Saturday, July 18, 2015

Apprehension re Ramadan was not needed

Today is the second day of Eid- the the days of celebration and feasting after the month of fasting. A month ago I posted that I was slightly apprehensive about how Ramadan would affect me ( really , not at all) and the little vendors who sell food and drink on the street (they were still out there, I am not sure whether they sold very much.)

I did make trips to the bazaar- often I did walk the 30 minutes even though the heat was extreme. I learned how to find the fast food places and tea shops that were open. It was easy- I just had to look for the white curtains blowing in the breeze. I just had to duck under the cloth and pay the 250 ID for a bottle of nice cold water. It was so hot that the 500 mls went down very quickly and I was hydrated enough to keep on walking. (with my nice geeky hat and lots of sunscreen for my Irish-heritage skin).

Every day after the call to prayer at around 7:15 pm the families would have iftar- the time for breaking of the fast and eating together. I noticed that shops that were open to provide the necessary materials to create a meal, closed so that the family could be all together.

The first moment of the end of the fast for the day held a drink of very sweet juice and a few dates. This gives a boost of sugar before the more substantial evening meal. Many of the shops sold multi-coloured juices in bags, that were easy to take home.

My first invitation to iftar was with my friends in Ranya. I have visited this family- where Gul is the matriarch- many times in the last five years. This visit many of them came together to see me, to introduce the new baby to me and to let me see how the other little ones have grown. We met in my friend Nishtiman's apartment and there was just enough room for everyone on the floor of the eating room. The sensory stimulation was incredible- the baby crying, the two older ones running around and having fun, the loud chatter in Kurdish, the TV at full volume,  the smells of the rice and chicken and the quiet praying as several of the family took turns in the corner of the room for the evening prayer.

My second invitation was to eat the evening meal with my little friend, Sima's family. They live a five minute walk from the CPT house, and I brought a very fun English book with lift-the-flaps for her. Some of my Kurdish lessons had included a translation  into Kurdish and then memorizing the book so that she could understand the simple story. She loved the book and read it and read it many times throughout the evening. But so did her 10 year old brother, and 12 and 15 year old sisters.

This family does not invite me anymore, there is just the assumption that I will stay if I am there anywhere near the meal time. Sima will whisper the question, "will you eat supper?" and before I know it, I am gathered with the family around the tablecloth. This time, after the juice and dates, the mother, Nazaneen, brought out the pot of soup and rice. She put something onto my plate that looked very strange and the son showed me how to pull the thread to open up the bundle. It was a piece of the stomach of the sheep, sewn around seasoned rice. But then, when the father, Mohamed, sat down they plopped a bony sheep skull onto his plate. He and two of the children began to pick at the bits of meat. Soon the middle daughter went to the next room for a hammer. With a crash the skull broke in two and the inner "stuff" fell onto the plate. That was obviously the crowning glory. I declined the brains and eyeballs. But they certainly did not go to waste!

The third iftar I did not eat. On the second to last day of Ramadan I went with my friend, Ann to Mosgowti Gawre (the big mosque) in the center of the city. This mosque was feeding hundreds of people every evening of the month. There were many of the poorest of the poor in Sulaimani, some of them were not Muslim, but Yezidi and Christian.They lined up to receive rice, bean soup and a piece of chicken. Then after the prayers were finished, the ones who had entered the mosque were welcome to sit and eat as well.

Ann knows quite a bit of Arabic so she had many conversations with people around the courtyard. They were young boys and men from Syria and down south. They have fled the violence with their families or at least the parts of their families who still live. Ann translated some of the sad stories for me. We felt quite helpless as the best we could do was to stop and listen. But it seemed that for the ones telling about the home they had left that having someone willing to listen was a good thing.

I had been apprehensive about Ramadan. But although sometimes I was very much out of my comfort zone, I saw a time of deep religious significance. I saw people fasting from food and drink in the hottest days of summer- and they survived.  I saw people who had made the choice not to fast. I saw people who made the best of the time- and brought out their wares just before the time of iftar. This is a rhythm of life that goes on every year and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cleaning the river, one thing I can do

“There are so many crises in this region [ISIS causing thousands of IDPs and refugees, our young men fighting Da’ash and many dying, huge line-ups for petrol, government salaries not being paid, electricity cut-offs, corruption in the government]. For most of these we can’t do anything. All we can do is pray. But this is one thing where we can do something. It can be a symbol of what can be done when a group of people gather and act”…..  Mohamed Salah Mahdi


Our team had been visiting our friends in the gorgeous Shawre Valley. Kak Latif is a member of a group that  is resisting oil exploration in the valley. They are very aware of how oil drilling will negatively affect the lands that their families have farmed for generations. On the way home the team stopped by Dukan River, a popular picnic spot for hundreds of families on Fridays (outside of the fasting month, Ramadan). Our goal was to paddle in the water on the hot +40 C afternoon. But we changed our minds when we saw the condition of the river. Trash from past picnics floated 2 meters wide along the shore. Small water bottles, plastic tablecloths wrapped around food leftovers, diapers and glass alcohol bottles lined the edge of the river.

Teammate Mohamed went home to think and quickly posted a picture of the mess on a local TV station’s website. His comments included a call people to come to the river on the next Saturday to do something- to take the trash and to put it into large bags and to clean the river.

On Saturday 4 July six of us gathered at Dukan River. The cultural mix was amazing for such a small group: 3 Kurds, 1 Arab, 1 Canadian and 1 USian.  We came together to work hard for two hours using badminton rackets taped to broom handles to lift the trash onto the shore. Then we filled over 50 bags from a relatively small portion of the shore.

Some people came down to see what we were doing.  They thanked us and even left some food for when we were finished. However, only one small Kurdish girl moved from watching to helping.

This was such an unusual endeavour that as we were taking our group photo a neighboring man came to speak to us in a very agitated manner. He was very concerned that we were inspectors and that we would blame the neighboring houses for the mess. We assured him that we were ordinary people who cared for the river and that we did not blame him. We just wanted to ask people to take their trash home after their relaxing picnics with their families. Plastic does not disappear in in the hot sun and the river does not eat up the leftovers.  The man finally calmed down and offered to watch the pile of bags until the municipality would come to collect them.

That evening, Mohammed again posted photos on KNNC’s website. He watched as the “likes” began to click up. Within a day over 7,000 had registered their thanks and interest to join the campaign. Many asked that he wait until after Ramadan when they would have more physical energy for the work. However Mohamed and his friends decided to keep the momentum rolling. This Friday the plan is to head to the picnic mountain.

On Friday 10 July we drove to  nearby Goizha Mountain to clean yet another picnic spot. This time we had 15 people: 7  Kurds, 1 Canadian, 1 Arab, 4 Christians from Qaraqhosh and Baghdad, 1 German, and 1 USian. After we were finished filling 30 bags under the hot, windy sunny sky we all came to the CPT house for coffee, tea, fruit and popcorn. We shared stories and made connections. All because we went to pick up garbage.