Amoula il Majnoona

Amoula's blog from Ramallah

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iraqi Dates have arrived in NYC

My friend Michael Rakowitz had made one of the best art projects I have seen in New York city in a long time. He re-opened his Iraqi grandfather's import export company on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Here is the latest update on the store and more information:

Dear Friends,

It's been a long journey, but 10 boxes of Iraqi dates have made it through U.S. Customs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections, and are finally for sale on my store's shelves.

The initial one-ton shipment of Iraqi dates (khestawee type)was originally scheduled to be recieved in early October by my company, Davisons & Co.--a resurrected version of my grandfather's import export company that he operated out of Baghdad and subsequently New York after he fled Iraq in 1946. The dates were part of a deal to ship one-ton of the dates from Hilla, Iraq to our storefront in Brooklyn, NY, signed by our company and Al Farez Co. in Baghdad. The import was arranged through Sahadi Fine Foods in Brooklyn, NY.

The shipment left Baghdad in early October, literally days after the dates came down from the palm trees. They were to travel by truck to Amman, Jordan where they would then be shipped by air direct to JFK International Airport. On the way, however, the truck carrying the dates waited in a line of cars, reported to be days long, of Iraqis fleeing the sectarian violence and trying to gain entry into Jordan to seek refuge. Once at the border, the truck was turned away like so many of the Iraqi refugees, and was sent back to Baghdad because the shipment required a certificate declaring it free from radiation. After receiving said certificate, the truck returned to the border, only to have the Jordanian officials turn the driver away again, this time because of "security concerns." The truck then headed north to Syria, where it made it through to Damascus Airport and was then held by security officials because a form had not been completed by the truck driver that would cost Al Farez 1200 USD to have completed on the Syrian end. After yet another week, the Syrian officials released the shipment, whereupon the Sales Agent for Al Farez, Khairi, discovered that the dates had basically cooked after shuttling back and forth for three weeks in a hot truck and were not suitable to be exported. The dates were to have been sent from Damascus to Cairo, Egypt, then onward to the US.

In the end, the dates traveled the exact same path as an Iraqi refugee, many of whom sought entry to Egypt, once the Jordanian border was tightened in the early fall. They never reached their destination, much like the fleeing Iraqis.

However, in a new deal agreed upon on 7 November, 10 new boxes of 4 varieties of dates were shipped via DHL from Baghdad to the USA. We are pleased to announce that just yesterday, the FDA released the dates into our possession and they are now on sale in our store in Brooklyn. The dates are packed in boxes, clearly labeled "Product of Iraq," believed by many importers to be the first such item to enter the USA in over 25 years.We will be from 10 AM-7 PM daily, as always, and our last day of business is scheduled to be Sunday, 10 December.

Due to the very low quantity of dates in our store (we were supposed to have 200 boxes, now we only have 10), we will be limiting the amount per customer to accomodate the high number of pre-orders.

You can read more about the history of the transaction at the following blog. It is the project page for "Return" which is presented as part of Creative Time's "Who Cares" initiative.

I will be updating the blog tomorrow morning.

Also, please check out Christine Lagorio's excellent article about the project, posted today at

Very special thanks to Creative Time for their support and presentation of this work, and for extending the project six weeks beyond its intended closing date, in order to accomodate the arrival of the dates; to Atlantic Assets and Art Assets for the donation of the storefront space, and for agreeing to the extension of the project; to Pat Whelan and Sahadi Fine Foods for their collaboration on the import of the dates and handling all bureaucratic channels, facilitating their already difficult arrival; to Rick Morana at C-Air Customhouse Brokers for courageously agreeing to oversee an import that most would have rejected; and to Atheer Al Azawi, Khairi Fares, Suzan Othman of Al Farez Co., Baghdad/Amman, and Fallah Farms in Hilla, Iraq, for collaborating with me and establishing a new business partnership that will hopefully open as many as eyes as it will sweeten mouths.

Michael Rakowitz
Davisons & Co.
529 Atlantic Ave.
Brooklyn, NY
tel: 917-692-5592


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