Friday, April 27, 2012

Mar Musa #3- Easter message in the midst of Conflict

This post is #3 in my new from afar acquaintance with the Mar Musa monastery community in Syria. How I would love to visit it in reality some day. Here are excerpts from the Easter message from the community there. The whole message is here: . The website is   which can be translated into 6 languages.

Mar Musa (Andres Rump)

To our dear friends on the occasion of Easter 2012

Easter comes after a year of untold suffering, unpredictable and
unimaginable for most of us. Unfortunately, what we wrote on the same
occasion a year ago still applies to the current situation of our
unhappy country. At that time, we had expressed our solidarity with
the victims of the conflict and our participation in the expectation
of those who were hoping for a deep reform of Syria without falling
into the logic of violence, and fearing the explosion of civil war and
loss of national unity. Misfortune has reached us and we fear the
The spring has returned, and the Merciful gives us the grace to remain
witnesses to the vocation of the Syrians, their divine destiny to live
as good neighbors in spiritual harmony, mutual religious esteem,
participation in the same civilization, social solidarity and unity in
the good and bad days. Of course, we live in anguish as all. We are
united with our families who are suffering heavy losses, and we share
the disappointment of many people, especially our generous youth. We
invoke mercy on those killed, and are plunged in grief before our
fellow citizens whose humanity is in so many ways spoiled by hands
that have not been ashamed to dirty by pouring the blood of their
brothers and sisters, and even children.


Where to flee, as we celebrate with this feast the same scene which
violates every day the innocence of our children: violence ugly and
ignorant, whose images are used in the media to stir up the conflict.

We hope to see everyone in this region,
oppressors and oppressed, gathered by the paternity of the
Compassionate in one people, enjoying the goods of the earth in the
pluralism of a fraternal understanding.
In our calls for reconciliation between sons and daughters of God, we
experience the living Christ, risen from the dead in us, forgiving our
sins, effectively present, also through our intercession and yours, in
this our world of poor people.
The citizens of our country are divided and fighting each other. It is
not easy to achieve harmony of opinion, not even within the monastic
community. We warmly thank all those who felt with the suffering of
our people and expressed their solidarity with our support for the
reform. We hope that once the crisis passed, we shall remember it as
an opportunity that has enabled us to discover the path of acceptance
of the other, the path of respect of his conscience beyond our
differences, be it at the monastery, in the family, in the nation or
We thank all those who gathered the Syrians in laboratories of
dialogue in various places abroad, so that they may send us messages
of hope on how to understand each other and heal the wounded hearts.
The monastery was almost emptied of visitors and tourists in a year.
These days, however, we are happy to welcome many local families who
came to picnic on Friday, expressing their desire for peace.
We naturally consider it our duty to stay at the monastery in spite of
the circumstances, and we chose to do so. After a particularly cold
winter, we celebrate the resurrection among the flowers of a spring
shy. Trusting in God, we pledge to maintain a presence at Deir Mar
Musa, in the relatively safe region of Nebek which hosts a number of
refugees from the cities of the armed conflict, as well as at Deir Mar
Elian in Qaryatayn.
Throughout the year, we continued to work on our research, publishing
and development projects. Few people were able to come to the
monastery, but more than ever we could touch how the symbolic complex
of the monastery has an impact on the Syrian society, in the region
and around the world. Many regard the monastery as a model at the
service of civil peace and brotherhood of believers, sons of Abraham.
This pushes us to always give more.
From the heart, wherever you are, we wish you to rejoice in the
splendor of the light of the empty tomb.
Al-Khalil Community

Bruder Jihad, a monk who lives at Mar Musa (Andres Rump)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mar Musa Monastery: documentary film "Schiech Ibrahim, Bruder Jihad".

It is unusual for me to write about film. That is usually my husband, Vic's domain ( But I watched a documentary with my team mates since coming to Iraqui Kurdistan this time. And since I had the privilege of talking with the film maker I thought that I would tell you a bit about it. If this piques your interest it is available for sale at : Also, if you speak German or French his website is at the same address without the /dvd.html. For those of you in Winnipeg, I will have a copy with me when I come home. I wanted to share this film with Vic and to see it on a larger screen then the laptop affords.

Andres Rump gifted us with a copy of the documentary. Schiech Ibrahim, Bruder Jihad,  and we watched it as a team. We were all very impressed with its beauty, and artfulness. My teammate, Patrick compared the feeling of the film to another one he had seen, Into Great Silence. I even stayed awake through the whole thing (82 minutes) and  those who know me will know this is a miraculous event!

Rump shows the everyday  lives of these two men and slowly tells their stories, planting them into the enviroment where they live. They come from very different backgrounds and have different beliefs but have a strong respect for each other and find common ground in their conversation.
Schiech Ibrahim, Bruder Jihad (photo credit- Andres Rump)
There is some conversation and soliliques in Arabic, which are subtitled into English (or German or French), but even though I felt the wisdom of the men coming through, I really loved the glimpses of the life around them. There is a scene on the street in Damascus where we watch people passing by: children, a very old woman with a cane who greets a teenage girl with a kiss, a couple of young mothers carrying babies. All through this we just hear the sounds of the street and birds.

 Despite the fact that the viewers are witness to religious celebrations and rituals, it does not feel like cameraman is a voyeur, but that he is someone who has lived with the men and who they felt safe with to tell their stories. Andres told us of the privilege of being invited to join Bruder Jihad to his cave and joining him in the tiny close intimacy. We see this in the final moments of the film.

Another part I loved was the juxtapostion of two everyday events in the mosque and monastery. The first is the preparation of a thick soup in the hugest pot I have ever seen. The man preparing the meal used a very long stick to stir the soup before beginning to hand out bucketfuls to those needy persons coming to the mosque. Immediately afterward we see Bruder Jihad, in the monastery, stirring a bubbling pot of washing with a similar stick.
Ladling out the soup in the mosque (Andres Rump)
At Mar Musa, the long shots of the monastery gives the viewer the feeling of the expanse and isolation. We watch Ibrahim walking up the long, long flights of steps to the community to join his friend for the day. And yet we can also see the close  human community that has been built in the ancient buildings.
Mar Musa Monastery- Syria (Andres Rump)

I spoke with Andres about the filming of the documentary. He lived in the area dividing his time between Ibrahim and Jihad for around 3 months. The early part of that time was spent learning the rythm of their life and planning the parts that he wanted to shoot. He said that sometimes things appeared in wonderful ways and other times he left the filming too late. One example was the last occasion he had to film the  Eucharist service in the monastery. A women stood right in front of the camera. He did not feel that is was right to ask her to move, so there she is in the middle of the shot.

This film was a student work but has achieved affirmation. Andres says that the best one was being accepted as part of the 2011 Visions du Reel in Nyon, Switzerland. This is a prestigious documentary film festival. The film also received a commendation from the Interreligious Jury at the festival.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mar Musa Monastery, Syria : Interesting people (Part 1 of 3)

This is Part 1 of three posts on the monastery Mar Musa in Syria. Syria shares a border with
 Iraqi Kurdistan and there are many Kurds who have been effected  by the events of the last year. There is a large refugee camp in the north of Iraqi Kurdistan.

I love meeting interesting people. And it is amazing how they turn up so  unexpectantly in my life. Soon after arriving in Sulaimani in February I began to hear team mates speak of Jens the monk from Switzerland (although they called him Jantz which seemed strange to me, as I knew that was a last name). I haven't had much opportunity to get to know a monk so I was very interested to meet him (and I know a few real nice people from Switzerland).

 Jens  has recently arrived in Sulaimani from Mar Musa monastery in Syria.  He has been sent by his community there to live in the "Old" Chaldean church in the centre of Sulaimani. His dream is to live here in community for at least 10 years and to develop a place of  interfaith dialogue. Presently, the old church is not being used as a church. The new church is much closer to the CPT house and most Sundays someone from the team goes to worship there. Of course all the service is in either Arabic or Chaldean so worshiping together means sitting and being among other Christians and feeling the vibe.

The cross that rises above the simple Chaldean church.

 The front of the church and the altar.

The quiet courtyard of the Old Church. It is situated in a  maze of tiny streets close to the bazaar and main square of Sulaimani.
On the day we went for tea with Jens he had a friend visting from Liege, Belgium, which is on the border with Germany. Andres Rump is a film maker who has created a documentary about the friendship between Bruder Jihad, another monk from the  Mar Musa monastery  and Scheich Ibrahim, a Sufi imam from Damascus. (more on this in Part 2 of Mar Musa Monastery: Scheich Ibrahim, Bruder Jihad). He lives in a small community in Liege who dwell in small wooden trailers. He described them as "circus wagons". Their source of electricity is solar panels on the roofs. He told me that he has to make choices in how to "spend" the small amount of electricity produced. So sometimes there is not enough for the computer. Other more important things take priority.

Andres often remarked on the wonderful birds that live around the courtyard of the old church. On the day I visited the trees nearby were full of black birds (don't know the kind), singing as if their lives depended on it. It was marvelous.

One of the trees nearby to the church

Andres was in Sulaimani exploring and searching for the subjects for his next documentary. He had known Jens from the months he spent in Syria, so when the fim maker heard that he was now living in Iraqi Kurdistan he came to see what opportunities might present themselves. As of yet he is still searching, waiting to find the right interesting people with interesting lives.

A tour of the rooftop of the church: Jens in the foreground, team mate Bud Courtney in the middle and Andres in the back.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Waiting for the verdict

This rough sketch and the writing below it was my effort to stay awake during two hours sitting in court. I tried to concentrate and listen for words that I knew but this became somewhat hypnotizing. I very much wanted to fall asleep. It did not help that I could not drink coffee that morning for fear of  having to need the toilet in the middle of the trial.

This is a rough unartistic sketch of the police officer guarding the prisioners. I could not get the perspective to include them.


Two men before me are in a cage. Vertical bars go from the chest-high horizontal rail to the floor. There are eight inches between each bar. It keeps two grown men contained- with the help of two watchful police officers and at least five others standing in the aisle.

But this cage would not contain a toddler boy. Twenty-five years ago Ibrahim would have squeezed through the bar giggling and squirming in the blink of an eye.

The cage would not contain the rabbits in my garden at home. They would see it as an open invitation to leap out and eat my lettuce.

But two men are contained. They stand and wait for the discussion and arguments to finish and the verdict to come down. Will they escape from this chest-high cage to enter another much larger one that will be home for years, or their whole life? Or will the accusation of police- murder in the midst of demonstration be lifted and they will be able to go back to a barless home with loved ones?

Seven months ago Ibrahim Kaka Hama was arrested on the charge of inciting his acquaintance Bilal to shoot a police officer during the demonstrations last year. He is from the city of Halabja where some demonstrations took place.

CPT Iraq has followed his trial. After his arrest, he and his family were afraid that there would be a secret trial after which he would be put away secretly. As the weeks went on it became apparent that this would not be so, that he would have a public trial. However, the trail dragged on and on. For the most part we did not know what was being said during the trial sessions. They were in Kurdish and of course verbal communication during the trial was forbidden. So, after each session a couple of friends would inform us of the events of the day. One of these people, Nasik, was one of the leaders of the demonstrations in Sulaimani. She has been supporting families of people who had been killed, injured or accused during the time of the 2011 demonstrations.  She expressed her frustration with the process. Often the lawyers were not prepared, or the witnesses' testimony was based entirely on hear-say. We heard from various sources that they felt he was set-up to prove political points. A lawyer friend had read all the documentation and felt there was not doubt that Ibrahim was innocent.

Last week, the media announced that today 19 April would be the last trial date. Rumors flew that there was not any evidence to convict Ibrahim and that he would be released. Many people lined the hallway of the courthouse to witness this event. However, the judge was not able to be there. He had been pulled away for a more pressing case. So, back Ibrahim goes to the prison to wait for another week. Hopefully then the long wait will be over.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Friday photos from Sulaimani

Fridays is the Muslim day of prayer. So it is day off for all CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team (unless something important comes up). Friday is a day to sleep in, have a leisurely cup of coffee (Colombian- straight from that country, sent by our former team mate Ramyar and our support team co-ordinator, Milena). Then, after prayers I usually take a leisurely 45 minute walk to the centre of the city. The bazaar (market, souk) is there as well as many, many people. I really enjoy the hustle and push and sound of the market.

However, as you may realize, I am quite visible among all those people. I am greeted and stared at and I have had a couple of people say- I saw you on the street walking to the bazaar on Friday. My hair and clothes don't blend  in.

On these walks I enjoy using my camera. I am often in a quandry- do I ask permission and make the situation where the person is posing or do I try to be inabtrusive to get a more natural shot? So, I try to do both.

So here are a few photos from the last couple of Fridays in the centre of town and the bazaar.

A tiny person in her traditional Zhilee Kurdi (Kurdish clothes)

A small gathering in the public park

Two young men with their stand selling large Syrian raisans. I loved the black drapery, black raisans, black shirts and black hair.

This father was sitting by the side of the sidewalk waiting. I imagine his wife was out shopping as he was not begging. He was quite pleased to grant me a picture.

Spring is a time for eating early fruit that isn't ripe. The lime green fruit is green immature cherries. He had a bag of salt to eat them with. the other green item is immature almonds. The skin is fuzzy and you eat it along with the soft almond inside. I did not really want a whole bag so he gave me a few samples, along with his photo.

The women in the second-hand textiles market. This is my favourite place too. Lots of curtains and small rugs and all other kinds of fabrics that someone has decided they did not need any more. Most seem to come from Europe or the UK.

A vendor prepares mechanical toys for sale.
One of them worked

His colleague had some trouble with Barbie on a motorcycle.

A sewing machine salesman (and rugs and various other gadgets)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bits and bobs about sewing and quilting

This blog post is about the pieces part of my blog name. I am a quilter. That means that I take large pieces of fabric, cut them up and sew them back together again in wonderful ways.

 I just finished the work on my youngest daughter, Katrina and her  husband Paul's quilt. At home I will have to quilt it (which means putting a warm wool middle layer and then a bottom layer of fabric and making lots of little stitches to hold it together.)

Their quilt is based on a wrought iron fence on the Mt of Olives in Jerusalem

 I am currently working on parts of the wedding quilt for my oldest daughter, Janelle,  and her  husband, Laurens. They were married in October and now live in Germany. They asked for a quilt based on the theme of the Navy Pier in Chicago where they spent hours getting to know each other. So this quilt will be very, very colourful because the pier has a lot of colour, along with a lot of blue because of course Lake Michigan is all around.

My friend in Winnipeg asked to see the work that I have done so far on it . I have finished the centre heart and 4 of the pinwheel type circles. I have seven more to go of those, but I did not bring enough fabric this trip. Thse will have dark blue fabric around them, not purple gingham.

Now, I did say that I had not brought enough fabric along but the bazaar does have huge amounts of fabric. However, for quilting I prefer cottons and those are very scarce here. But, I thought that my quilting friends would be intrigued by the fabric salesman who brings the fabric to your door in the back of his truck. Maybe a business idea for some enterprising person in Winnipeg?

I have seen other trucks where the fabric bolts are standing up nice and straight and seem to be organized very well. Of course, at the time I was either zooming by in a car or I did not have my camera with me.
I was out on a walk with my Kurdish flashcards when I spied these future seamstress/tailors. They had a fantastic bag full of little bits of fabric from traditional Kurdish women's clothes. I asked if I could take their photo and they agreed and jumped up after every click to take a look at the photo.
After I took this one then the girl in the pink said, "tawow" (finished) and then went back to the serious business of exploring the fabric.

 This photo is for my friends and family who love second-hand shops. Here is one that comes right to your door.

My friend Sharaban has been a seamstress for 12 years. Her work is to make traditional Kurdish women's clothes. I have written about her in an earlier post because she cut out dresses for my two daughters. One of these dresses sewed up very easily, but the I could not figure out the second one. So I brought it back to Kurdistan for her to help me. She commented," the dress gets to travel all the way to Canada and back to Kurdistan, while I stay here."  I wanted to give her a gift of my creativity so I made her a pin cushion and gadget holder to go beside her sewing machine. Then I filled it with a few things to make sewing easier: a seam ripper, thread snippers and a box of pins. But the thing she got very excited about was a pair of pinking shears. She asked," can I use these when I don't have an overlocker/serger?|" I told her that unfortunately the serger was much better at holding back fraying thread, but the pinking shears (they make a zig zag cut instead of just straight) would do a good job. She immediately began to "pink" some seams in her sister's dress.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I am afraid of bombing (and there is shelling too)

As we walked through the door into the classroom the Grade two side rose and said,” good moring teacher”. The English teacher gestured with his arm to the Grade ones on the other side of the room, who obviously had not yet  learned the ritual, “stand up”, he said. They all stood. And then he gave permission to sit. “Thank you teacher”, they called in unison and sat on the small bench-type desks.

We had made the 3 hour trip  to Sunneh to teach English. This is not exactly the mandate of CPT. But we see these monthly trips as a way to become acquainted with some of the students in the school of around 80 pupils. We want our faces and presence to become at little more normal. Ultimately, we would like to ask them to be a part of a video telling of their life in the tiny villages in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. We would also like them to tell us what it is like to be part of a village that is shelled every year from a country on the other side of the mountains. We want their story to be told to people who have never had to fear the sound of airplanes and the whistle of falling rockets.

Though they have had to face bombardment many times, the summer and autumn  of 2011offered the worst shelling that Sunneh and other surrounding villages have experienced. The villagers had to vacate their homes and take a few belongings to tent camps out of range of the shells. At the end of October the authorities came to the camp one day and informed them that all  water tanks and generators would be removed the next day. They were to return to their homes. The government deemed the area to be safe. They did not take into account the fear of the families that the authorities did not really know that the shelling was over. They did not consider the crying and nightmares of children afraid of the sound of the wind.  

The villagers had no choice but to go back to the houses and land. But, this was land that should have provided food for the summer and stored goods for the winter. One man said that when he usually gets 50-60 bushels of produce from his land., the harvest of 2011 provided less than one. Even though the villages are in the mountains the weather is still dry and hot. The gardens and fields need constant irrigation. When the farmer is in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps the crops become dry and die.

The new IDP camp dwellings being prepared for probable use once the snow clears and planting begins.

Spring 2012 is here now. The mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan are lush and green and the tiny fragrant narcissi are sprouting everywhere. Hope could be here for a year of freedom from shelling,, for the chance to run, play and grow crops in peace,  for 60 bushels of produce. However, there is evidence to the contrary. The government is building white, rectangular  cabins in the areas beyond the reach of shells. The IDP camps will not be tents anymore. But this seems to assure that there will be reason for these dwellings to be used. The families will still hear the whistle and explosions. They will still have to run from the houses, fields and animals. For, as one farmer told the team, “ they have built these close to another village. They will not allow us to bring our animals because they need the grazing area. Our goats and cows will have to stay where it is not safe.”

The Grade 9 class of Sunneh village. Next year they will have to travel 1/2 hour or board in the nearest larger centre to continue their education.

My friend and team mate Bud Courtney talking about life in New York (note the heating source in front of him)

Bud, trying to teach the boys how to stomp and clap in rythm

While two little girls look on


Me: I like the colour blue. What colour do you like?

Boy: I like the colour black.

Boy: I like the colour yellow.

Me: I have two sisters and one brother. How many sisters and brothers do you have?

Boy: I have 8 sisters and 2 brothers.

Teacher: (He has a large family.)

Me: I like to cook. What do you like to cook?

Girl: I like to cook rice.

Girl: I like to cook dolma

Teacher: (a specially delicious Kurdish food of rice wrapped in grape leaves.)

Me: I have two cats. What pets do you have?


Teacher: (actually, in this culture no one has pets)

Me: OK. What animals do you have?


Teacher: (they all have animals especially goats and they have too many to count)

Me: I like to go walking for fun. What do you do for fun?

Girl: I like to play volleyball.

Boy: I like to swim.

Girl: I like to play guitar.

Me: I am afraid of very loud thunder. What are you afraid of?

Girl: I am afraid of snakes.

Girl: I am afraid of bombing .

Teacher: (and there is shelling too)