Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rizgaritaza- meet my neighbourhood

Ibrahim mosque- Our house is quite near to this mosque. Every day we hear the call to prayer 5 times. I quite like it although it is loud. The main muezzin at this mosque has a wonderful voice. It gives me the moment to pause and listen and pray in my way.

This watermelon (shutti) salesman ( the man in the blue shirt) brings his truck to just in front of the mosque. He is teaching me the ways of finding a good watermelon.

Usually what wakes me up in the morning is not the call to prayer, but the children coming to school around 7:30.  The city does not have enough school space for all the children, so they either go in the morning or afternoon. I saw these two as the morning class was breaking for lunch. I motioned to ask if I could take their photos. They moved forward and looked much more serious and all of a sudden the woman who was a passerby decided she wanted to get into the picture too.

This shop is around the corner. The man in black knows some English so he has been coaching me in names of fruit and veg as well as how to hear and say the words to do with money. He is quite patient. Aren't the colours wonderful

This shop is one of the new addtitions to the neighbourhood. It is a pastry shop and the best thing it has is cream puffs. All of these are usually sold in 1/2 kilo or 1 kilo boxes. They are a great gift to take when invited out for supper. The first time I met him I ask for half a kilo of the puffs. He laughed at me because hafta is the word for 80!! That day I learned that nue is the word for 1/2.

These men are not from my neighbourhood, but I just love the picture. This was taken about 5 minutes after we had run from the gunfire in the square. We had run to one of the streets that lead out of  the square. My heart was beginning to slow down when I looked across the road and saw this shop still open and the men calmly standing waiting for paint customers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It takes guts to vote for the opposition

A studious statue in front of the public library
I have been following the pre- election news from Canada. I knew as soon as it was announced that I would not be voting this time. I would be able to register on-line, but the paper ballot needs to be mailed to me and then mailed back before the  polls close. This country has a pretty well non-existent postal system so this not work for me this time.

But I have also been following the call by Rick Mercer to the young adults of Canada to get out and vote. It is exciting to see the vote mob videos and I hope that many young people take the time to get out and let their voice be heard.

Two days ago we interviewed a young man who is attending university here in Suleymania. He joined a convey of 16 buses (approx 500 students and teachers) who were heading to the courthouse to protest and ask why the people who killed the 9 protestors since mid February, have not been brought to justice.

As they travelled they were detained for 8 hours by police and soldiers. One of the first things the security forces did when they brought them to a deserted road was to demand that all who were part of opposition parties to get off the buses. They were told that the authorities knew who they were. Many tried to claim that they were neutral but those who were brave enough to get off the buses were beaten and verbally abused.

These students were very interested in speaking with us in Azadi Square.
Opposition TV stations have been burned and/or surrounded allegedly bysoldiers of the ruling parties. It is a dangerous thing to go against the main two parties (PUK and KDP). There are many more stories that I am just learning. But I am grasping the fact that being involved in politics, especially for those who are speaking against corruption ,has the potential of demanding  a stronger commitment than it does in Canada.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Children's toy turned into weapons

The weapon of choice by the angry young men and the soldiers (when they are not firing their guns) is marbles. Apparently the bazaar is sold out of the little glass bobbles. They are light, hard and can pack a good whallop when used in a slingshot. Yesterday I was given one. I buried it deep into my purse, taking one tiny piece of ammunition out of the conflict.

Two days ago, 50 days of mostly nonviolent demonstrations came to an end. On Sunday 17 March a small group of young men began to throw rocks and marbles at the security forces. This lead to gunfire and people being beaten brutally with batons. Yesterday our team of 4 went early to the square. There were few people but the ones who were there were angry and fired up. They are frustrated. The young ones want change. They want a chance at jobs without agreeing to support the ruling parties. They want a voice in their world. We talked to them of non-violence, told them that any news reports getting out to the west would concentrate on their violence. They seemed quite skeptical, but maybe one of them listened.

As the morning progressed we heard evidence of gunshots in the distance and heard of two young teenagers being injured by bullets. We saw evidence that the soldiers were coming closer: men running into the square gagging and eyes streaming from the tear gas. Lukasz and I stood on a low wall watching the crowd. All of a sudden the action escalated, young men grabbing large bricks out of the wall and smashing them into more manageable pieces. These projectiles were sailing through the air toward the oncoming forces. Then the shots began to ring out, coming closer. Lukasz and I headed for our escape route and the shots became more rapid. It was hard to tell how close as the square echoed with the sound. We headed behind a wall and then looked for the next protection. It seemed very far away and I must say that I lost it. I had never been in this situation before. On my delegation to  Palestine the guns were merely pointed, not shot.

Lukasz grabbed my arm and an Kurdish person pulled me out down the road, out of the square. I felt rather embarassed. No one else was crying. And a man with a big camera was trying to take a photo of me. I kept turning my back to him. Another man said, "don't worry, it will be alright, it's just politics". I wanted to laugh at the craziness of it. Just politics...

After I had calmed my head, and heart down we decided to walk out to where the taxis were. We had made contact with the two other team members and they were OK.

My one little marble taken out of the fray did not change much. I don't think that our presence that day changed much. Here we have a supposedly democratic government who is not very democratic. I am learning more each day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Up in the mountains of Kurdish Northern Iraq

A delegation came to join us 9 days ago. It consists of 3 women and 1 man from 4 different countries: Sweden, Australia, England and Canada. Their leader from the USA was here for 4 days but needed to leave due to a family emergency.
Really this is my delegation too. So much of what we have learned has been new to me and as the delegates tried to figure out the dynamics of life here and the political situation, I tried right along with them. I do understand a little more than when we started but I have a long way to go.
Three days of the delegation we spent on the road in a 25 seater bus with our driver, Ali, who just happened to be the same man who drove Janelle’s delegation last year. He was very pleased to meet me and to hear that Janelle was to be married.
Our trip took us up into the mountains bordering Iran. We visited tiny villages way up high (our mountain guide Canadian said it was around 1800 metres above sea level). We heard of life there in 1991 after the Iraq/Iran war when they picked up land mines to sell them for the aluminum and returned Iranian soldier's skeletons to Iran in exchange for 50 Kgs of flour.
The most amazing visit was with Kaka M who hosted us in his family’s little house in the mountains in a village called Kani Spi (White Spring).  He does have a much larger house down in the nearby  town but the whole family and many others come to the village on 20 May until the end of October to plant fields they and their ancestors have farmed for centuries. This may seem ordinary until you realize that they have to guard the children all the time because there are landmines strewn through the fields very close to the house and they frequently have to take cover from rockets sent over the mountains peaks by the Iranian government. The landmines were placed there by Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq War.Some of the fields have been cleared by NGOs but millions of the deadly tiny machines still sit ready to destroy life. The rockets allegedly are a way that the Iran government counter the mountain fighters that they consider terrorists. However, the shrapnel lands also  in the villages where ordinary farmers and shepherds live.
There is a new gravel road being built up to Kani Spi so the last stretch was impossible to navigate without a mighty tractor pulling a wagon into which we all piled. Five Kurdish men and the 6 of us gathered in the tiny sitting/sleeping/eating room and talked about life in the village when it is full of life during planting and harvest. Then, nomadic shepherds bring their flocks high up into the mountains. Often they are shot at by soldiers in Iranian outposts.
You may ask why the people insist on going back up to the villages when they have homes in other places. This is their life. They are farmers and shepherds. This is what they know and love and it is the heritage of Kurdistan.
It made me again aware of my privilege. I am not aware of any place in Canada where one must constantly guard one’s children against walking into a mine field. I know of no place where shepherds are shot at for venturing too near to an unmarked border. I know of no place where villages are shelled with rockets.
A photo of a  minefield taken from their orchard. The house is just to the right  of the photo
Eating supper in traditional Kurdish style

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big change moves slowly

Three days ago there was a remembrance day in Awadi Square in Sulymania, Kurdish Northern Iraq. It was 40 days since the first two people had been killed by security forces on the first day of demonstrations. The large signs displayed around the square had 9 pictures on them including the other person killed in Suli a few days later and others that have been killed around the region as they attempted to join the movement.

Today, 1 April, it has been 43 days of demonstrating in Suli. Right now we are not heading to the square every day. The situation is more settled. Every day around 2 pm people begin to head to the square,  the sound system is set up and the list of those who want to speak at the open mike is begun for the day. Every few days a new art exhibition  is displayed about some aspect of history or  politics.

The public continue to come every day, waiting for movement to happen. The organisers meet daily to plan for the next day, to see how they can prod the government into doing something about their demands.

Nasiq and Faruk are also Canadian citizens. They were working here as a doctor and professor when the first day of the demonstrations began. They knew they had to do something. They are at the square during the day and meetings at night. They have been in contact with the Canadian consulate here but state that they do not want any special treatment. They are the same as all the other people here.

Meanwhile there are other cities and towns in the Kurdish Regional government area that want to join the movement. They have been unable to gain permission for demonstrations. Some have gone forward anyway with the consequence of their town becoming like a military zone. Others continue to repeatedly put in applications for permission-hoping to avoid the live bullets and deaths.

It seems to move very slowly, but big change takes that.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Kurdish people have "clean hands".

My observations on this began on a car ride to the square. Our translator, M. drove us in his Nissan double cab truck. On arriving at the parking lot there was no space, so he just parked blocking the exit of 3 other cars. We looked questionally as he got out of the truck and asked if he was going to leave it there. He said causally, "it's OK, I will leave the key. We looked at him in amazement and he repeated the statement. "Then they can move the truck if they want to get out". We ( from Germany, Czech Republic, US and Canada)  just laughed, imagining what would happen if we did the same thing in our home countries. Even a bicycle needs to be locked in Winnipeg if one does not want it to disappear.

After that day I began to observe similair attitudes in the actions of the people in the square: men walking along the sidewalk with a stack of bills 3 inches high carried openly in their hand; street vendors collecting the money into a container just sitting on their cart, easily acessible to anyone; small shops being closed for the night by putting blankets over the wares.

I asked M. about this. I wondered if this is because of the Muslim faith, or whether it is a Kurdish cultural trait that stealing is not a thing to worry about. I oberved that there is poverty here even though the economy is much better than other parts of the middle east. He did assure me that "thieving" does sometimes happen here, but that in general the Kurdish people have "clean hands". The community is very small and close and honour is very important.

I am fully aware that my early impressions and observations may turn out to be totally wrong and of course that it may be foolish to comment on them. But if it changes or if I see things that firm up these observations, I will let you know.