Day Three: Findaworld 2015 Iraq trip
Waking up with company. My interpreter S decided to sleep in the office with me last night, on the couch. Folks in the culture here are used to–and prefer, I think— having people around them much of the time. Me, not as much. It gives me a small sense of the changes and losses one faces when displaced—loss of some privacy, a change imposed upon your daily rhythm, not the worst thing, but still a change and any change is a bit of loss.
As we get ready for the day I’m introducing S to Bruce Springsteen. His eyes light up and he totally digs on it. Later he introduces me to Muslim worship music–it’s very good.
Breakfast is with one of the families that live here: a couple types of bread, creamy yogurt spread, bowls of olives and tomatoes and cucumbers, eggs both fried and hard-boiled, tea.
This morning Adnan takes us to “T” Camp. I was here in May, looking forward to being back. Bedouins have gathered here after I.S.I.S./Da3sh drove them off their land—two different times. The Bedouins are Muslim, but they aren’t the “right” kind of Muslim according to I.S.I.S./Da3sh, so they get persecuted, too. The first time, they had about two hours warning and a few families managed to leave with some livestock, so you see a few cows and sheep herds around the camp. These Bedouins actually had land and supported themselves through farming. They lived a simple lifestyle for sure, but they lived well.
The closer we get to the camp the dustier it gets. Barren and dusty. Not good land for farming. They can’t live the way they did.
We get to the camp and are ushered into a big room with cushions on the floor. Most of the men are in the traditional Bedouin dress of white shirt/robes, but there’s a couple guys in slacks and polos—turns out they’re with the government, here to assess the situation. Adnan and S and I sip tea and listen.
We get taken out into the camp. 763 families have come from Takrit this year. Lot’s of bricks being made, buildings being put up. The wind can get brutal here. More buildings means they think they’re gonna be here for a while.
In May, we helped the tribe get a grant for generator that would provide electricity for the whole camp. I’ve been excited to see this.
The tribe leaders take me out to see it—it hasn’t been used. It’s just sitting there: no wires hooked up to provide electricity to homes, nothing.
They haven’t used the generator: They need more money, they say: wiring, monthly gas; a building to protect it from the elements.
Pastor H says they can sell sheep for the money, and advises me not to get involved. They have to figure this out. Pastor H sighs–displaced people can get into a state of asking for everything, he says. What to do?
Some Bedouin kids gather and we play with them a bit. One of the kids is about fourteen or so. We are told that he is the oldest of thirty siblings–His father has four wives. Well, had. The man died a month ago. They are the poorest family in this tribe.
We get back to the Church after a delay at one of the checkpoints. I’m not positive, but I think my guide had to pay a bribe; the rest of the ride back, S goes off about how corrupt people are here.
Lunch date delayed–the family scheduled to serve us had to take a daughter to the hospital. Another family hears about this—God forbid we go hungry–and brings a meal to me and Sandy. We hold off, though, assured that the family will return for lunch. After about 3:00, we give in and eat the “emergency back-up meal.” On cue, the family returns and calls up to their room for lunch. And, of course, our hostess insists that I eat eat eat.
These meals I am having—in their “homes” which were Sunday school classrooms a year ago. One room, maybe a sink & toilet attached, for five or six people. They prepare what is essentially a feast—chicken, samoon bread, sliced cucumbers/tomatoes/onions/rice, etc. A table is brought into the sleeping area for us to dine, and I am given the nicest seat—a bed to sit on. The dining room mattress
Tonight I went to see Father F, a Priest in the Assyrian Catholic Church. We had talked earlier in the day—about America, and we continued that talk tonight.
In this picture, I’m not smiling. I thought it would be fake if I was. We were talking about hard things, and that’s just the reality of it. I think part of my ministry here is to let people like Father F, talk to me, an American—and have the freedom to talk honestly, even critically. He is not rude to me—these people understand the difference between me as an American and the actions of our government. Still, he’s clearly angry and anger needs to be vented. If I can be present for people to vent, then that’s something.
So…I invited Father F to tell me what he would tell Americans:
“The church here is living in a hard time.”
“After the Americans came in 2003, things became worse”
There was more, but I’m not sure about the accuracy of the translation, and I want to be careful about putting words in someone’s mouth. I think the gist of what Father F shared was his doubt that the American government ever had the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. A lot of it has to do with oil.
I’m reminded of what an Iraqi Monk said to me a few months ago:
“I wish the oil would dry up and the U.S. would leave us alone. We would be poor, but we would be free.”
I feel a huge weight
Back at the church; hanging out in the courtyard with families. The little community that has formed here is really something: Adult talking in a circle on plastic chairs; teens learning Frisbee; police coming in from the street to make tea in the little shack provided by the church, leaning their rifles against the wall; little kids still playing with the finger puppets I brought.
Was able to Elmarie; she is working to get people to invest capital for Kirkuk business startups—some possible hope to offer. I’m feeling better now.
Tonight’s Dinner invitation: another husband who had a restaurant; this one boasts of having cooked for Americans and Brits—so tonight we’ve got macaroni, fried potatoes, chicken livers; stuffed peppers.
The Iraqi people are conspiring to make me fat.
S shared with me a song by a Muslim singing against Da3sh—“Not in my name.”
S decides to sleep here again tonight. It is better than his home.