Day Ten Findaworld Fall 2015 Iraq Trip
I don’t think it is possible to fully experience what these displaced families have—even if each event was duplicated, the same loss is experienced differently from culture to culture—but little things on this trip will occasionally give me a brief taste.
Wednesday morning. I’m Sitting at the Syriac Church Offices,
Waiting. WAITING. There’s some European group here making a big donation of a generator, so I have to wait. I’m told that today they might take me to Duhok—about four hours away—but that isn’t for sure. Maybe tomorrow. Nor have they said anything about when we would leave, would it be an overnight stay, multiple days? I’ve got all my stuff at the hotel and it’s booked for the week. What do I do with all that?
My translator has a long conversation with someone in Arabic then tells me what they said with half a sentence.
Unknown, kept in the dark, not able to make plans; foreign language and customs, dependent on waiting for other people; want to take things into my own hands; Lack of PRIVACY; translator reading over my shoulder; haven’t had my own space in over a week;
Lack of the FAMILIAR; I stand out; people always looking at me.
Every conversation takes effort.
I see things that make me wonder if I have entrusted myself to the right people;
Feeling that I’m valuable insomuch as I am an asset.
Not feeling I am with the most competent partner; feeling disappointed yet obligated.
I’m getting more easily irritated;
Want to go do my own thing find my own space, but really can’t—or shouldn’t.
Waiting on someone else’s timeline and plan
Not in control.
Now it looks we’ll go to Duhok today—when I’ve already committed to the hotel for the night here. When do we go? When do we pack? Will there be time to pack? Do I leave stuff at the hotel? Will I not have to pay if I pack up and take everything? Is there room for that in the vehicle?
NOW. I’m told we’re leaving for Duhok right now. A stop at the hotel to pick up my stuff and we’re off.
In the car to Duhok now. It all worked out: Abouna Paulos knows the hotel staff, so I don’t have to pay for the late check out —even got their special rate. These are ultimately small things, and even at two weeks, this is a short trip.
For a family being displaced from place to place, the toll of the unknowns must really add up.
While waiting for the church car in the hotel lobby, I ran into my friend Mr. Azad. He has brought our mutual friend Hazim, who speaks solid English. Hazim tells me that Mr. Azad wants to show me something about a mile away—doesn’t want me to leave until I see it. My translator calls our ride and gets us some extra time.
We hop into Mr. Azad’s car and drive to a good-sized house.
It’s a house for the elderly: Mr. Azad pays the rent out of his own pocket—no government help, no church help.
In this culture, the elderly almost always live with the extended family, so there’s not too many places like this. What happens when the person has no family? “Mr. Azad takes care of these people like they are his own kids, ” says Hazim.
There are bout 20 residents here. It’s staffed by three ladies to help cook, clean, and do personal care. There’s also a guard. It is difficult for residents to get to church, so Mr. Azad added a small building with a worship space for them to go and pray.
Mr. Azad believes Jesus is calling him to do this,
This house is Mr. Azad’s joy and passion, but he is angry. Before, when the economy was better, he could support it from his own business profits and personal donations. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep it open. Hazim tells me that Mr. Azad wants me to find people who can financially contribute to keep the house open.
Afterwards, in the car driving to Duhok, my translator S takes me aside. He tells me he’s sure that Mr. Azad is lying, and that he is surely getting compensated by the government.
Man, how do help in an environment like this? Yes, there is LOTS of corruption here, and it does seem like most people are looking to get something out of even noble works, but do you just ball your fist up and decide not to help anybody?
Tough stuff to discern. I’ve got a friend in the region I trust who will be able to shed some light on this.
Now, we’re finally in the car driving to the Duhok region. In the car with us is Abouna (Father) B, who is the priest for that area. He appears to be a little distant toward me. He says he’s not feeling well, but I think there might be more to it. We stop for lunch and the chilly attitude continues. It’s not until we get into the car again that Abouna B starts talking to me:
“SOOOO…” he begins. (It’s in Arabic, but even I can figure out what is up). “What do you think of the situation here?”
I shared what I’ve shared before in many similar conversations:
“It is a big mess here, and I see how much pain the people are in and wondering if it will ever get better. It makes me sad because I love this country and the people here. I’m especially sad because the actions of my country played a significant part in the troubles you’re experiencing now. I love my country and there is a lot of good in us, but I don’t think we were fair to your people in what we did here. And I’m sorry for that.”
Abouna D gave a deep, slow nod, and a little less chill.
A few hours later we reached the Syriac Orthodox Church offices outside of Duhok, a small retreat complex outside of the village of Sarseng. S and I were pointed to a large room with about ten beds. After a chance to unpack and tea with the administrator, one of the young men offered to take us to meet families in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The first house we went to was being rented by a Yizidi family. Most of the family was still out, except for the Mother and her neighbor.
Some Yizidis are not culturally comfortable being photographed, but I was able to take pictures of their apartment, and the neighbor and her grandchild. The neighbor came here after Da3sh/I.S.I.S. forced her out of Bashika. All she could take was her clothes and a small bag.
This Yizidi woman had lived near Mosul with her husband, 6 sons and three daughters. Along with their grown sons, they had five houses between them. Now, everything is gone. The four adults sons live in camps. Everything in the house came from neighbors.
“Nobody helps Yizidis” she says. “No help from the government. Only neighbors”
I ask if she is comfortable in this house.
“No,” she says. There is not even running water. That doesn’t keep her from serving me with coffee and a glass of bottled water—Middle East hospitality and graciousness.
Eventually, the rest of the family comes home. We talk for a long time, all sitting on the floor. I break out gifts from my replenished supply of puppets and kazoos. More coffee is served.
The 15-year-old son works with father instead of going to school. The two college-age daughters began their university studies before being forced out of Mosul (one was studying to be a geography teacher, the other studied biology), but can’t afford it now.
“I just want to have safety and finish my studies,” one of them says. Both of them become very interested when I bring up the idea of starting a micro-business to generate funds to finish school. We exchange information to follow-up.
The next family I visited was Syrian. They fled from Syria to Mosul, from Mosul to here. They are delighted to hear of my own involvement with and time in Syria. They proudly point out that the coffee they are serving me came directly from Syria.
One of the sons in the family is a young Syrian man who deserted from the Army. I do not take his picture.
The final house I visit tonight is full of people. No furniture, just people sitting on mats, their backs propped against the wall. A couple people are finishing their meal (they offer to share with me, naturally) and the rest are drinking coffee and smoking.
It’s a group conversation, but the talk is led by one guy in particular. He’s chain-smoking. He’s angry—or more to the point, he’s frustrated and needs to talk.
So I let him talk:
“Where is the pastor? With the rich. I’ve been here a year and the pastor doesn’t come even to pray for my pregnant wife …Truth story: if you have no job, no money, nobody will help. Even the pastor will not pray for you. Poor working people being treated like non-persons—by religious people.”
Throughout this conversation, the others in the group are nodding in agreement, some offering their own stories. We talk for a long time. I mainly just listen, empathize, validate his hurt, but it seems to be having an impact. The Angry Smoking Man is glad to have a pastor (I’m still wearing my collar) who will sit on the floor with him and his family.
I can’t make it out of the house without kisses and warm embraces from everyone in the room.
S and I get back to the church complex. Dinner is being prepared for us.
It’s late, and Abouna B is still in his office. He invites us in for tea.
I bring up our time in the car, that I picked up on some of his anger, and that I would welcome an opportunity for him to share with me the things he thinks I—and American Christians need to know.”
These are my notes from Abouna D’s reply:
“We ARE mad—and concerned—the people just want to keep this country stable.
The people in the country aren’t responsible either. The situation the fighting, the sectarianism,
Those who finish their education can’t get work in their field.
Now: the government is self-serving—party system.
The economy is so bad because the govt acts like thieves. The govt is against Christians, making things hard for them.
Today, they don’t pay salaries. There is Military activity in the area, and the Persecution of Christians.
The Christians may be dying out
It is difficult for us church leaders. The church is always trying to meet needs,, but the needs never end
Pastors are always in crisis mode, not able to see own children.
We have trust in God ; we believe God will not give us something bigger than what we can handle; if God knows about this, God will stop all this someday;
In the world there will be struggle
And God is with them in the trouble
The people here just want peace. The people in Iraq do not have a soul to revenge –just peace.