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

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