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.

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