and roses. Mohammed is only 15 and lives in southern Baghdad. He first started doing this job together with his older brother when he was just eight years old.

But he’s proud of this. Selling roses is like “selling love,” he says. “I sell apologies, I sell gratitude, and I sell beauty. All of this in a bouquet of roses.” As for the potato chips, passers-by will often buy them so they can feed all the seagulls around here.

Mohammed is also proud that he can take care of himself and help with his family’s expenses. “I rely on myself,” he boasts, adding that he has never wanted to beg.

Saleh Hassan, 37, also works on the bridge. He actually has a government job but supplements his low salary, working evenings on Jadriya Bridge.

“I’m the father of two daughters. I work for a salary of IQD300,000 [around US$230] which is just not enough to meet my family’s needs,” he explains. “So I decided to sell flowers on this bridge.”

Hassan even has a favorite spot for sales. “I like it here because of the beautiful view and the large crowds that pass by,” he says.

The street vendors on Jadriya Bridge work long hours. Mohammed says he is usually here from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. He’ll work longer on holidays or on special occasions because that’s when people tend to buy more flowers.

When it comes time to take a quick break, Mohammed explains that there are some food vendors in caravans under the bridge. “There’s a container tied to the bridge and anyone who wants a snack, puts money into it and then throws it down,” he outlines the bridge’s unexpected secrets. “At the bottom, Uncle puts food into the bowl, and we pull it back up.”

Mohammed is referring to Abu Ahmed. The 45-year-old has been working under the bridge for years and is well known to all the street sellers here. He sells the meals he prepares in his small caravan at a reasonable price to the sellers on the bridge and everyone really appreciates him. He’s like a father to us, Mohammed says. “And his food is better than my mother’s,” he jokes.

Hassan only gets here around midday, after he finishes work at the office. “Usually I go home first because there I have a small refrigerator where I keep the roses. They last longer that way,” he says.

One of Hassan’s customers asks him how best to preserve the roses she buys from him and somewhat surprisingly, he answers like a trained florist. Then again, he’s been doing this for over three years.

“Keep them in cold water and add a little cinnamon powder,” he tells her , then smiles. “But don’t tell anyone else. That’s a trick of the trade.”

Mohammad Ali, 22, is a student at Baghdad University and he explains that when there are really bad traffic jams on the bridge, the students will often just get out and walk to school.

“Actually not a week goes by without me walking on Jadriya bridge,” he says. “To be honest, I’d rather get out of the car or bus and feed the seagulls potato chips and enjoy the view, than wait for the traffic to clear. I also always buy a rose for my girlfriend,” he continues with a shy smile. “She likes the red ones best.”

This is the real view of Jadriya Bridge, which carries not only cars but also the stories of the street sellers who work here and the lovers who meet there – and a whole lot of hungry seagulls too.

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