Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

One Month Later.

Well today marks the one month marker for me since I've been in Iraq.

Looking back on the past 30 days or so it seems like it went by so fast. Other times though it seems like I've been here for so much longer. I have to admit I'm really critical of myself a lot of times because looking back there's so many things I wish I could have done. It was an incredible month and so much was accomplished, so many things I wish I could convey over a blog, but for some reason this month makes me want to push so much harder this next month. I want to learn the language so much better, build more relationships, be more bold in every area, help more people.

I feel like I just got done running a lap in a new pair of shoes. I'm just breaking them in and I can't wait to run this next lap.

Why am I feeling this way? It's just a month. I don't know...I don't understand myself most of the time. But it's weird how many emotions have been hitting me knowing that there's only so many more months that I can be here. One down.

I rarely felt this way back home though. I remember so many times the time would just fly by and I'd sit there watching it go by with cold emotions. Sometimes I'd forget what day it was or even what month it was. I would think back on the month and all I could say was "wow that went by fast."

How come it's so different for me now? A month in Iraq is just as important as a month in America or in Europe. A day here is a day there. There's opportunities everywhere. People who need help all around. People who are too weak to make their voice known. People who need an advocate, causes that are awaiting activists. What made me think all these things were just overseas? And if I honestly believed that all of these things were overseas, what took me so long to get overseas?

I hope I never go back to that old self. Life's too short to be unemotional about a month.

So let's make this next month count. I'm not at all saying you didn't make this past month count. But let's make it really count. Maybe this is just to all the hypocrites and cowards like me. Let's see things we never saw before. Hear things we've been deaf too for far too long. Find a cause and be its champion. Be an activist. OK maybe don't go chain yourself to a tree but there's so many worthwhile things that are worth being chained to.

Don't hold back.

No frontier has ever been advanced by men and women of caution.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Future Tense

This morning I was at the university talking with some students. We were interviewing them for some English classes that we're getting ready to teach on campus. The lobby was packed with students who wanted to take these classes and so we met with them one by one. I sat in a desk and greeted each student and talked with them for a couple minutes. We had two questions we would ask them to try to get a grasp on where they were at with learning English. The first question was, "Describe the last time you went shopping." We thought that was a simple question and that it'd be a good way for us to see if they could talk in the past tense. The second question was, "What are your plans for the future?"

"What are your plans for the future?" I thought that was a great question and would be a good way to see if they could talk in the future tense also. I got some brutally honest answers though. Some of them just looked at me like I was so incredibly naive. "Does this guy not know that he's in Iraq?" Future? What future?

A few even said, "This is Iraq, How can I talk about a future when there is none for me?" Others said that there's no opportunities for them so even if they wanted a was like chasing a rainbow. Another said that in Iraq they don't even know if they'll have tomorrow.

There were a few students that you could tell had something deep inside them, pushing them, motivating them. They went off talking about how they're going to be a great doctor or dentist and that they're going to help their country. Others talked about how they want to move to Canada, America or Europe and go to school and become a teacher.

I can't imagine what it's like to be a student in Iraq. It seems like students are the same everywhere you go. They're all young and passionate and have all these dreams and goals, only a few actually have opportunities to take hold of those dreams. It was just hard talking with student after student and getting these answers.

I'm not sure what was more heart-breaking...hearing a student with no desire or belief in a future...or hearing a student with a grand view of the future, but in reality very little opportunity to obtain it.

Right now it's extremely difficult for these students to get a good education in this country. Especially one that could propel them into higher education. One of my friends here as tried to be smuggled into Europe five times. All five times he's gotten caught and sent back. I haven't met very many young people at all who have passports. The only place to get a passport here is in Baghdad and the people behind the passport counters are all Sunni Arabs....not the nicest people to the Kurds. So if they want one they'd have to go to Baghdad. First off, good luck trying to find a taxi to Baghdad, and they'd be charged a ridiculous amount to be taken there. If they get there...Baghdad isn't a welcoming place at all for Kurds. Extremely dangerous for them. Then they'd have to pay 2,000 US dollars for a was just recently raised. And then they'd have to convince a Sunni to give it to them. So many Kurds have pretty much have given up on trying to get passports.

It's frustrating. They're frustrated. So many times I don't know what to do or say. But things are improving. They're taking big steps forward. I always hate it when people just focus on the negative things in Iraq and ignore the positive things. But then you can't focus on all the positive things and ignore the negative things. Things are improving but there's so much more work that needs to be done. Dreams are being fulfilled but there are so many more dreams out there that need to be given a chance.

I don't just seems like everybody should be able to answer the question, "What are your plans for the future?"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Haps

Wow. I'm exhausted. My schedule has been pretty busy the past couple of days which I've loved...I'm just worn out because of the heat I think. I've given up on trying to figure how hot it's been here. The latest number I heard was 106! We have a fan in the office and the AC in our patrol semi-works so I'm thankful for that but most of the time it's just straight up HOT. It's been a struggle for all of us I think cause the heat just grips you with its fist and won't let you be yourself or function on all cylinders. But life in general here takes a lot out of me compared to life at home.

At home I could run to the market and get something and be back in 10 minutes. Here you have to walk at least 10 minutes or take a bus up to the Bazaar and sift through everything trying to find what you need. At home I could have a meeting with someone and take care of business and be done in half an hour. Here we spend so much time just talking and building relationships, then take care of business, then seal it with a meal, a drink, or desert a couple hours later. At home "hanging out" could consist of popping in a DVD and eating popcorn where here it means going on a couple hour walk, visiting their family and eating a meal with them, etc. It's so great though...I love all of this but at night my body's so ready for bed.

Today I went back with my friend to meet the guys at the shoe store where I took some more pics and talked with them some more. We met the kid who was having "body problems" and the physical therapist is starting some treatments with them. We were also able to take care of things for little Kedija, the girl who has a heart problem so we'll meet again soon and hopefully she'll be able to go to Jordan soon for surgery.

I wrote a company back home about selling the Kurdish shoes (Kilashes are their name) and they were really excited to look into it with us! I'm really excited about this, the guy who owns the company is someone I've talked with before so I'm excited because I think he can see the vision too. So right now we're working on a proposal and will hopefully send that off within the next couple days along with some shoes!

I've gotten a language helper too! I'm really looking forward to meeting with him and learning from him. I'm trying to meet with him as much as possible so we'll probably meet for a couple hours this afternoon. Here's a pic of him. His name is Happy. Another great thing about here...all their names mean something in their language. So his name is literally the Kurdish word for Happy! I have other friends who are named: Calm, Ability, Friend, Shepherd, Gate of light, and Truth.

Alright...enough talking. Just thought I'd let you know some of the haps around here! Take care.

Monday, June 25, 2007


This morning I met up with a friend at a local hotel and we walked into the Bazaar at 9 a.m. trying to beat the heat. We were on a quest for shoes.

Not just any shoes though. I noticed my friend's shoes the other day and he was telling me where he got them and that they were made here in the city. I was first attracted to them because they looked like a sweet pair of shoes but I later found out that they were entirely handmade by Kurds here in the country. That doesn't sound like much but that's something that's extremely rare here.

The Kurds get pretty much all of their goods imported either from Iran, Turkey or of course...China. All their fruit is shipped in, all their rugs, all their clothes (except their traditional clothes)...I haven't really found one thing that is made here or that comes from their country. So how do you support a country's economy when they really don't do much themselves? That's the thing I've been struggling with.

So you can see how excited I got when I heard that there's this place that makes their own shoes. So we found the place and sat down and talked with this man who was hammering away and cleaning his shoes. We talked for a while and then walked across the street to see another man make the soles for these shoes. They're entirely hand knit, even the soles are just fabric. Apparently these shoes go through four different guys before they're completed. One man specializes in making the soles, another knits the top, and I'm not sure what the other two guys do but apparently it's not easy enough for the other guys to do it.

We're really excited about these shoes though! So we're working on developing some sort of way where we can sell these back home, support this guy's business, and donate all the proceeds we'd make to a worthy cause here. Here's a little glimpse into this shop we were at all this morning.

(He's stretching leather to put through the sole to keep all the fabric together. At both ends of the sole is a chunk of bull. We're not sure what part of the bull it comes from but we were baffled by it and could only understand that they got it from a bull.)

(see the chunk of bull?)

(Now he's rubbing some sort of glue around the sole to keep it from fraying.)

In the process of this all we made some new friends and found out about one of the man's daughters who "has a body problem" and has a hard time moving anything, and another man's daughter who has a heart problem and needs surgery. My friend has a physical therapist on his team and I'm helping out an Org. that takes Iraqi children to Jordan for heart surgeries so it couldn't have worked out any better.

It was a good morning. We'll see if anything comes out of this though. Right now we're just throwing out the lure, seeing if we get any bites. I'm excited and I hope something like this will take off. Let me know your thoughts on the shoes! If you have any ideas, connections, etc. let me know.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fellowship of the Ring

Yesterday I got back from being gone for a couple of days. We met up with some other teams in the area and spent a couple days at the lake. We rented these "cabins" and just hung out and got to know each other. It was such a good time. The cabin's had air conditioning so I actually was cold for the first time in so long! We managed to get some hamburger buns, meat, steak, ranch and cheddar cheese from the army base so I almost made myself sick by eating as much as I could even though I was so full!

We sat around and heard what was going on with everybody else, what their visions are, what's in the way of them and their goals, what needs to be done, what's being done, etc. It was pretty inspiring and got me really excited about a lot of stuff. I was just sitting there looking at everybody sharing and I felt like I was a part of the council of Elron in Lord of the Rings.

Each person around me was so incredibly gifted and had all these ways they were putting their gifts to use. There was an incredible musician, a civil engineer, amazing artists and craftsmen, physical therapist, tech people, teachers, photographers, film-maker, people who are incredible at building relationships, Americans, Swiss, Chileans, Colombians, Irish, South Korean, Chinese, Mexican, etc. The list of talents and gifts could go on but I was so humbled to be in the room with all these people. The potential is ridiculous.

I think the thing that inspired me the most wasn't necessarily that they are all so gifted, but the fact that they're actually putting their gifts to use and being pro-active. Because honestly...gifted people aren't inspiring at all until they're using their gifts for other people. I love Bono's voice but I never really loved it until I heard him sing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gone fishing.

Hello everybody! I'm leaving for a couple of days but hopefully I'll be able to post on Saturday sometime when I get back. I'll try to post some more pictures too in the upcoming days. I'm finally at the stage now where I feel comfortable taking pictures of people here while still respecting them and their culture so I'm really looking forward to taking more. There's so many things I want you to see! Until then...take care and have a great few days!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

w o r l d r e f u g e e d a y

Today is world refugee day.

As of two years ago there were an estimated 12 million refugees in the world...

Refugee: a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.

...with another 21 million people who are internally displaced.

Displaced: persons who lack a home or country, as through political exile, destruction of their previous shelter, or lack of financial resources

"Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"

"Will ___ be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does ___ require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Justice: to act or treat justly or fairly. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness

Christian: a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ

Responsibility: a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible

Conviction: an unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence

Opportunity: a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.

Ability: power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.

"Then shall your light break forth like the dawn..."
I 5 8

Reinventing the Wheel.

Remember the film Billy Madison? OK maybe not the best movie out there but it has a good scene in there that was on my mind this morning. It's when Billy's piled in a bus with all these other 3rd graders going on a field trip when his little friend admits that he accidentally wet himself. This kid's humiliated and afraid of what his friends will do so Billy goes over and pours water on his pants so it looks like he wet his pants too. When this kid's friends start to make fun of him Billy proudly shows off his pants too and says "It's cool to pee to your pants." The kids are shocked because now it wasn't cool to make fun of someone who wet themselves. It was cool to pee your pants! So you can probably finish the story yourselves but I think that's a pretty funny illustration.

It just took one person to reinvent "cool." To reinvent what's acceptable and what's shameful. To change reality.

Here in Iraq it's humiliating to be handicapped. I've never seen one handicap person here and it's because they're all in their homes. Our cook's husband (the one who got beat up by the Sheik) had a stroke and can't get around except through a wheelchair. He was given a wheelchair by an N.G.O. but they never use it because it's a shame to take him out in public like that.

So how do you reverse that in a culture?

Here's my idea. I really want to find a wheelchair somewhere and just go out in public places in it. Go bowling. Go on picnics. Go to the Bazaar. Maybe it's a ridiculous idea but I wonder what people would think when they saw someone proudly speed past them on their tricked out wheel chair laughing the whole way home? Maybe a couple people need to show them that it's OK to be in a wheelchair. I wonder if that's all it would take for someone to get confidence to leave their home and see old friends and do things they've always wanted to do? If you want to be a part of this, come on over! Maybe we can start a movement across Iraq.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Me, My Yoke and I.

Since I've been here there have been so many different things I've had to get used to. I said goodbye to any kind of variety when it comes to food, goodbye to coffee, so long to a dryer alongside the washing machine, no more making any contact with a woman, goodbye to shorts and hello to slacks and a colored shirt every day, bye to air conditioning or a bed like I'm used to, bye to that feeling of complete safety and comfort that I've always had. I could keep going but basically...there's not really that much here that's the same back home. But for most of this stuff it's been no big deal. I'm usually pretty easy going with most things like that but there's been one thing that's been so hard for me to get over. Keep reading.

The other day I was spending some time with a friend here and he had on this beautiful ring. I pointed at it and told him how nice it was. I thought nothing of it but he took it off his finger and held it out to me. "Bo To, Bo To." "For you, For you." I was taken back and after several minutes of refusing to take it he humbly slipped it back on his finger. That's a common thing in this culture. If someone ever compliments you on anything, you give it to them. If someone ever asks to borrow something, you give it to him. No questions asked. Who invented borrowing anyways? If you haven't eaten all day and your favorite meal is before you and a stranger says "ah that looks good." It's his meal. Last week I went to go look for a tailor to fix a couple pairs of pants and I walked into the market looking for one. I asked one man expecting directions and instead he took me by the hand and left his job to walk me all the way there. I got into the tailor's place and the customer before me quickly took his pants out from the sewing machine and insisted that I was taken care of. It's not just cause I'm American too because I've seen them do this for fellow Kurds too. Do you see what this looks like every day?

After I was sick the other day I walked down the street to buy some juice. A friend there introduced me to his friend I shook his hand and said "hi" and quickly grabbed my juice and walked back home. I wasn't feeling well at all but you'd think it would have killed me to embrace him or show him I love him. My juice was so much more important than my relationship with him. Yesterday I was playing soccer with the kids on my street and afterwards we sat around under the tree and talked and just goofed off. The kid next to me pointed to my nice pumas and told me that they were very nice. I quickly glanced at his feet and saw they were a lot smaller than mine so I was relieved I didn't have to give them up. We went on talking.

These things are killing me. To both of these people I've made a loud and clear statement. I'll only love you when I'm feeling good. I'll only give you my shoes if it's a last resort or if it makes logical sense. You see the hardest thing for me to get over since I've been in Iraq is me. I'm the biggest cultural barrier holding me back. I'm such a selfish person and everyday I'm confronted with that here. Who cares how I'm feeling. Who cares if he doesn't know what kind of day I've had. Who cares if he won't grow into my shoes until a few years. That's not the point. The point is me showing him that I love him and that he's so much more important than a piece of leather. Since when did material things become more valuable than eternal things? When did I make that rule up?

Dying completely to myself may be a slow death. But I feel myself getting sick. I think it's contagious around here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Buckets of Glory.

Well this weekend I underwent another big stage of initiation here. I'm not sure what it was that made me so sick but whatever it was sure knew what it was doing.

A couple days ago I went on a picnic with a family we had just met. Picnics here mean getting up early and loading up the car with food for the whole day and then finding a nice place in the mountains or by the river and staying there the whole day. It was such a fun day spending time with them, going on walks, swimming, kicking around a popped volleyball. But before we got there I went with the dad and picked out some meat from the local butcher. This placed looked just like a butcher worked there...whole animals hanging from the ceiling, everything stained just looked like the only thing he couldn't butcher were the flies. But we picked out some pieces of meat that I felt pretty good about, meaning that I could tell what animal it was and could recognize the various body parts, etc. But when we got ready to throw it all on the fire he started pulling out all these parts that I had no idea where they came from. I'm not sure if he bought them when I wasn't looking or maybe we just grabbed the wrong sack of meat on our way out, we'll never know. But he pulled out a couple hearts, liver, intestines...the works. And one by one, he put a chunk of each one on a kabob and started to grill them up. So I lost track of what was what and had to just take my chances. So a few random body parts later combined with hours in the sun and a few hundred flies...and I was down for the count. So yesterday I was stuck to the couch not only because my body couldn't move but probably because of the sweat also. I managed to find a bucket that I just carried with me everywhere so that my body felt free to get rid of all the extra body parts. I figured I already have a heart, liver, and intestines and didn't need anymore. And I ended up getting rid of all of it and a whole lot more. But today I'm feeling much better. I have to be honest though, I can never remember being more sick than I just was though. This isn't the most exciting post and it may be the last post some of you will read but why does everything have to be glorious? Yesterday I was laying there thinking of all the papers I signed to get here, but not one of them mentioned being crippled on a bed clinching a bucket. I wanted to experience the feeling of knowing that I've helped make this country a better place, or have taken part in building a building that would benefit hundreds or be a part of changing thousands of lives through education or distribution of medical supplies. Those are the feeling I want, not the ones that my last moments on earth are gonna be spent hovered over a white bucket. That bucket half full reminded me though that even the most mundane, revolting and inglorious things can be so glorious at the same time. If you're doing what you believe in, if you're living it with all your heart, soul, and mind...isn't everything glorious? Or maybe it's not even the actions themselves that are glorious...but who they're for that make it glorious.

If you find yourself gripping a bucket of vomit today, may you make it glorious.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Anthem of the Unkown

Hey enemy, the Kurdish nation is alive with its language
Can not be defeated by the weapons of any time
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

We, the
youth are the red color of the revolution
Watch our blood that we shed on this way
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are
living Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

We are the children of Medya and Keyhusrew

Both our
faith and religion are our homeland
Both our faith and religion are Kurd and
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are
living Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

The Kurdish youth have risen like lions
To adorn the crown of
life with blood
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living
Kurds are
living, their flag will never fall
The Kurdish
youth are ever present and
Forever will be ready to sacrifice their lives
Sacrifice each life they have, each life they have!!!

This is the Kurdish National Anthem written by their revolutionary poet Yunis Rauf who wrote under the name "Dildar." He wrote this poem in 1938 and it became so popular that the Kurdish people later on adopted it as their national anthem.

I love this poem. It's emphasis on youth is so inspiring for me. I've been trying to think through why he did that. Why is this geared to be sung by the Kurdish youth? Is he seeing something that I've missed it in the past? What does he see in the youth?

I think he sees everything.

Why did Gandhi always preach about how if there was ever to be peace, or wars against would start with the youth. Why in Iran, where 70 percent of the people are under 30 are there starting to be revolutions in the works? Wasn't it the youth that got the world's attention at Tideman square? Remember when Serbia was turned upside down and Milosevic defeated when 500,000 youth took to the streets and stood up for what they believed in? South Korea is what it is today because of the youth there who rose up and wouldn't accept anything less than change. Wasn't the world turned upside down because of 11 teenage followers of Jesus? I could keep going with example after example of how youth have turned nations upside down but what about our present? Where's our youth? How's investing in them? Who's writing poems for them? Who's leading our youth? Do you realize you are?

Don't forget about them.

Their song is yet to be written.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"...stuck between Iraq and a hard place."

I'm not sure what's been in the news, if anything, about what's been going on in Kurdistan lately but there's been plenty of talk on the streets here. Apparently, on Saturday, the Turks started shelling Kurdistan going after the Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK. I've waited to talk about it because I wanted to find out more of what's actually going on but I've conceded to the fact that the more articles I read from more sources only make it more confusing! So all that to say that I know very little information that I'd be willing to stand by! But I'll let you choose for yourself what you want to believe.

1. Turks in Iraq
a. "thousands" b. "none" c. "hundreds"
2. Turkey shells Kurdistan
a. "hit several villages" b. "only shelled forests" c. "what shelling?"
3. The PKK
a. "terrorist organization" b. "freedom fighters" c. "a local women's knitting club."
4. The Turks motives
a. "defend their country" b. "use it as an excuse to take away Kirkuk from the Kurds."

So you see there's several stances you could take on this whole issue. Each one completely different from the other. For me though, this whole situation is really interesting. I'm not ready to join the PKK and start financing them but I'm also pretty suspicious of what the Turks motives really are. It seems like their war isn't just with the PKK but with every Kurd. (They've pretty much made "Kurdistan" a curse word in Turkey, confiscating any Kurdish flag or anything representing Kurdistan, passed a ban on the Kurdish language, and have recently started a huge media war against Kurdistan comparing any Kurd who wants independence to Al Qaeda.) If you find out anything new let me know. In the mean time I'll let you know if I see any Turks.

Never a dull moment.

Monday, June 11, 2007

3 Hospitals later.

One of our co-workers here at the office got really sick this weekend. We thought it started out with a fever that had been going around but it got so much worse than that. We got a call from the people living with her, saying that she was practically unconscious and not responding to anything. So we rushed over there, loaded her up in our Patrol and took her to the nearest hospital. We pulled up and started running around trying to find out if there was a doctor there. Everybody was pointing different directions but we found out there was only one doctor there in the hospital and no one seemed to know where he was. We finally found him in this tiny room, completely empty except for an old desk and a battered bed in the corner. We carried our friend in and layed her on the bed. "What's wrong with her" the Doctor asked. "We don't know! That's why we brought her to you!" And the doctor kept asking us questions looking for answers that we thought a Doctor would be trained to find on his own. She was there for an hour, curled up in the bed, unable to move and all the doctor had been able to do was take her temperature. We're not even sure he knew how to do more than that! An older lady was wheeled past the door in a wheelchair that was barely holding itself together getting by on two deflated tires. We finally found a pillow for our friend and tried to make her more comfortable. Later on we took her over to another room out of the "E.R." and lifted her into a bed in a room full of other people. To make a long story short; another friend had to take her into another city to a military base for medical help but they wouldn't take her so she was flown to Jordan yesterday and she's doing a lot better and should be back soon.

There's an NGO that has led classes here to teach the nurses in the hospitals how to take vital signs. I bet that pretty much every one reading this knows how to do that. In some hospitals here though they don't. We're thankful this doctor knew how to take someone's temperature! There's such a need for doctors and nurses in this country. I was reading an article a couple days ago about how America is like a black hole for doctors and nurses in that anyone who has medical training in other countries immediately goes to America to work and the world never sees them again and it's literally ruining countries. I'm not bashing America because there's a need for doctors and nurses there and it's not like their recruiting overseas. I'm just wondering what it would take for nurses and doctors back home to start going to other countries. I wonder if a black hole could be turned into a staging point for healing the rest of the world?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Picture of the Week

This little guy was helping his Dad sell chunks of ice in the town I was at this weekend. Kids just like him make up a good chunk of the workforce here in Kurdistan, selling Kleenex boxes at stoplights, selling drinks or socks in the Bazaar or standing on the side of the road with containers full of gas from Iran.

Waking Giants.

Yesterday afternoon I got back from being gone for the weekend. (weekend's here start Thursday afternoon and end on Saturday.) I took a taxi to a small city where I met up with some Kurds from another village and we stayed the weekend at this little "cabin" we rented by a lake. There were 6 of us total and I just spent the time getting to know them and learning what's been been going on where they live. We went into town and got some meat and made kabobs (one of the staples here) and went swimming down in the lake. It was such a good time to spend with them. We'd sit around in a circle on the floor at night just drinking tea, talking and laughing. These are exciting times for these guys. They're probably in their late 20's, early 30's and they're potential is off the charts. There's so much potential here. The exciting part is that so much of them are in uncharted territory right now. These 4 guys are on the brink of something so big. Their village is on the threshold of something entirely new. It's so exciting to me to see how just a couple people can play a huge role in influencing their whole community. It makes me think that within each community there's a sleeping giant that's on the brink of waking up. It's imprinted in its DNA. Some people are just content with letting him sleep though, others are scared to break his slumber while others deny his existence. These guys see him though. They get it. And they're doing something about it. He's starting to wake up. I'm so looking forward to getting to know these four guys better and watching to see what happens with them. Keep them in your thoughts.

The picture above is where we stayed this weekend. The one right below is of my new brothers.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I spy...

How many satellite dishes can you find? I found 17 but there could be more. This is the view from my roof. It's so interesting to me how big of a role the television plays in this culture. As hospitable and loving as the Kurds are, when they have guests over the t.v.'s always on. And on loud! Usually they're watching music videos from Kurdish or Arab artists or the news. Maybe it's viewed as a sign of hospitality, I'm not sure. But these 17 dishes are how they learn about the world. They say they know "everything" about America because they've seen American movies. Last year someone I know went over to visit a Kurdish family and the family put pornography on the television because they thought that was what American's loved. It's so frustrating to me that all over the world, I'm replaced with a dvd or a satellite dish. People here think they know all about me because of a Britney Spears CD. People back home think they know everything about Iraqi's or Muslims because of CNN or FOX news. What does it take to change that? Better movies? Less Britney Spears? Internet censorship? Unbiased news sources? Or people willing to walk across the street or across the world and talk to someone face to face. Maybe it's my fault.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

So much more than a park.

Yesterday I took the bus up to the Bazaar. I got there a bit early and ended up talking with the bus driver for a while. He spoke a little English and with my small amount of Kurdish we managed to have a pretty good conversation! We talked about life in Kurdistan, his family, America, and his work. He reached over and shuffled through his cassette tapes and put in some disco thinking that it's all every American listened to. Up at the Bazaar I walked around for a couple hours just trying to get a better feel of the place. I wandered down aisle after aisle of shops and shop owners yelling out to people passing by. It's a mess of people in the cool of the evening, the streets are so packed with people as I try to make it through without bumping into or touching any of the women. So far so good! After that I got a call from a Kurdish friend and I took a taxi down to a chaihauna to meet up with them. We had a drink and then walked down to the park in the center of the city. It's a really large park that the city has put a lot of time and money into. Mostly for the symbolism of it all. This park used to be the execution ground for the Kurds. When Saddam was in power this is where his people would operate and they would kill countless Kurds right on the sidewalk of this park. Since then though the Kurds have planted new trees all throughout the park, put in a slab of concrete where the kids roller skate, and opened up little shops that sell food. If you go there at night you'll see hundreds and hundreds of Kurdish people eating, walking and laughing. Where Kurds have died in the past, now there's literally families dancing while having picnics! There's great symbolism in this park. From opression to freedom. From death to life. From a curse to a blessing. Everybody needs a park like this one.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The day I got shot and beaten with a pole.

It's OK...don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds! This morning we had to complete the second phase of getting our visas for Iraq. That meant us spending a good chunk of time in lineless lines out in front of the passport office, trying to get the right papers and the right signatures. Then today I had to go to another office to get a shot and tested for AIDS. Don't worry, I'll let you know the results when I get them. This is a process we have to go through every 3 months (not the testing for AIDS) so only one more day at the office and we'll be set for 3 months! After that we made our way to this rundown building that's falling apart, went up 3 flights of stairs and opened up this splintered faded door to pay our internet bill. We made it back home for lunch and our cook was telling us a pretty amazing story that just happened yesterday I think. Her husband is recovering from a stroke and spends every day at home. Well except for yesterday. She took him to the local Sheik (the leader/patriarch of the local community) to see if he could do anything for her husband's health. The Sheik came to the conclusion that his body had a demon and that he had to beat it out of him so he started to beat every part of his body trying to knock the spirit out of him! Apparently he would beat one side of his body and then quickly run over and start beating the other side of the body, claiming that the demon kept "running around." Needless to say, this poor man is at home now doing just the same as he was before. Except now he's bruised all over and has about 50 dollars less, thanks to the Muslim Sheik. So, our beloved cook, wanting to teach us in the most effective way, grabs a pole leaning against the wall and starts to imitate the Sheik by lightly hitting me with the pole! Her teaching worked I guess, I don't think I'll ever go to the local Sheik if I have a cold.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Pic of the Week

I took this pic when a couple of friends and I were walking around up in the mountains. These were the cutest kids ever. The little girl's wearing the traditional Jili Kurdi (Kurdish clothes).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Ode to Cartoons. (An Ode to Love)

So a couple days ago I was invited to a Kurdish family's home for dinner. I was so excited and so glad that I was invited to be with their family for the night. It's so hard for me to describe what it's like to enter a Kurdish home. In my journaling I wrote all about it and it ended up being several pages long but for your sake I'll try to make it fast. In my journaling and just in talking with people back home I've talked a lot about the Kurds and how they love and their immense hospitality. I honestly don't think I could ever exaggerate about their love and how much they genuinely care for people. Because no matter what I say, it always seems to fall short of what it's really like. In this home I spent most of the time with the four brothers. This is a story in and of itself. It started to get really interesting when they brought in a portable dvd player and we started to watch cartoons. They love cartoons. They had dozens of dvd's of cartoons and he went through showing us his favorite ones. All of these brothers were at least my age or older. But the age doesn't matter, it's pretty usual that most Kurds love cartoons. I don't know why but that's been on my mind a lot lately. About the Kurds child like love for cartoons but also their selfless love for people. In America cartoons are mostly for kids and then something happens when you get older and you're not really supposed to enjoy the things you enjoyed when you were young. What happens? Here people love cartoons (especially Tom & Jerry) but it seems so much more than that! They don't take themselves too seriously. They enjoy so many things in life! And at the same time they're professional lovers. I wonder if that's something we've lost back home. I wonder if by putting a lid on our childhood passions we've in turn learned to take ourselves too seriously and have put a lid on our child like love. I wonder if my love for Superman could effect my love for the person I pass on the street. Call me crazy...but it's just something that I've been thinking about. I never want to take myself too seriously that I can't watch a cartoon or wear my favorite Thundercats shirt. I never want to take myself too seriously that I can't genuinely love each person I encounter. Go watch a cartoon.