Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas is where your heart is...--122410, Ankawa, Iraq

Yesterday was Christmas Eve here in Iraq, (and in every other part of the world). A very different Christmas: a very hard, very special but a very meaningful one.... Christmas is a super special time for me, but this one comes at a different time on my life. I have been traveling for the past six months, and today, Christmas has another meaning, actually, many different meanings: it means to live with a PURPOSE, to know I am moving in this journey, but with each movement, I leave behind, smiles, tears, laughter, sorrow and happiness and the satisfaction of illuminating the lives of all those that I find on my way. It means to be out of my comfort zone, even when it means tears and sadness. The sadness that no one wants to feel, but that many people in Iraq experience, by being displaced, unemployed, widow, or orphan....... It means to INSPIRE, SUPPORT and to BRING LAUGHTER or to give ADVICE, to LISTEN or even just to SMILE. And not only I give, but I also receive many lessons. Lessons of humbleness, courage, perseverance, and strength from people that struggle everyday for living and sometimes for survival.

I've been feeling really lonely and sad and asking myself, after this, what, what is it that I am looking for by being here. I still have no answer. Many tears of loneliness, of helplessness, but I guess is the price to be paid to follow my heart, and I hope with each of those tears I grow stronger. Many thoughts and feelings, sometimes I feel that I want to stay here, make my life here.....in this area of the world, but sometimes when I see the inequality, the injustice, the corruption, my own helplessness, I just want to run away. But there is a sense of responsibility on me, something that says, I am here to be the eyes and the ears of people that will never get to see what really this part of the world is. Sometimes I just want to sit and cry, and sometimes I want to just be present. Sometimes I care, sometimes I don't.......

The Entrance of St. Joseph's Church

Yesterday was Christmas Eve in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. A mix of development and modernity trapped in a very traditional society. A society that is evolving but that still displays very conservative norms. Where woman is still positioned in very traditional roles and with low representation in society and politics. Today, I went to the beauty salon to try to be pretty on Christmas and to take away my sadness, caused by being away from home. From there we had dinner and I started to prepare to go to church here in Ankawa, a Christian suburb next to Erbil the place I now live and work.

St. Josephs Cathedral is the oldest church in town. The church was full and we had to struggle to get inside. I've never been in such a full mass. People were pushing to get in, but after some time we managed to stay at the back of the church. There was a lot of noise, and people still wanted to get in, but there was really no place. People on the back where chatting and making a lot of noise, people were in and out of the church and I was very upset that the solemnity of the night was not respected, in the end this is "the most ancient Christian community in the world". We were standing for more than 1 1/2 hours as the priest sang the mass in ancient Assyrian. I couldn't even guess that part of the mass we were in,  except the alleluia. The homily and other parts of the mass were in Arabic. They gave the sign of peace to each other and then the priest came to the back giving the Holy Communion. There were like two songs I knew that are also sang in PR., the Loria In Excelsis Deo and the Adestes Fideles, so I was happy following the mass in the best way I like: singing.

Christmas Chaldean mass...
When we went out of mass, I noticed the armed security checking on everyone. When I was inside the packed church, I thought about the recent attacks on the Christians here and I reminded myself I was in Iraq. As a Christian I never felt threatened before, but the armed security guards reminded me of those 52 people murdered while attending mass, and how vulnerable Christian are here. The main entrance of the Ankawa was also closed. I guess also to prevent unknown people from entering and causing any trouble.

A beautiful Tree outside the Church
After mass we went to a festival here in town, there was Christmas music including the traditional jingle bells (which has become my Christmas anthem now), Santa Claus also visited the festival with some friends. After the live music was finished they played Kurdish music, giving Christmas the local touch. All the people started to gather in lines and circles to dance. I also joined in the dancing with some of my friends, both Kurd and Assyrian, reminding me that dancing and music bring people together.

At the Christmas festival, on Christmas Eve, with my Kurdish host brothers

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Christmas had a special touch after all, its own Iraqi flavor, and I had the opportunity to discover a different way to celebrate, and to give a meaning other than party and shopping. I didn't give any presents or receive any material things, but I gained a lot and strengthened my spirit, reminding myself that saying that home is where your heart is, and so is Christmas, and my heart is now here in Iraq!

Me and Pooh

A balloon next to the festival area
Merry Christmas.....in Assyrian (Arameic)

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