Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Anticipating things unknown about Ramadan

The photos in this post are taken earlier in my time in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are not the children whose story I tell. 

This stint on team in Iraqi Kurdistan is my first summer and the first time I will experience Ramadan. My body is coping quite well with the nice, dry heat- so far up to 42 C. But I am feeling a little apprehensive about the unknowns of a month of practices that are integral to a faith that is not my own.

My team mates have given hints that our lives must change even though we are not fasting. Taking a swig from a water bottle in  public is considered rude and disrespectful. Many of our favourite restaurants are either closed during the fasting hours or have a white curtain that one must hide behind. The small alcohol shops are closed for the month. There will be many more occasions when I may have to wear a scarf.  And life is overall pretty quiet, with employees leaving work an hour or so earlier than usual. Then  at sundown, which is around 7 pm here,  activity in the streets will pick up and people will break their fast.

But I also wonder how Ramadan will affect the refugees and IDPs who rely on the small bits of money they can collect from those who are thirsty and hungry.

Around the corner from the CPT house sits an 8 year old boy - all day, everyday. His seat is the curb and in front of him are ten bags of homemade popcorn. He waits for sympathetic or hungry passersby to hand him a bit of paper money. He sits from morning to evening until the bags are gone, or it is dark enough to take his earnings home to his mother and siblings. His small amount of money helps to feed the family who are IDPs from the south..

Another small boy caught my attention in the bazaar. Apparently begging is illegal here so most of the many, many working children have something to give you for a donation. This 5-6 year old had a small styrofoam box with a bit of ice and 10 bottles of water. He stood holding a bottle as an example of his wares, for the masses of people passing by. I stopped. I had already bought one 500 ml bottle but had almost sucked it dry. I handed him a  small paper bill and bent to grab the top bottle. With a serious face he gently pushed my hand away and reached down to the bottom to give me the coldest bottle possible. I took it from him, put it on my hot face and said, "zor sarde/very cold". He finally smiled.

My discomfort with the unknown is not something that will harm me. I may be reprimanded for a faux pas. I may experience thirst in the hot sun that I am not used to. But I wonder about these little ones and the families that they support. How will Ramadan affect them?

Monday, June 8, 2015

How can I get to Europe, how can I get to Canada?

I receive many questions from the people I meet here in Iraqi Kurdistan. In earlier years the questioners were mainly Kurds. Now they come from many more diverse people: Syrians, Arabs, Yezidids, and Syrian Kurds. They want to know where I come from and why I am here. But many are like the Syrian man with the tea cart at the entrance to Baxi Gishti/Main Park near the bazaar in Sulaimani.. "Can you tell me how I can get to Canada? Life is so bad here. Europe would be good too. Please tell me."

I wonder how many of them would have the resources to take the desperate step of finding a people smuggler- a man who would extract large  sums of money to stuff the people into a truck to go overland to Turkey and then onto an overloaded boat to try for the coast of Greece. Most refugees who attempt this last ditch effort  for a better life do not succeed and many do not survive.. Last year the EU discontinued Mare Nostrum, the search and rescue operation. that provided  rescue boats that plucked victims from the waters of the Mediterranean. Since January 2015, 1,800 desperate people have died- drowning in their attempt for a new life-one that has jobs and enough food and freedom from the threat of guns and bombs.

On Friday May 1 I watched several of my friends "drown". The members of the CPT Europe Convergence joined with international visitors of  Catholic Worker in front UK's Home Office to dramatically bring attention to this situation. The tableau held a boat with some rescued victims wrapped in heat retaining silver blankets. Others, at a signal, poured water over themselves, making both their bodies and the pavement wet. Several struggled as if to fight the enveloping water and then lay still. In this way they identified with the thousands who have been pulled lifeless from the sea.

The next day we heard a local poet read her work. She had heard the news reports of the 1,800 dead migrants and refugees and wrote this emotional indictment.

Unended Refuge 2015-
 Jude Smit- a poet with a global conscience

Leave them to drown, they’re not one of us
Too much to do, so what’s all the fuss?
Replacement values, replacement TV
How should we know, why should we see?
Push of a button, the screen will go blank
They’re not one of us, who cares if it sank?
No need to shout, no need to cry
Why do we care when we see them die?
Bodies are floating, so few have survived
Came in their hundreds, how many arrived?
Those who are left haven’t a clue
Their hope of a future will never come true.
At the mercy of others, their fate in our hands
But who cares if they drown, they’re not of these lands.
Switch off the news, switch off the phone,
Block it all out, look after our own.

The question rings still in my mind-"Tell me how can I get to Europe? How can I leave this awful place?