Tuesday, February 26, 2008

:: Preemptive Love :: Art Exhibition ::

This is the latest on our art exhibition.


If you want to read about the beginnings of the art gallery, check it out here.

The Art Gallery is gaining so much momentum here and today was just a confirmation of that. We had a meeting with the Regional Reconstruction Team here in our city. It's an office with three Kurdish men who have been such a privilege to work with. They've all been to the states before and so their English is flawless. They're doing all they can to help the Kurds. Now they work as a branch office of the US Embassy in Baghdad.

One of them is a Kurd that used to live on the East Coast and he became so restless when Americans were going over to help his people, while he remained in the US. He left it all behind and brought his family to Iraq to help be the change. Terrorists threatened to kidnap his children but they've endured it all just to be here. These three men give me so much hope.

We had met with them before and pitched the whole gallery idea to them and they loved it. They gave us a sober response, not committing anything but also letting us know that they're completely behind us and that they'll do whatever they can go help get us funding for the gallery.
We've been meeting with them and trying to get funding from the Embassy so that we could host a memorable opening night for our art exhibition. Today was a big step closer to that goal.

We were talking with these men when all of a sudden two Americans in slick suits walked into the room. They were accompanied by 4 large black SUV's with tinted windows and several of the biggest and toughest looking military guards I've ever seen. One of the guards had to be 70 years old but of all the men I would have messed with in that building, he would have been the last.

I had no clue who they were and was frustrated because I thought they were early for their meeting and were cutting into ours. One of them commented on my 2 dollar North Face jacket I bought in the bazaar and then they started to ask us questions about what we do. Several minutes later we realized these guys were here to meet us.

They had read our proposal and we talked for an hour and a half about the idea behind the art gallery and all the impacts we think it could potentially have. At the end of the meeting they said that they had just one problem with the proposal.

It was far too small. We were asking for a couple thousand dollars to pull off, what we thought, would be a pretty good opening night. They had much higher expectations than we did! They talked about getting a large tent to host all the guests in, lighting for the gallery, having the art gallery in America, etc. etc.

We were blown away. We agreed to have another meeting with them about an hour later so we quickly built our proposal as if we had no limits. We kept some things the same but for the most part, things are going to look a lot different. A lot better than we were even hoping for.

We still don't know if we have their funding yet, but today was an encouraging step in that direction. We're still planning to have the opening night on April 1st, and as of a couple days ago there were around 40 pieces of art that have been submitted for the gallery.

Before we left, we talked with one of the Americans and it turns out that his son needed heart surgery a couple years ago so he knows what it's like. He asked us if we'd gotten this 250,000 dollar piece of medical equipment that we've been looking for to help out with the heart surgeries here in Iraq. We told him no. He said that he'd be in touch and that he's personally invested in our work.

We're excited about this art gallery. What started out as just an idea is taking steps forward to being reality and we hope that things continue to fall into place and that we can truly create change.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Latest Image.

One of the things I miss most right now is the time I used to have to go out and take pictures. Every time I see my camera I feel the urge to grab it and go out for a day but there's always a list of tasks that holds me back.

I did take some pictures a couple days ago though and I figured I could at least post that. So here it is.


This is a man from Kirkuk. A friend who works here as a physio-therapist had me come with her one morning to take pictures of a patient so that they could send the images to Australia for a Doctor to look at.

I forgot the medical terms for everything but he basically has a physical condition that has damaged his nerves and blood flow. As a result, he can't feel his legs at all and his bones have begun to break down, causing severe swelling in his limbs. Since he can't feel anything, a minor cut or even a rock in his shoe could do serious damage and leave huge cuts on his feet. Since his blood flow is so poor, these cuts heal at an incredibly slow rate. Right now they're fighting to save his legs from being amputated. His hands and knees are in bad shape too because most of the time he's had to crawl everywhere he goes, using just his arms to move himself.

Before that, his brother used to carry him everywhere on his back. Now he has an old second hand wheel chair.

We followed him in to get x-rays at a local hospital. As we were sitting in the "waiting room", a cold narrow hallway the size of a large closet, we found out that their other x-ray room was just shut down after they tested it for radiation and the results were off the charts.

Later on one of the staff gave me a tour of the facilities and he showed me all the splints and braces that he makes himself. In a glass cabinet there were maybe 5 or 6 American leg braces that they had. This was all they had and then all around the room were other hand made braces and splints that he had made himself. They were all pieced together with random parts and other scraps he was able to salvage. He was proud of what he was doing, but part of him seemed a little embarrassed. He should be so proud of what he's doing.

I was the one who was embarrassed. I'm embarrassed nobody has helped him. I'm embarrassed that his hospital doesn't have the funds or equipment to take care of people like him who are trying to make a difference.

I've tried to get some help from hospitals in America but so far it seems like all I do is send e-mails to people who don't care or can't do anything. If you know of any resources or people who want to make a difference, let them know that people here need help. If you have connections or think you could get resources or equipment sent over, let me know. If you want to come over and teach, come. It doesn't matter what you want to teach, just come. There have been nurses who have come over here and taught the "trained" nurses here how to take vital signs. It's that bad.

A little bit goes a long way here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tribute.

A while back, you may remember, we helped put on a large baseball tournament for children in our area. We helped plan it all out but there was no way it could have happened without the US military. They brought the idea to us and they wrote up a phenomenal proposal for it and we decided that this needed to happen.

The goal was to reach the youth. The terrorists are zealous in recruiting kids here whether it's through getting them to physically join them or to at least sympathize with their ideologies. Cities, villages, and homes rise and fall on the decisions of the younger generations. Iraq has provided countless examples of that.

Sometimes it takes the extreme to win the youth back over but most of the times all it takes is being a friend or kicking around a soccer ball. That was the purpose of the baseball tournament. The military helped us go around and invite local schools and orphanages. They helped coach the kids and ate all their meals with them. They guarded the stadium and protected them each step of the way.

One of the soldiers, I had met during the very beginning stages of the tournament. We had some good talks and I was genuinelly inspired by how much he loved the people here. He wanted to make a difference. He was.

A few days ago I got word that he was killed when his HUMV rolled over. I have no clue how to get in touch with his family or even the rest of his unit. I just wanted to thank his family and all those who knew him. Iraq is really a better place because of him and these kids are still talking about this baseball tournament and probably won't stop for a very long time.

Keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

catching my breath.

Here's to you.

I've been reading each one of your comments, trying to check out your blogs that you sent me and see what you're passionate about, see what you're blogging about, and now I'm going to attempt to answer some of your questions about me. I love that you actually care about some person you've never met and you're trying to find out more.

First things first. I'm not a journalist or involved with the military in any way. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of you who are or are related or married to one. I take my hat off to you. Know that you have my thanks and gratitude.

I'm 23 years old. I grew up in California. Went to college in Ohio. Moved back to California and worked with youth. I took a step away from that for a season and came here to Northern Iraq. Why Iraq? I was a Senior in college when Pakistan was rocked by a huge earth quake. It dominated the news that week and it began to dominate my heart. I couldn't stand seeing thousands of homes completely flattened, thousands of families displaced and with no where to turn. I wanted to do something. Mainly it opened my eyes to a part of the globe that I never noticed before, the Middle East. That made me restless and it followed me back to California. I tried to get a job in Los Angeles but that was a dead end. I decided that if that didn't work out then I'd look into some way to come to Iraq. Los Angeles....Iraq...pretty close right?

So now I've been in Iraq for around nine months. A friend and I have started "Buy Shoes. Save Lives." and now we're doing everything we can to advocate on behalf of the people of Iraq and help fund heart surgeries for kids here who are dying without them. We buy shoes and sell them to the world and then we take that money and take care of medical bills so that kids here can have a chance at life. We work with Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Atheists. Some days I buy shoes for a living, some days I'm a photographer, other days I pretend to be a business man but most days I just try to do something to help Iraq become a better place.

I'm planning on leaving in May to head back to California. I'm not sure what it will be like to live back in the States but I'm looking forward to this next chapter. I'd love to get married and continue advocating on behalf of Buy Shoes. Save Lives. wherever I go.

So that's more of me. If you want to find out more about me or Buy Shoes. Save Lives., feel free to drop me an e-mail at cafishski@gmail.com. That's my personal e-mail address so feel free to ask anything you want. If you want to connect with me sometime when I'm back in the States, whether it's to just hang out, hear more about Iraq or have us speak about Buy Shoes. Save Lives., just let me know! I can't think of a reason why I'd want to turn you down.

You guys are a blessing. Thanks for letting me hear your voice. Thanks to all of you who bought shoes and shirts from our store! We're working on getting those to you as soon as possible.

Keep in touch.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Blogs of Note?

I'm in a cafe right now using their internet and I just finished checking my blog. 21 comments to moderate? I thought it was a mistake but it turns out my blog was noted on blogger's home page.

How does that happen? I don't know. But I feel like I should give all of these people the proper welcome and gratitude for checking out my blog. Let me give you the context of my thanks though.

Yesterday was a pretty discouraging day for me. I was talking with Michelle last night and I just told her how this place is relentless. Iraq is relentless. Just when you try to have a positive attitude or start fresh, you walk out the door and immediately new struggles are thrown at you. The culture hits you from this angle, no electricity from another angle, having to walk through the cold to find a taxi hits you from yet another angle, language, etc. etc.

At the end of the night I took a taxi to my place and he refused to let me pay. Unlike other times, this guy seriously meant it.

Earlier in the day I ran into a man that was simply crazy. Everybody knows him, he's not there mentally and most people just laugh at him. I have to admit, I was one of them yesterday and then he came up to talk to me. He had a fat cigar in his mouth and between the clouds of smoke in my face I could see the biggest smile on his. He was so full of joy and happiness. Was he on something? I don't know. I've seen him before and he's always been this happy. He was wearing the same clothes he wore a few months ago but it only seemed to bother the people who could smell him. I love this guy. He brought so much light into my day.

Not even five minutes later I ran into another guy probably my age or a little bit younger. He was deaf and mute. He was using his hands to communicate in his own language he had created. Next to the crazy guy, he was the happiest person I've seen in months. The one thing I did understand was the thumbs up he continued to give me. Then he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a Doctors report on him. Most of it was in Kurdish but there was one line in English, the one line he seemed to want to know about. It said "Deaf and Mute....absolutely no treatment or cure."

After a series of motions, somebody next to him told me that he wants to know if he can fly to America and get treatment. I pointed to the paper and told them what it said. Try communicating to a deaf and mute that there's no treatment for him using just your hands. The motions stopped and he became somber for about a minute. Then his head popped up along with his two thumbs and he started to smile all over again.

How come a crazy homeless man and a deaf and mute with no treatment possible are the two happiest people I met yesterday? What's more ironic....them being so full of joy or somebody like me struggling to find it? I'm not sure but I'm telling you right now, that I want to be more like them today, not me.

So I'm thankful. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else than where I am right now. I'm thankful for that taxi driver, for the crazy man, for the deaf and mute man, for 21 comments.

You guys are so welcome to this site and I hope something hits you from these past 3 minutes or however long it took you to read this. Many thanks to those of you who clicked one more time and landed on our Buy Shoes. Save Lives. site.

We welcome your voice. We're all blessed to have one.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

BSSL Happenings.


This is a poster for the Buy Shoes. Save Lives. Art Show opening on March 1st. This poster will be printed today and then a friend and I will walk around the city and plaster them everywhere. The gallery was initially planned for this month but things have just been so crazy we didn't want to rush it. You can't rush art I guess.

We're really excited about this gallery. We really want to cover it well and show you all the art that has been displayed by artists here. The man in charge of the gallery kept talking to us about how he wants to have the gallery be displayed in other galleries all over Iraq so we really hope this is the beginning to something big. We think this, in and of itself is pretty big.

Lots of other things have been happening with Buy Shoes. Save Lives. We were recently highlighted in Relevant Magazine. This has been the biggest publicity we've had so far in a magazine and it's generated thousands of dollars in orders just in this month alone. This is awesome! We owe so much to Relevant Magazine, so if you see their magazine lying around...buy it. I've gotten into them a lot more since they wrote this article and I really think it's a pretty sweet magazine. This magazine will last for the month of February before a new one comes out.

With KSC, we've helped fund another three children this month and hopefully it will get up to four in the next few days. One of the children, Hussein, is from Baghdad and Juliana is a Yazidi from Mosul. You can read more about them on our site. I'm thrilled that it's becoming a reality to fund children each month through our Buy Shoes. Save Lives. funds and with the help of KSC.

I had a meeting with KSC the other day and it was so overwhelming for me. They shared with me that they receive 150 new cases each month for children who need heart surgery. Last year alone they were able to send 120 children for heart surgery out of the country. That means that they don't even cover enough children for one month.

So they get roughly 1,800 children each year who need heart surgery. They're able to send 120 for surgery a year. Five years down the road they will have 5,000 heart cases piled up. At least one child dies each month and almost every single one of these children have a time limit on their lives unless they have surgery. That's what was overwhelming.

So that's why we love Relevant. That's why we love art shows. That's why we love it when you buy shirts and shoes or just straight up donate to these kids.

That's some of the things going on with Buy Shoes. Save Lives. right now. Thanks for following our story and for checking up on this blog. The electricity has been sketchy here to say the least and then the internet has it's own problems...so I'm really trying to keep you updated the best I can.

Until next time.