Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Friday, February 17, 2012

Between Middle East and America: A so Awaited Visit, San Juan, PR-Iraqi-Kurdistan, February 17th, 2012

I have been quiet for some months now. During December-January, I went home to visit family and friends. I am back on the ground in Kurdistan, Iraq despite being worried about recent talks about bombings in Iran, which is a couple of hours away from where I live. The propaganda is immense, especially from Israel, who cannot come to terms with a nuclear Iran and is trying to persuade the US to attack. Well, that’s another whole story, but basically I wanted to share my thoughts about my visit back home and to Connecticut.

Being home was refreshing, after more than a year away. Spending time with family and friends gave me a sense of groundness. I enjoyed a warm Caribbean Christmas, being nurtured by loved ones and was able to replenish the energy lost to all my travels for the past one and a half year. Sometimes you get yourself so into the work you do that you forget about your loved ones, and that is not healthy.

I also had the opportunity to connect with my fellow friends and Middle East activists back home, that are doing their share of work while we are on the ground. They keep the momentum going at home, reminding people and our elected officials that we don’t want more war and abuses in the Middle East. Knowing that there’s people supporting the work I do, gives me strength to keep going.

I gave four talks in CT and it was great to connect again with people. During the first one, I burst into tears when I showed a slideshow with some of the pictures from my journey. Is just one of those moments when it really sinks in. It is hard when you have been focusing on doing, doing, doing,  to find the time to absorb it all. I had great discussions and the opportunity to share my experience, what it means to me and to the people I have met to have lived and worked in Palestine and now in Iraq. I talked about Hamas; how it started as a grassroots movement, about how our “war on terror” has developed more violence and created millions of refugees and internally displaced people, some of which I had the opportunity to work with. One of the questions that came up was: What has been the hardest thing about living and working in the Middle East? For me, it hasn’t been the hard conditions, lack of social life as we know it in the west, unavailability of electricity, or that sometimes I feel helpless towards the situation; the hardest thing is the fact that I have an American passport and I can leave whenever I want.  Anytime I feel fed up, I can just take a bus or a plane, get myself a piña colada and seat in front of the beach. I have options and freedom; something which my Iraqi and Palestinian friends lack. To me, that is the hardest thing.

Talk in Storrs, CT Jan 23rd.

New Haven, Jan. 26th with Stan Heller from the Middle East Crisis Committee
I mostly talked with people working in Middle East advocacy, but it was interesting to talk to people who were not activists; but regular people with no background in this part of the world. Part of the  job is to take this time to talk to people and get the word out about how really things are, not only what is shown in mainstream media, that is part of the construction of what our governments want us to believe. I was very touched when people thanked me for bringing my personal story, because it gave them a face to what they frequently hear in the news, or even study at school. The reality is that Iraqis and Palestinians are real people, who are not much different from us; even Islam is not much different from Christianity. They just have lived under different conditions, including war and dictatorships, that our own governments and tax dollars have financed and I think this is why I feel accountable and I want to show Palestinians and Iraqis that not all Americans agree with our government policies.

In Hartford, CT on Jan 27th
This past month, gave me the time to reflect on the things that I have lived and what I’ve learned about this journey: I have learned that there are people and generations in this part of the world who have lived their entire life at war (Palestine more than 40 years, Iraq more than 30 years); even some of the little ones have spent their entire lives as refugees. They have loved and hated, laughed and cried and wiped out their tears. They have won, and lost; and have found creative ways to survive. They have seen life and death, and buried their dead and continued their journey; many have lived through occupation, but few have tasted freedom. I’ve also learned to love and value myself, learned the value of family and friends, to listen to all and above all, I have learned that there are still people who are compassionate, care for justice and value everyone equally. 

Now, I don’t have a job, as many Iraqi, Egyptians, Libyans and Palestinians, just to mention some. I mean, I am doing a lot of things. For example, a couple of days ago, I was in a small village near Suleimaniya called Tutaqal. A village of about 15 families, the landscape was so beautiful; you could see the snow-topped mountains. I went with a friend who was going to deliver three trailers to be used as a school as part of a project to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They have agreed with the village to provide for three classrooms in exchange of the villagers agreement not to engage in this practice anymore.  I met the beautiful children who were going to benefit from the classrooms. I wish you could see the faces of the students and teachers when they saw the new “classroom-trailers”, they were so happy, they moved their desks and chairs instantaneously!!!! But also I wish you saw their previous classrooms, small and dark, one of the rooms was used to keep the donkeys. So dusty and dark! I can’t stop thinking how blessed we are to have all the resources we have in America, when there are children who have less than the minimum! Read the story.
First and second grade students in Toutakhel, Iraq, share a classroom in a cinderblock building that the village rents for the school. The building lacks electricity, heat, and water. Three of the school’s six grades moved to new trailers that serve as modern classrooms on Monday, February 13. Wadi and the village are working together to obtain additional funding for three more trailers to serve as classrooms. Photo by Heidi Diedrich

Students in Toutakhel, Iraq began moving in classroom furniture into the new trailers on Monday, February 13, the same day the structures were delivered to the village. Photo by Heidi Diedrich

So, now I leave something for later, so many thoughts, that I cannot keep up with my writing. Later, I will write about honor killings in Kurdistan. I hope you keep reading my posts and keep supporting me and the people here in your prayers.