Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Something to think about on Thanksgiving, Suleimaniya, Iraqi, Kurdistan

It has been more than three months since my last post. In that time, many things have happened here in this part of the world: the PA went to the UN to ask to be admitted as a member state, Arab Spring has become the Arab autumn and now the Arab winter, thousands of Syrians have been killed, Egyptian Christians have been massacred in Cairo, Gilat Shalit was exchanged by 1027 Palestinian political prisoners, 24 Turkish soldiers were killed in near the Turkish-Iraq border (Turkish territory) which led to air and land strikes in Northern-Iraq, Kurdistan, Muammar Qaddafi was murdered. It seems that violence is business as usual.

Perhaps I didn’t have the will to write, I was sick, very frustrated, overwhelmed or even disappointed. After a year in Kurdistan, nothing seems to have changed. Life goes on, people in the west and even here go to work, and they are busy with everyday things. In the meantime, I try to keep myself motivated and find a reason to wake up in the morning; to believe that there is hope for change, a reason to keep fighting for justice, in a far away country, removed from all the things that I love: my family, my friends, my country. Sometimes I find it hard.

Every morning and afternoon, I walk to work and pass by a group of old Kurdish men (Kakas) that greet me and invite me for a domino match, I have even beaten them a couple of times. I walk on the neighbourhood, absorbed on my own thoughts. I go to work and the day goes by seating between emails, reports, forms, meetings and trainings. Then the weekend comes and the story repeats itself. This doesn't make sense. Seems like if I were working for nothing, as things don't seem to change.

Suddenly, Friday morning, my day off, I go to a very special place. A place that is hard to explain, a place where love and misery coexist. Here, I realize why I am here, when I see the face of the children I get to work with every Friday, they are Iraqi children internally displaced by violence. Their eyes are so beautiful, full of laughter, full of joy, despite the hard conditions of living as refugees in their own country. When they come running and I hold them and see how full of love they are, I can’t but remind myself how lucky I am to be there and get to enjoy this time with them. We play, sing, dance, and learn together. The other day, I taught them the Macarena, I wish you could see how their small bodies danced to the rhythm of the music. For a single moment I lost sense of where I was, and just enjoyed their laughter. I forgot they are children of war and violence, displaced, fragile. I get back to reality, most of them must have spent the majority of their lives in this forgotten camp, a place of uncertainty and misery. Now every single week, they are asking to dance the choreography they learned. Even if we don’t have the music, I will sing for them and they do the steps. We have so much fun together. Then when is time to leave, everyone is sad, but we just look forward to next week.

Yes, this happens as you live a different life, go to do your groceries, to the salon, to the post office or for your daily walk. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 27.3 million internally displaced refugees around the world, the majority of them women and children, Iraq being the third largest country with internally displaced people (IDP), between 1.3-2.8 million, after Sudan and Colombia. Although internally displaced people outnumber refugees by more than two to one, no single UN or other international agency has responsibility for responding to internal displacement. As a result, the global response to the needs of IDPs is often ineffective. And guess who paid for the wars that created these refugees? You, with your tax dollars! And who is paying now, for programs to help refugees? Again, you with your tax dollars. And who should be accountable for these millions of people who now are homeless, I leave that for you to answer. Desmond Tutu said that those who are silent to injustice can be called complicit.

Last week, it rained on the camp, for a full three days, I could not think but how where the kids and if they were warm enough. When we arrived, there was mud EVERYWHERE, but the kids didn't care, they were waiting for us. We always take our shoes off to keep the tent clean, but this time it was needed much more. I found myself lifting up the smaller kids who where struggling to take their muddy boots off. It was a beautiful Friday, a beautiful muddy Friday.....

One of the kids pair of muddy shoes
So, when you are eating your Thanksgiving dinner, and are giving thanks, be thankful for all the blessings you have: a warm and safe home, food, water, electricity; think about the people: especially internally displaced women and children, who have nothing and yet are thankful for the little they have.

Amir's shoes on the tents entrance