Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mud, wonderful mud?: Winter time in Arbat Camp.

(Photo by  UNICEF- Belgium)
A well known  musical movie, My Fair Lady, has a famous line-"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain". However, in the winter in Iraqi Kurdistan, the rain falls on the mountains (in the form of snow) and on the fields (where it waters the winter wheat  that grows and turns bright green), in the cities (running off the concrete houses and yards and down the  streets) and in the IDP/ refugee camps (where the trucks, cars and hundreds of people turn the dirt into muck).

As one drives into Arbat Camp the ruts on the road are full of water and the mounds of dirt are wet and mushy.  The adults walk from tent home  to small shop to Aid distribution through the mud. The children run from tent to small toilet buildings to school through the mud. Some of the children have nice rubber boots, others have winter boots made for snowy conditions and others have bare feet inside summer plastic sandals.

The white UNHCR tents are supposed to keep the rain off the occupants, although this is not necessarily always accurate. But the women work very diligently to keep the muck out of the sitting, resting, eating, sleeping area. I saw  one woman was scrubbing the rubber mat at the tent flap entrance trying to keep a mud-free square meter of space. Another was  washing the family's clothing in a small plastic basin and then hanging them outside with the hope that they would dry before the next rainy day.

 (Photo by Sectorserbil.blogspot)
A photo taken by an Aid resource NGO of the clothes washing facilities in the camp

They all have fled from their brick, stable, waterproof houses to live in the enormous tent village. They now need to fight the dirt and muck with very limited resources.

One way to keep the mud out is to compel everyone to take off their footwear at the door. This is a usual cultural practice anyway, but in Arbat it is a necessary fact of life. A week ago I visited the long rounded tent that serves as the kindergarten. When we arrived 20 small ones aged 3-6 were inside singing an Arabic song at the top of their voices. Just outside the tent door was a large pile of boots and shoes- everyone of them covered with  brown mud.

When the last drum beat had sounded the children rushed to the door to head back to their family's tents. But there was one last last hurdle to overcome- how to match the right footwear to the correct feet?

This boy is pretty secure in the fact that he found his own boots.

The pile has depleted by a lot.

However, at the end there were two children left and three sets of boots- all of them did not belong to the other. The teacher here is trying to convince this little guy  that 
he should give one of the spare pairs a try.

The saga of the confusion of the boots ended well. He was convinced to try one of the pair of yellow boots on (you can see them in the first photo of the pile of boots). They fit very well and off he went. The last child got a "new" set of purple boots and she headed back to her tent. 

The volunteer teachers and I had a long laugh at the craziness of it all. And the lone unwanted pair of yellow boots stood by the door- awaiting their next chance to find a set of feet that wanted them.

Poem to Mud     

 (Zilpha Keatley Snyder)

Poem to mud-
Poem to ooze-
Patted in pies, or coating the shoes.
Poem to slooze-
Poem to crud-
Fed by a leak, or spread by a flood.
Wherever, whenever, whyever it goes,
Stirred by your finger or strained by your toes,
There's nothing sloppier, slipperier, floppier,
There's nothing slickier, stickier, thickier,
There's nothing quickier to make grown-ups sickier,
Trulier coolier,
Than wonderful mud.

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