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Iraqi dates being sold on Atlantic

The Brooklyn Paper
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A hundred pounds of Iraqi dates that took more than two months to get to America — give or take 25 years — are finally being sold at an Atlantic Avenue store.

Artist Michael Rakowitz ordered a ton of the dates back in September, as part of a project that he hoped would highlight the abnormal relations between the U.S. and an ally, Iraq.

He had no idea how abnormal they are.

Rakowitz’s first shipment got to the Jordanian border — twice — before being turned back. The shipment then went to Syria, where bribe-seeking officials held it for weeks. By the time it was released, the dates had spoiled.

A second shipment of just 50 kilograms was sent by air — but as The Brooklyn Papers reported two weeks ago, the dates were still tied up as American officials figured out what to do with 10 boxes that had the words “Product of Iraq” on them — the first time such words have been seen in these parts in 25 years, thanks to embargos, wars and sanctions.

Finally, Rakowitz’s dates were released by American customs officials this week. They went on sale on Friday.

“I actually don’t know how to feel,” said Rakowitz, whose grandfather was an Iraqi Jew.

“One of the ideas of the project was to see if America and Iraq could have normal trade. But this project showed how much further we have to go.”

Baghdad native Zeyad Kasim pre-ordered his dates and was on hand to collect them.

“I don’t even like dates,” said Kasim, who is studying at City University. “But the dates are important because they remind me of home.”

At presstime, Rakowitz hadn’t decided whether he would set the price of his dates based on his absurdly high importation costs.

“That was also part of the project — to show how expensive it is to import goods from Iraq,” he said. “But I know that the people who pre-ordered the dates would pay anything. To them, it’s about memory — ‘thikra’ in Arabic. They just want those dates.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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