Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two weeks, lots of tea and too much to handle in Kurdistan, 122710--Ankawa-Erbil, Iraq

Today it has been two weeks since I have been in Iraq. The first couple of days, I just felt out of place, just I wanted to go back; no friends, missing family, nowhere to go after work, I couldn’t even feel the spirit of Christmas. I was so sad and I cried every single day for the first 5 days, I felt completely disconnected. I had so many illusions to be in Iraq, and was so excited to come here, the cradle of civilization, the land of Abraham, Babylon, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, Baghdad, the center of the Islamic world in the 12th century and I was finally here and nothing was clicking. I knew it was just a process, that it was going to be all right, that it was normal to be sad, (I never felt like that in Palestine), but I could not stop crying, I guess after 6 months, and another holiday away from home, everything was finally hitting me.

For the first time in 6 months, after sleeping on a tent, on the floor, on the kitchen, and not having a specific place to sleep, I have my own room, even when its temporary. Despite having my amazing kingdom, I was still sad; the feeling of being alone and far away from home, and the fact that I couldn’t do anything on my own made me very frustrated. I just went to work, was sad all day and went back to the house, sat on my bed to cry. Now, I realize how helpless it feels to be displaced, to depend on others to fulfill your most basic needs like eating, or just getting back home. I know how vulnerable one feels and even I can’t compare my situation, but MAYBE this is how refugees and internally displaced people (IDP’s) here in Iraq feel. The feeling of powerlessness not being able to be self-sufficient, having to depend on the government or on NGO’s to fulfill their needs for housing, food, water.

My co-workers were trying to make me feel at home, playing Spanish music and they even got me a Christmas tree and we mounted it and put some lights on it. That was so sweet. I have been drinking a lot of tea too, tea at all times and in EVERY place and with a lot of sugar, I guess that's why you see my face a little bit more round. At work, most of the people in the organization is Kurdish, but there are 2 girls that are Arab. One of my co-workers is one girl from Baghdad. She moved here 4 years ago, running away from the sectarian violence between Sunni-Shi’a that was at its peak around 2006-2007. She is a very lively and outspoken girl, she told me that her father cannot find a job because he cannot speak Kurdish and also he was from a different political ideology, but that he receives some money from Baghdad. The other girl that works with me is originally from Mosul, but she and her family lived in Syria, also because of the sectarian violence. She told me that her sister husband was kidnapped but was able to escape because he opened the trunk where they put him. He just took a taxi to the Syrian border and waited there for his documents to be able to enter into Syria. I met another guy that was also from Baghdad that told me that they lived here because his father was kidnapped and that they were lucky that he is alive, after they paid $150,000. “We are lucky that my family has money” he said.

There is a cool mixture of Arabic-Kurdish language, you have to pay close attention, because in a second they change from one to the other. I can't figure the Iraqi-Arabic and it feels as if I don't know any Arabic at all. Some of the Kurds speak Arabic and vice versa, it’s a very interesting mixture, but not everyone speaks both languages. Also there have been some historical clashes between the Arabs and Kurds, so its not like they are so close, but now with the war, there is a lot of internal migration to the north, because is a more stable area, an area that has not been touch by the war, and now is blossoming with development and outside investment. There is around 1 million Arabs and 4 million Kurdish in the Iraqi-Kurdistan, curiously, the same ratio of Palestinians to Israelis living inside Israel.

I’ve been reading a lot of UN reports about the situation in Iraq. There are about 1.5 million people that have been internally displaced and around 1.5-2 million widows. About 10% of households in Iraq are headed by female. 1 in 5 children are illiterate. There are a lot of issues of violence against women, including honor killings, trafficking and female genital mutilation, a practice that is prevalent in 74% according to a Human Rights Watch report that I read. This is a country that has been suffering the devastating effects of war and UN sanctions for the past three decades. The Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War followed by sanctions against that Saddam Hussein regime, then the US-led invasion, and as I read all these reports and the number of people, especially women and children that are the most vulnerable, I just ask myself WHY?????? Why our money has gone to support all these years of suffering, occupation, violence. Well, I know WHY!!! It is because of the greed of a few that want to control the energy resources of this part of the world. Because of that Iraqis are displaced, they cannot travel freely to other countries; they cannot visit other parts of the world, because their country s blacklisted, and they are seen as possible terrorists. I CAN, because I have the blessing of being born American with all the benefits and opportunities that the Empire brings. An Iraqi has the damnation of being born in a country of terror and war, and therefore s/he carries the mark wherever s/he goes.

My organization, the Women Empowerment Organization, has a couple of projects including awareness and empowerment of women and youth, we run a small business development center, to train young people to start their own businesses. We just have finish setting up a radio station and we have a hotline to serve women victims of violence, we are also planning literacy courses to target the widow women and to engage them in income generating projects to make them self sufficient and economically empowered. So here I start a new year with a new learning experience, lots of projects for the future and lots of hope for the people of Iraq.

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