Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Freedom of the Moon

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

Robert Frost.

(The moon tonight in Iraq.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Make Art. Not War."

Art is alive and well in Kurdistan. Initially I thought that amidst all the war and need to survive art would have been put on the back burner. I couldn't have been more wrong. For so many people here, art was how they made it through those times. I know a Kurd who is famous for his paintings because his paintings were ones that inspired and fueled the Kurdish uprising. All because of a paintbrush.

There are so many art galleries scattered all over this country and throughout each city. They're full of exhibits that are constantly changing and growing. Not just with paintings either, but with drawings, sculptors and metal work and whatever else you can think of. Even some of the schools here have walls covered with art. Along the roads they have murals and in their parks they have statues and monuments. Just the other night I was with Jamal and he was taking pictures of a man's sculptors so that he can publish a magazine with his work.

I've been working with a couple artists I've gotten to know recently and I'm helping them write proposals to the embassy in Baghdad to try to get more support for the building of more galleries in other cities and villages. It's exciting...they just purchased some land and now they need some money to start building. Art is extremely important to them.

I'm amazed at the talent here. I don't know why I've always contained art to the cities of Los Angeles or New York. There's talented artists all over the world. When God rained down his gifts and talents, I don't think he left one dry spot in the world. It's cool to think that the world's greatest painter could be in the jungles of India.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Buy Toothpaste. Save Teeth.

I never thought I would befriend a Dentist. But today I went with a bus full of them to one of the poorer villages in the area looking for teeth. Some things are so much harder to do here than in the states...but on the other hand there's some things that are so easy to do here.

You want to teach something? Just walk into a village and sit on the corner and soon you'll be surrounded by everyone and their mother. Literally. So today we wanted to teach the kids how to brush their teeth, give them toothbrushes, clean teeth (ok I didn't help out with that), and give them educational pamphlets. So we just walked into this village and set up camp.

The dentists came from the local university and so they were getting some experience in while helping out children who had never heard anything before on how to take care of their teeth. It's such a need here. For example, I've heard stories of how mothers here think it's a good idea to load milk with sugar and feed it to their kids. Only thing it accomplishes though is giving their kids diabetes and a bad set of teeth.

The village we went to actually used to be one large prison. Saddam went to the villages in the mountains and cleaned everybody out and moved them into this "village" to contain them and stop them from helping the resistance. So there were people from all over in this village. Now they're free but there's not many opportunities for them plus they're completely displaced from their families and homes.

It's amazing all the ways people can help here. I remember listening to a girl talk about work overseas and she said it's like an empty canvas just waiting for someone to start painting. Doesn't matter what paint or brushes you have...everybody has something different. Just start painting.

Friday, August 24, 2007

the yazidis.

Whenever people think of Iraqis or Kurds I think everybody thinks they're all Muslims. At least that's what I thought. There's other religions here but so often they're overshadowed by Islam. There's the Zoroastrians (there's a pretty strong argument saying that the 3 kings from the Bible were Zoroastrian.) There's Chaldean Christians here, there's a Catholic church down the road, Jews (I've heard people say that they believe the Kurds are all Jews that were left here by King Darius-interesting idea, not a bad argument either) and then there are the Yazidis.

There are somewhere between 100,000 to 600,000 Yazidis left...no one really knows though. They tend to be pretty mysterious. Most of them speak Kurdish and their religion is a mix of Christianity, Islam, Levant and their own. The reason there's not that many Yazidis around though is because you can never become Yazidi. If I went there today pledging my allegiance they'd probably appreciate the gesture, give me a blessing and send me on my way. You can never stop being Yazidi either. It's in the blood.

They believe they're the only true descendants from Adam. Everyone else is descendants from Adam AND Eve. So that's why you can never become Yazidi or leave. It's your family. They get labeled as devil worshipers by Islam and many other religions. Their main god is an angel (an angel in the form of a peacock) and the word for this god is the same word the Koran uses for Satan. Hence...devil worhsipers. This is why they're persecuted and have been fighting extinction in Kurdistan.

This picture was taken just a few days ago...after a dump truck packed with explosives was driven through a neighborhood of Mosul, where the majority of the Yazidis live. They said that atleast 400 Yazidis were murdered. 400 people killed in just minutes. One man said that he lost 50 relatives in the bombing. Most people say Sunni Insurgents were the physical hands behind the bombing...others blame Turkey and Syria for being the brains behind it.

It's pure madness to hear about bombings like this. On one hand we're so disconnected from them and their lives but when you think about it they're real people just like you. Just like me. Sometimes that's so hard to comprehend. Hearing their story made me think of this poem I had heard years ago.

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

It all starts with just speaking up. Looking out for those around you...or half-way across the world. So many people have forgotten what their voice sounds like cause they've been silent for so long.

(These pictures were taken by my friend Jamal. The top one is the leader of the Yazidis, next one is a Yazidi calling out to his god for vengeance, and the next two are of children who survived the bombing.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Water + Klash = Bad

So the other night I had my first really bad nightmare since I've been here. I woke up on our roof all tangled up in my sheet, sweating profusely. (All three of those things are normal here so it's not as bad as it sounds.)

This was my dream. I had no idea it would come true though.

Context: I love my Klash. I wear them everywhere, I clean them regularly, I make them really white using a little chalk and toothbrush, I take them to the shop to get trimmed and taken care of...they're great shoes! I take great care of them but I also treat them really rough...just to see if they're really good shoes.

Since we're selling them I want to be able to tell people that I genuinely love these shoes and recommend them. So I've walked through construction sites, looking for nails and jagged concrete, I've walked over piles of gravel, I've gone running around the block in them, I've slide down concrete handicap ramps, you name it...I've walked through it. All in the name of a good conscience.

Through all of this, they've held up like champs. They're entirely made of cloth but it's ridiculous how much they can withstand. The soles of my Klash barely have any nicks from all of this. Someone wrote us and said they're nervous to walk around their city in these shoes. I laughed because if there's any hazardous place to wear these shoes...it would be in Iraq. And everybody wears them here. So I can honestly say you have nothing to worry about...except one thing.

MY DREAM: I was wearing my Klash walking around town. I was walking all over the road, looking for the most hazardous way to lead my Klash. I found a little puddle so I casually walked towards it. When my foot hits the puddle I fall in. Completely soaked. I climb out and my Klash are dripping. I take them off my feet and inspect them but all of a sudden they start to crumble because of the water. I start freaking out as I try to dry them off and restore them but the water was already doing it's work. I was too late.

*That's when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep.*

TODAY: I went and met some friends and brought them back to the house when I notice my Klash on the porch soaking wet! Remember our crazy maid? Remember how she "cleans?" She apparently had used a bucket of water to clean all of our shoes. But not just that, she thought it was a good idea to leave our shoes soaking in the stagnant water in the corner of our entrance room.

My Klash didn't crumble in my hands but they're gonna lay low for a couple of days. Water is the kryptonite for the Klash. They're fine if you walk through a little bit of water or if you clean them with a little water. But by all means, stay away from large puddles and rain.

So I'm hoping to revive my shoes with a little sunlight and love but we'll see. I should have seen it coming. I have to start taking my dreams more seriously. But let this be a lesson for you if you've boughten some Klash.

Keep an eye out for large buckets of water in the hands of crazy maids.

A Time to Sleep.

The early afternoon has become one of my favorite times to walk through the Bazaar. It may be the hottest time of the day but the heat seems to bring everything down a notch or two. The streets aren't packed with people in a rush, you're able to walk wherever you want without having to dodge taxis. Shop owners are either asleep in their shop or out front smoking a cigarette waiting for someone to talk to.

It's just more relaxed. My cup of tea.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jamal's Photos.

I told you I would post some of Jamal's photography when I got a hold of them. So here's some of his pictures.


Friday, August 17, 2007

In The Press.

Here's a couple articles that came out this week on Buy Shoes. Save Lives. Thought I'd pass them on. Translation on the way...but at least you can see pictures :)

"...two weeks."

The other night I was out with some friends when I ran into another American. A guy in his thirties from Pennsylvania. I took a triple glance at him and quickly noticed that he wasn't from around here and so we ended up asking each other what we were doing here. He was a reporter from a pretty large newspaper back in the U.S. We ended up talking for a while, went out for a bite to eat and then walked around the city.

I asked him how long he was going to be in the country for. He told me "Two weeks." We were eating and he said that he was having a really hard time adjusting to the food. I knew exactly how he was feeling. You could tell that he was really exhausted too as he kept inhaling cigarettes trying to get more energy. He figured out how to say "hello" and "thank you" in Kurdish and so he kept repeating those words as the night went on.

I was sitting there though just thinking of how hard his job must be. This guy is thrown in another country. Iraq. No translator. Submerged in a completely different culture and given a paper and pen and 14 days to come up with a report to give to his American News Agency back home.

I'd be at a loss. How is someone supposed to even start understanding this culture or these people in 14 days? How can he understand what the people are thinking if he can't even say 3 words in their language? Would his stories even be accurate? I'm not sure.

It was just weird for me to see this whole process on the opposite end. I've always been on the receiving end holding the newspaper or in front of the television listening to these guys give their passionate opinions on Iraq, the steps that need to be taken for success, the problem with Islam, you name it...they "know" it.

I have a great amount of respect for this reporter, don't get me wrong. But I just question the whole system I guess. How much do the papers and televisions really really know about Iraq. How much do they honestly want to know?

Someone told me that 90 % of understanding a culture comes from knowing the language. So if you are fluent in the language you can understand up to 100% of the culture. If you don't speak their language...maybe 10%. That's what makes me scratch my head when I see people reporting on the front lines but they can't even talk to these people in their own language. What can be learned from knowing that out of the hundreds of employees in the American Embassy in Baghdad, there's only one American there who can speak Arabic.

Conclusion: Up to you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Animal House.

Meet our pets.

These are a couple animals that live with us at our place. It'd be fair to say that they're the only two animals we have welcomed into our house. All the mice, stray cats, cockroaches and bats that fly into our office at night are definitely not invited but they don't seem to mind.

This is Chloe. Someone said that she looks Chinese in this picture but she always gets like that in front of cameras. We got her a month or so ago when another family was leaving the country for a year. So we took a vote and had her join the gang. I think she's more like a rat than a dog but it's still so much fun to have her around. Having a dog in this culture could be considered "Iba" (shameful) but I really think it's changing. They either love 'em or hate 'em. So whenever our door bell rings one of us scrambles to grab Chloe and throw her in the back yard while another one goes to get the door.

This is Twink. Twink's been with us for a few months now I think. He only has one foot so he hobbles around pretty well on his stub and is able to hang upside down and stand on one claw. Way to go Twink. He's always whistling or making some noise in his little cage. He's a good break from work though, but currently he's being shunned because the last two times I was holding him he pooped on my hand. 2 more days Twink, 2 more days.

So those are the critters. I've seen lots of fish in some stores here but I think it'd get old to refill the tank every day after all the water evaporates. There's lots of stray cats but I've never seen one as a pet. They're extremely shameful to have here just because they're so dirty. So that's about it. I can't picture a Petsmart opening up any time soon but it's still fun to see people enjoy animals here. Or maybe it's just us.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Meet Jamal.

This is Jamal. Jamal Penjweny. I wish I could post a better pic of him but this is all I ever see him doing anyways so it's probably the most accurate picture. He's a photojournalist and he also does films for documentaries. He's one of the photographers who has helped us out with Buy Shoes. Save Lives.

Anyways, he just finished shooting a short documentary following the story of three brothers. They're just little kids but their dad is crippled and sick so it's up to them to take care of their family. We followed them around as they started to beg for money so they could buy these toy magnets. Then we were with them as they walked the streets selling the magnets...then they used that money to buy dvd's. And then started all over again by walking the streets selling dvd's. They were a quarter my size but it was incredible to see their wisdom in how they sold and bought everything in hopes of making the most amount of money during a day. They got their meals at the local mosque where a Sheik feeds them everyday. So this is a film he's working on to send to Europe and maybe the U.S. so we'll see if anybody's interested. It's powerful stuff though.

(one of the brothers)

I was so glad to follow them around and just take pictures and see what he does. He's good at it, that's for sure. But Jamal and I have been spending a lot of time together lately. Yesterday we hung out in a hotel lobby as I typed up some stuff about his work in English so that he can send it to the galleries in London and hopefully get an exhibit there. He's started to teach me some stuff with the camera and now he wants to start English lessons with me in return. Tonight we're gonna go check out a local art gallery together.

He's such an amazing guy though, I absolutely love being with him. But I wanted to post about him first of all to introduce you to him, but also to see if there's anyway you can help him out.

It's so funny...so many times I get it stuck in my head that I have to do everything. "Ah I have to take pictures of these people...I have to tell their story, etc." Which is great...and I definitely want to do that. But then I notice Jamal right in front of me and he's doing the exact same thing...and he's incredible at it. So the crazy thought came into my head that maybe I just need to help him out and make his voice heard, get his pictures noticed.

So that's what I'm trying to do.

If you know any galleries, have any connections, own coffee shops, have friends who run exhibits, know how to publish a professional book of photography...let me know! I'll pass it on to Jamal and maybe this could help out...his goal is to tell his people's story in the midst of all the war. He risks his life to do it and he uses his money to help the people out that he photographs.

So think about what you could do.

I will try to get some pictures from him so that I can post them and show you some work he's done.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

I love things that inspire me. Lately it's been poetry so I thought I'd pass along a well known poem we all know but one we probably don't know well enough.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I Heart Gypsies.

The other day I spent the afternoon with a tent village of gypsies. These are some pictures from that afternoon.

I love kids.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Beauty of Comments.

Feel free to leave comments...I know you're reading this. But if you don't know, you can leave comments at the end of each blog. You can say whatever, make fun of my post, just say hi, leave me a joke I can tell my friends here, give me topics or questions you want me to answer...it's up to you.

Comments are sweet because I can reply to them, they make me happy knowing that someone read the blog and took 10 seconds to leave a note, they encourage me to keep up with my posts, and they let me know what you guys want to hear about.

So comments rock.

You rock.


Is it seriously August 7th?

I have no idea where the days go. Things seem to gradually be getting busier and busier each day. My time at the computer has been at an all time low which is a bummer but it means that my time with people has been at an all time high, which I love.

English conversation classes have finished. It was such a good time to spend the mornings with students and get to know them better. We ended it by taking them all bowling and handing out certificates. It was such a meaningful event for them, and us too...but they were just so thankful and appreciative. They clinched on to their certificates while we took dozens and dozens of pictures. I hope that class was an encouragement for them, something to drive them on to reaching their goals. There's so much potential in them.

Our other class in the afternoons goes on a for another 2 weeks I think. We're trying to prepare the students in this class to take the TOEFL test. I know...I had never heard of it either. But basically this is a test that they'd have to pass to get into a college overseas. It's a huge stepping stone for them and we're doing everything we can to make sure they can pass it.

I love these classes though cause it's always so much more than a class. I love the friendships formed, I love the talks after class, I love how they have these burning questions that they need to ask. Like if we think 2-Pac is alive.

...I'm still speaking the language every day, still learning. But I've literally had no time to hit the books and keep studying like I was at the beginning. So I'm bummed about that but I'm trying to keep it up. I need to start studying again on my own but I've loved learning from the people I see every day.

Buy Shoes. Save Lives.
I just feel like laughing when talking about this...just because things are getting to be so ridiculous. This is what I spend most of my days working on, whether doing PR stuff back home, talking with businesses, buying shoes, or going through each shoe and cleaning each one before we send them off. In the past week I've been interviewed by three newspapers here with regards to Buy Shoes. Save Lives. Papers in Arabic and Kurdish and some of them are published all over Europe and England. A Kurdish director here has begun filming a documentary on the company that he says will be half an hour and will be played on television. The internet site has received hits from all over the world including, China, Russia, Thailand, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Columbia and all of Europe among so many others. We're well on our way to funding our first surgery and fulfilling the second part of Buy Shoes. Save Lives. THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. I seriously cannot wait to see a child's surgery paid for. I wish it could be today. We're getting closer to meeting with the first Lady of Iraq about all of this too...we have people who are close to her giving her envelopes and information about the company. So we think it's just a matter of time before she meets with us or orders a restraining order on us. This is huge though...she could handle the Visas for the kids and make things go so much faster and smoother, not to mention maybe help pay for parts of the surgeries. So that's some of the good news...we're having a blast doing this! We're so thankful to you guys who are spreading the word, buying shoes, and thinking of us.

Life here is going so well...I'm so happy doing what I'm doing. I miss people back home, my family. I miss the youth and all the summer craziness...but I'm so glad to be here. I just got the new Harry Potter book in the mail so I'm not that far out of touch! It's still been crazy hot...it's 10:40 a.m. and it's already a hundred in the shade! I'm learning to love sleeping on the roof...when I see an ordinary bed it just looks so boring now. No fighting off giant bugs with my ipod earphones, ducking to avoid the bats swooping overhead, throwing rocks at the neighbor's cats at 4 in the morning to stop them from fighting, watching the security guards raid our neighbors looking for cocaine.

Love it.