Saturday, February 18, 2012

Anyone want to buy a passport for $10 OBO

While I was in Northern Iraq we all had to present ourselves to the local Asiasch (Kurdish police) office so they would have record of our presence. It was an interesting experience where my nearest and dearest were renamed in the Kurdish way (Vic is Victor George Abram George and so on). As we left the office I was walking in between two team mates, one being Patrick from the UK. We were discussing passports and I mentioned that I had two. I went on to say how handy this was for entering countries, picking and choosing which one would work best. All of a sudden I became aware of my team mate on the other side of me- Ramyar who is a Kurd from Iran. I remembered with sorrow a conversation we had at the dinner table just a week earlier. Then R had offered (half jokingly and half very seriously) to sell his Iranian passport for $10 or best offer to anyone who would take it off his hands. This is what is is worth to him. At that time it was creating more walls for him than doors.
Ramyar and teammate Lukasz Firla

In 2006 Ramyar was a university student in Suleymania. He had left his home in the Kurdish part of Iran to study in Iraq. One fine day he was enjoying a stroll in Azadi Park when he met a group of foreigners. As he has an excellent grasp of English they began to talk and he learned of Christian Peacemaker Teams. This led to many more conversations over meals, and nargilas (waterpipes). He  became interested in the faith and convictions of the people on the team. Over the months he came to the decision that he wanted to follow the path of non-violence that Jesus taught. In 2010 he joined a CPT delegation to Kurdish Northern Iraq as a first step in becoming a CPTer. In 2011 he applied to for the summer training in Chicago. The visa applying process took too long so he was delayed until the winter 2012 training.

I first met Ramyar on my first stint in March 2011. Then he was working at a job that kept him at his desk for 16 hours per day, 6 days a week. On his day off he came to have supper with us at the CPT house. I heard some of his story. With his salary he was supporting himself as well as a good friend/ room mate who was struggling. Due to complicated political reasons  Ramyar had the situation where he was unable to go back home to Iran (which is only 100 miles from Suleymania). The CPT team became his family.

Here we are visiting an Assyrian Christian village where Ramyar adapted his Kurdish knowledge to understand the dialect of the area. He is telling Kaka N. why we have given him an English Bible as a thank you gift.

So, when I arrived for my second stint in October 2011 I was told of the turmoil of applying for a US visitor's visa when one is a young man from Iran. The US consulate in Iraq is in Baghdad in the Green zone. Ramyar was quite aprehensive re travelling there due to potiential violence. So he investigated the one in Turkey ("sorry, we only look at people with Iranian passports on the first Monday of the month") and in Dubai ("oh, are you from Iran. sorry we don't deal with Iranians at all"). Finally, as a last resort he took a taxi south from his house  to the Baghdad green zone for his interview. In November  Ramyar heard the news that because he is a single young man without any wife or kids, he was denied a US visa - ("you are welcome to apply if your circumstances change")

 Our team gathered for a meeting and decided to ask him to become an intern in our team. This would be like a learning on the job situation and we would also benefit from his knowledge of the culture and language as well as having a wonderful team mate.

R translated for and co-led workshops at Rania Youth Center
Here he and Marcus Armstrong demonstrate a "trust walk".

I loved listening to Ramyar as he went about his work around our house. He is constantly singing- whether it is the traditional Kurdish song, or Spanish songs that a team mate introduced him to or the lively songs from the CPT songbook that he loved to ask for. I asked him how he could be so joyous when life kept throwing curve balls. He said that he would only waste time being depressed. He wanted to use the time now to do good work and not being sad.

In December he brought a question to our team meeting. Women from Iran have a much easier time crossing the border in Iraq. He asked whether we would consider hosting his mother  for a few days so he could see her. It was a request we were so very happy to grant. So, in the middle of December, just before I flew home for Christmas I had the privilege of meeting R's mother,Shokriyah. Her trip of 100 miles took 5 hours. It was delightful to watch the family's interaction. She was thrilled to meet these CPTers that Ramyar had told her so much about. She said that she was so happy that Ramyar had such wonderful and supportive friends. I told his mother that she had raised a wonderful young man. After 3 days she returned home. It may be years before they will be able to see each other again.

 Ramyar and his mother

From my chair in Winnipeg I face booked chatted with R. Finally, the walls have opened a crack. The Colombian government has granted him a visa to join the CPT Colombian team. His passport made the trip that he is not allowed to do. It travelled to the US via a team mate, then was carrried to Israel to the Colombian consulate. Then it was couriered to Germany and finally back to R. I am very sad that he will have flown to Colombia before I get back to Northern Iraq. But I am so ecstatic that he has the chance to move out of the borders that have held him to share his knowledge about peace making and to learn from the Colombian people and CPT team mates about their experience with peace making.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you made it safely despite your worries about your tix. Interesting how we take our paperwork for granted as Canadians. thanks for sharing the story.