Friday, May 17, 2013

Peace is a woman and woman is peace

I am reposting a reflection I recently wrote for CPT Net and that we posted on our Iraqi Kurdistan team blog.

But I will also post it here for those who have not seen it in the other places. Like I said in my last post  it was an incredible day.

May 14, 2013

Peace is a woman and woman is peace.

"The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring". Isaiah 58:11

The high mountain ridges, still covered in a blanket of snow showed the borderline of Iraq and Iran.  A tiny newborn goat with the umbilical cord still drying on its belly wandered around by our legs. The unceasing sound of the artesian spring gave background noise to our conversation.

There we were, sitting around a table under bright green grape leaves and infant grape clusters that protected us from the hot sun.  Unusually, the women outnumbered the men. However, even more unusual was that the first question came from a woman to me. “I am asking you because you are a woman’, she said. “Violence against women happens all over the world. How do you think that we can change that?” I admitted that considering making changes to such a huge issue was beyond me.  I thought that we must work at a level of helping one man to see things differently, or to empower one woman at a time. She agreed.

I marvelled that I was able to be here on this awesome spring day, having a conversation with a Kurdish woman who had lived and fought in these mountains for 21 years.  I knew that our ideology and methods were quite different, but I felt a kinship with her. Her organisation strives to provide equal opportunity for all, no matter which gender. She had been trained extensively right alongside the men.   She was secure in her beliefs that the way to start making a difference in the world was working on attitudes toward and treatment of women. “We should all should work together, young and old women. We need to include more women in these reforms because the peace is a woman and woman is peace.”

We spoke of the hope for the end of the conflict, when the peace agreement with Turkey really materializes. Her dream was to someday go beyond the borders of Iraq, to speak to people of other nations, to train women and to share her knowledge and experience. When we asked her how she saw peace, she gestured and looked around at the plot of land, the grape vines, the spring and the goat. She said, “When everyone in the world has this.”
The conversation was far too short, but the sun was sinking lower in the sky and we had a long drive over a rocky road ahead of us. As we hugged and kissed goodbye she commented,” You should be a leader in a women’s organisation”.  I received her affirmation and treasured it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Basta, beautiful Basta.

A week ago I had the privilege of going to a place where few non  Kurdish people have been. There is a tiny village named Basta that is in the foothills of the Quandil mountains. From our friend, Bapier's house you can see the peaks that are the border of Iran and Iraq.

Bapier has  invited the team to visit many times. But unfortunately, the village is past a line  that the Iraqi Kurdistan security forces are reluctant to let us cross. We are not sure why they have a problem. Maybe they think that we will be in danger? This time Lukasz and I had friends with us who knew who to phone. So, after a number of calls, including the mayor of  a larger town, they let us through. But they did keep our residency cards to ensure that we would not flee over the mountains to Iran (I guess).

The day showed the glory of spring.

The highest mountains still had a covering of snow, but we could feel the heat of the sun beginning to exhibit its strength and the fields were green, green, green.  Bapir was so excited that we were finally able to come to his village. invited us into his simple house and we sat on the carpet in the sitting room. His older daughters stayed in the kitchen, but the middle ones came and served the tea.

 The little boys wandered in and out. There was a mild problem when I shared some little plastic dinosaurs with them. The "roaring of the animals" caused Bapir to gently push them out of the door with a command to play elsewhere. It worked for a few minutes, until they came back to see what else of interest the visitors might have.
Two of Bapir's sons and Angel (our friend)'s brother in law looking at the marvels of games on a mobile phone.

We asked Bapir how he felt about the recent cease fire between the opposition forces and Turkey. If this really happens it will have a massive positive effect on this village, like many others along the border regions. CPT has supported the villagers of Basta since 2006. Every summer he village has emptied  as the shelling and bombing season started. They evacuated to  an Internally Displaced Persons tent camp further down the mountain beside a rushing mountain stream. Summer 2012 was the first growng season in 7 years that they were able to stay beside their animals and gardens. It was was also the year that the Kurdish Regional government finally provided more permanent dwellings for the camp that have remained empty. Bapir dreams of the day when his family will be able to be secure enough to stay in the village with him.

Bapir and me and his little son.
This is a brand new mosque that the villagers have built. It is almost finished and will provide a place for prayer.

They served us  a lovely meal of chicken, rice and a soup called quirew that is made out of yogurt and spices. We have been told that this is a very special soup made for guests.

Then we went out for a tour of Basta.

This is the second house we visited (and had our 4th cup of tea). The man in the dark brown Kurdish suit is the sheikh of the village-another leader.
A reminder of a scarier day in the village. Schrapnel from shelling came through the window into the house.
Bapir's daughter climbed the kezhwan tree to get the green fruit for us. They were a little sour and made the mouth pucker up. I ate a few for the experience and then gave the rest of my bunch to my little friend.
My little friends. The one in the yellow shirt desperately wanted to stay with me, even when I had the use the toilet. It was a 3 sided enclosure without a door. I tried to convince him it was a bad idea, but it took his sister to hold him back so I had a vestige of privacy!

On another visit Bapir had gifted Lukasz with a traditional men's hat. So L. gave him a CPT cap. I guess this daughter decided that it was perfect for her.
At the last house we visited we were offered "mast-aw" (yogurt mixed with water). A refreshing change to tea.
In the days before Sadaam Hussein's "Anfal"- his attempt to eradicate the Kurds, Basta had 75 houses. Now there are 21.
I was curious. I told the young people present at the second house that often in Canada the young adults can not wait to get out of the villages and to go to the city. I asked how they felt about being in the village. They all replied that this was the place they loved. They hated the city and wanted to live in the mountains despite the remoteness. Many of them work as shepherds or caring for other livestock.
The villagers still are not secure that peace will come. They are waiting to see what how the neighbouring countries will handle the agreement and whether the bombing and shelling will be finished for ever.