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
ON TEACHING A 7TH GRADE ENGLISH CLASS
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)