Please Offer a Prayer For …

Last night I attended an poignant candlelight vigil in a small local Chaldean monastery. The vigil was being held for the head of the monastery, Father Paolo, who founded the facility after being expelled from Syria and has been reported missing-kidnapped after returning to Syria negotiate between rival sects. (Read more in the link below.)

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       Father Paolo Dall’Oglio

The service was attended by a small group of people, two nuns, a novitiate brother, priest and 10 or so congregants. The service was conducted with most of the people sitting cross legged on a splay of beautiful carpets, circling the officiants who conducted the service. Several passages of scripture were read in Kurdish, followed by the homily and candle lighting. As each candle was lit it was followed by what sounded like an Ave Maria.

Here I have to admit, the service was difficult for everyone. With what I’ve gathered from other CPTer’s, both those who’ve left team and the one who is with me now, is that Father Paolo has had a significant influence on CPT here in Iraqi-Kurdistan. My companion related that at least one individual joined CPT as a direct result of his influence and numerous others have used his guidance to help them deal with the stressors of being on team. Plus he has helped developed a respectful relationship with the Muslim community by initiating interfaith dialogues leading to mutual understanding.

I would ask people to please include this remarkable man in your prayer’s for a safe return to the monastery and success in the work he’s trying to put forth in finding a path to peace for all those impacted by the Syrian conflict.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324635904578641673678953526.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/29/us-syria-crisis-priest-idUSBRE96S16S20130729

My Time Alone …

In a few hours my time of living a quasi-monastic life will come to an end with the arrival of my colleague Lukasz. I say quasi because five days a week Mohamed spent eight hours with me trying his best to teach me how to speak, write and read Kurdish. The remainder of my day was usually spent alone reading, cleaning, practicing language studies and of course sleeping. At first, I have to admit, I was a little stressed out being here by myself. I was told not to make it obvious that I was alone and to keep the gate and doors locked. This added fuel to an already heightened state of anxiety fed by an overactive imagination that took me to fearful places in my thought’s. I couldn’t help but see every entrance as a potential access point for someone to break in with the intention of doing me harm. “Did I lock the doors? I think so but, what if they …” would play nightly as I laid down to sleep and in the darkness I would arise and follow a nightly ritual of checking each bolt. Lying in bed often I would be awoken by noises, low booming noises, banging metal and voices from outside. One of my recurrent worries was, how do I call the Kurdish version of 911 and overcoming the inevitable language barrier? What are the words to say, someone’s broken into my house and I need help! Not to mention that the address I would need to use is general directions, not a street name. Needless to say, help would be a long time in coming. These thought’s and fear’s would arise each evening following Mohamed’s departure as I slid the numerous bolts to lock the gate behind him.

Gradually as the days passed I learned how to overcome my fear’s by remembering some of the technics that I learned while at university studying for my degree in psychology, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT. CBT, simply stated, is a method where one gains control over negative thoughts by interrupting them when they begin and not allowing them to grow by confronting their validity. This worked well for me because many of the thought’s I had were pretty out there! The other was becoming familiar with the sounds that permeate this old building, the water tanks as they contract and expand with the nightly temperature changes, the activities of our neighbors through the walls and the voices of the children as they play outside. Which may seem strange that I am trying to sleep at night while little children play outside, but here in Kurdistan, the tremendous heat of the day keeps people indoors and so many people who don’t have to work during the day, sleep and come out in the cool of the night air remaining outside till 3 or 4 in the morning. Having this understanding has helped me sleep much better and now, with my CPT partner here we can begin the real work of CPT, human rights.

Iran deploying troops, tanks to border with Iraq’s Kurdistan

Please pray for peace! 
 
 
 
Iran deploying troops, tanks to border with Iraq’s Kurdistan 
20.7.2013
 
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 TEHRAN,—Iran is building up military forces along the border of neighboring Kurdistan region of Iraq, the world tribune reported.
Officials said the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has amassed thousands of troops as well as main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers along the border with Kurdistan region of Iraq.

They said IRGC, supported by the Army, appeared to be preparing for an operation against Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan.

“Iran is establishing a permanent military presence so it could attack Kurdistan at will,” an official said.

Officials said IRGC was also constructing bases and other military installations along the Iraqi Kurdistan border. They said the target was the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan,www.ekurd.net the Iranian wing of the Kurdish Workers Party.

In 2012, PJAK reached a ceasefire with Iran in wake of its military invasion of Kurdistan. Officials said IRGC was assessed as having failed to destroy PJAK headquarters in the Qandil mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.
 
Officials said PJAK was bracing for another Iranian offensive. They said PJAK, which could shell deep into Iran, was supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG in defending semi- autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq.

“The Kurds are much stronger than they were a year ago,” the official said.

The PJAK, or (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), is a militant Kurdish nationalist group based in Kurdistan region in Iraq’s north that has been carrying out attacks Iranian forces in the Kurdistan Province of Iran (Eastern Kurdistan) and other Kurdish-inhabited areas.

PJAK is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (Koma Civaken Kurdistan or KCK), which is an alliance of Kurdish groups and divisions led by an elected Executive Council.

Led by Haji Ahmadi (Rehman Haci Ehmedi), the PJAK’s objective is to establish a semi-autonomous regional entities or Kurdish federal states in Iran, Turkey and Syria similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

Since 2004 the PJAK took up arms for self-rule in Kurdistan province northwestern of Iran (Eastern Kurdistan). Half the members of PJAK are women. The PJAK has over 3,000 armed militiamen. 

Estimate to 12 million Kurds live in Iran.

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, worldtribune.com | Ekurd.net | Agencies

 

Al-Khalil (Hebron) Urgent Action

CPTnet
10 July 2013 
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) URGENT ACTION: Help replace volunteers to whom Israel denied entry last week

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On two occasions in the past week, Israeli officials at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport refused entry to members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who had traveled to Israel to join the Christian Peacemaker Team in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

On Tuesday 2 July, Israeli authorities interrogated a CPT reservist from the Netherlands and held him in the airport for fourteen hours before placing him on a flight home. Three days later they interrogated a CPT reservist from the United States for ten hours before sending him home.  Each CPTer had served in Israel-Palestine before.  Both volunteers cooperated with the intensive questioning of Israeli security officials, who seemed most concerned with visas from the government of Iraqi Kurdistan stamped in both CPTers’ passports because of their past CPT work in that region.

CPT’s sudden inability to get team members into the country is especially worrying given Israeli authorities’ recent ban on CPT activities near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil, apparently intended to halt international nonviolent protective presence in the most sensitive and volatile area of the city—one of the vital functions of CPT’s Palestine project.

Since 10 May, Israel’s Border Police have prohibited CPTers from wearing their uniform, vests, and hats, and from recording the obstructions imposed on Palestinians’ daily life anywhere between the two main checkpoints that control Palestinian movement past the mosque complex, which also includes a synagogue and visitors’ center frequented by settlers.

Additionally, Israeli journalist Amira Hass reported in May that Israel is now forbidding certain “tourists from the United States and other countries to enter the territories under Palestinian Authority control without a military entry permit.  Israel has not clarified how it will enforce this restriction, or where and when it will facilitate permit applications.

Other international human rights organizations have faced increasing Israeli access restrictions.  In recent months Israel also turned back two members of Operation Dove—an Italian group working in the South Hebron Hills—at the airport.  Two others received permission to visit for one week, and could not extend their visas.

In response to these developments, CPT’s team in Palestine wants to initiate a quick “surge” of volunteers traveling through Israel to join its project within the next few weeks.  This surge will help CPT better staff the project and uphold critical commitments both to partners in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills in this interim period of very few team members.  The results of this initiative will also help CPT to ascertain whether the Israeli authorities are targeting it for removal.

Actions: 

Make a contribution today to help CPT fund several volunteers traveling to join its Palestine team in very quick succession.  CPT relies primarily on individual donations to fulfill its travel and operating costs.  Your gift of $20 or more will make a difference.  Write “inspired by the Palestine team” in your check memo. Share this alert with your community.

If you are a CPT reservist and able to come to Israel-Palestine within the next few weeks, please contact us.  A scholarship may be available to reduce your fundraising obligations.

LGBTs, the Church and the Phoenix Convention

I recently read a story headlining the Mennonite World Review about the Pink Menno demonstration. Reading the comment section left me somewhat depressed and angry and in my charged emotional state I wrote the following.

I feel as if I am in the waiting room of a psychologist surrounded by a host of patients engaged in an argument about who shouldn’t be there because they are suffering from major depression, anxiety disorders and the like. The debate being that only those who are well should speak to the therapist. We are ALL sinners in the eyes of God and as Jesus stated, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7 NRSV. We should be singing praises when ANYONE comes into God’s presence and stop bickering about WHO they are or what ‘lifestyle’ they lead. Many people, LGBT and otherwise, who are outside of the church desire to be a part of it, but judge themselves to be unworthy of entering because of your fighting! They hear your voices and can only imagine how they will be judged too. You’re killing the church at a time when it is most needed for the healing of ALL peoples.

– sandra (today at 3:24 a.m.)

http://www.mennoworld.org/2013/7/8/pink-menno-demonstration-calls-repentance-inclusio/

One Man and a Sign

Caveat: The following story is my own, as a friend of Mohamed’s who traveled with and supported him as such, it does not represent by my presence at the action, an endorsement of CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) nor any of it’s holdings in the action. I stood at a distance, with no CPT regalia and simply watched the events unfold.

One Man and a Sign

   Yesterday Mohamed told me he was going to do an action. It was late in the morning and he had been telling me of his frustration with the recent physical altercation that had took place in the Kurdish Parliament. Yes, Kurdistan has now joined the ranks of South Korea, Japan and a host of other nations, where fights have broken out on the floor of the legislature during heated debates on emotionally charged issues. The debate here is whether or not the current leaders of Kurdistan, who have served many years, can now run for additional terms since their pervious terms were held prior to the constitution being ratified.This issue I guess was introduced to the floor for a vote without prior notification of all effected parties in the closing hours of the Parliamentary session, (political shenanigans are not only in the U.S.) and the debate became quite heated turning to fisticuffs. Mohamed then also tells me that there has been a call by some that there should be an action at the government offices to show their dislike of this behavior. He then creates a poster written in Kurdish and said to me in Kurdish, “Bahbroin!” (let’s go!) and we’re off.

We get into our tired and nearly worn out Russian Volga and begin the trek to somewhere I do not know, winding up the back alleys of Sulaimani, over the the main highway, through round-a-bouts and end up parking at the entrance of a large imposing building set back on a hill far from the street which is surrounded by trees, fences and guarded by fierce looking camouflaged dressed, beret wearing, armed security force at the gate. But I am wondering, where are the other protesters? Are we just early? At the wrong place? I ask Mohamed this but he assures me we are where he wants to be and we get out of the car, cross the street and he takes up his position right in the middle of the intersection of the building entrance not far from the gate and holds up his sign. He Imageis not a very imposing sight, just one man and a sign, standing in the middle of a street on a hot sunny day, yet people stop as they walk by, read his sign and begin talking to others. Soon there are numerous people standing and watching, some go up to him and talk. ImageA few seem to be nervous and begin texting, making phone calls and approaching me to ask questions, unfortunately in Kurdish, which I haven’t mastered yet and I am thinking like, “What’s happening, who is he upsetting and are we going to end up in solitary or a hot box in some nefarious prison courtyard? Then, in less time that I would expect to get a response from a 911 call, a film crew arrives from the local news media and begins filming and interviewing Mohamed! How crazy is this?

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This is just one guy with a sign! Still people come and gather around him. Then security forces begin their move! They leave their posts and begin to quickly walk towards me and to Mohamed, this is it, I wonder how the hot pavement will feel as they crush my face in it to cuff me, dragging us off to God knows where! But instead, they courteously hand us cold bottles of water and leave with a smile! I am dumbfounded, this isn’t right, where is the abuse of power, the aggression? Not long after this, a big grey SUV moves up, the guards hustle around moving traffic cones and two burly guys jump out and approach Mohamed, this is it, here we go, the arrest comes! But yet again, my wild imagination is proved wrong. Its the leader of the opposition party who’s come to greet and have a chat with ImageMohamed! Everyone stands around for a photo op and I am left scratching my head wondering whats going on.

Later on the ride back to the CPT office Mohamed explained to me what had happened, who the people were and all the goings on.

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It was then that I realized that under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein that no one was able to voice dissent without being tortured or killed and the fear of this still lingers in the hearts of many and for one man, to stand alone and speak his voice, is a brave act indeed.

Mohamed’s sign read, “Mr. Nawshirwan, Come lead us for demonstration.” and Mr. Nawshirwan, the head of the opposition party, is the gentleman standing to Mohamed’s left in the dark blue shirt who came out to greet him.

Water …

Living in the United States, especially in the Midwest where I hail from now, water is not a very pressing issue for most, however here in the Middle-east is very important. Here for the CPT house-office our water enters our lives through a pipe near our front gate and bifurcates left and right. The left goes to the lower holding tank and the right carries water to the two holding tanks on the roof. This is a common configuration through out the Middle-east as many communities only have intermittent running water. This is intentional as the water authorities only turn the water on for an hour or so perhaps every other day for conservation measures.

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   An interesting side note about this is, we’ve turned the water-heater off in the residence due to the water on the roof being heated by passive solar radiation and is quite hot for general use, showers and washing dishes and such. This allows the water thats in the hot-water tank to cool down before use as it is transferred from the tanks above.

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 This brings me to the issue at hand. The lower tank, which I use to water the garden, was empty the other morning after it had been filled the night before and seems to have sprung a leak. This means we either have to repair the tank and get rid of the old one or buy a new one, which is roughly 150,000 dinars, or +/- one hundred dollars, so we set out to discover where the leak has sprung and possibly repair it. This entailed disconnecting it from the feed pipe and moving it away from courtyard wall, now it sits in the middle of the courtyard with a garden hose stuck in it awaiting the water authorities to turn the water on. 

 … more to come as the saga of the water tank unfolds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Read, Write and Speak Kurdish

The last few days I’ve finally taken up my task to learn how to read write and speak Kurdish. Fortunately I have a great teacher, Mohamed who works in one of the local schools teaching English and such and he is blessed with enormous patience and understanding. Unfortunately for him, I have the working memory of a gnat and progress is slow. Kurdish is an old language, written in an Arabic style and is a mix of several regional dialects which have been formalized into a distinct language all it’s own. It is read right to left, has numerous dots in groupings of one, twos and threes, above and below the letters which indicate variations of pronunciation, vowels and so on. Then there are upside down v’s and right side up ones too, again variations of pronunciations or short hand for three dots, the upside down ones. One hopeful note about my education so far is that yesterday when I went out for a going away lunch for a departing team member, I was able to recognize some of what I am learning in the signs, billboards that I saw on the way to the restaurant.

The photos below are of my teachers Mohamed and me during my lessons and the second is the days learning. Everything on the board begins on the left and works right. Letter at the beginning of the word, the second at the end of the word, short vowel, long vowel and a short list of words to practice using them.

The road to becoming a fully functioning CPTer is a long one before one can go and begin working with our partners but, its worth it. CPT’s work is so different from being in the US Army. Here with CPT we immerse ourselves in the culture and learn from one another, with deep respect and share and support each other as we travel together. In the military, we brought and surrounded ourselves in a fortress of our own culture bringing McDonalds, Pizza Huts, movie theaters, bowling alleys, grocery stores and all the Americana we could muster to make it more like home. Yet in doing so we separated ourselves from those that existed on the far side of the wall and in our isolation demonized them out of ignorance and in our self righteous arrogance, looked upon them as less than human.

Hopefully, someday, the work of CPT and others like it will lessen the need for the military and be able to lift each other up together as equals in the eyes of God, also known as Allah.

Peace my Friends!

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It is a strange thing

It is a strange thing, most often I can remained focused upon the task at hand and put to the back of my mind the awareness of where I am but, when I am no longer pressed I recall my presence here in Iraq. Then without thought in words I see the distance that separates me from those I love, not in miles, or lines on a map or even temporal measures, but recall in the journey I took to arrive here in this place. The wiriness found in lack of sleep, walking aimlessly carrying heavy packs the paths of those pressed for time, burdened with the greater weight found in the anxiety of what lies ahead. I recall also the great circle route across the ocean once plied by wooden ships and great ocean liners in a plane that carried me so far to the north that the sun’s light was never lost. Passing over mountains and lands where the pages of history had been written in the blood of wars and great suffering that now host buses of gaudily dressed aliens who bribe locals to perform long lost customs. I pass through Rome, Istanbul but all I can do is wander the hallways and dream of the the history that beckons beyond closed glass doors and watchful eyes of state agents who keep me bound to my journey. Arriving at the end was the beginning of another journey, the first steps in a land where my compass no longer worked, where even the air and sky defied my reckoning, just long stares accompanied with incomprehensible sounds and gestures were my welcoming gifts. This is the distance that separates me, the long journey here as my measure and creates the void I must pass through to go home.       

Russian Volga, Weddings and Storks

Sorry for the delay in updating my blog, I’ve been traveling and not had much in the way of internet connections of late. Right now I am back in Sulaymaniyah resting after several days of travel to several towns and villages about 80 to 100 kilometers north of here. The reason for our travels was to attend the wedding of a friend of CPT and have one of the team meet folks she knows before leaving for Canada and her husband. Another element of this was to introduce me to people that we have partnered with in the work the team has been engaged with. It was a beautiful wedding blended with traditional Kurdish and Western styles. She wore a white dress, he a tux and they cut a wonderful three tiered cake. Then the Kurdish dancing, music and reverie. About three hundred guests were there in the finest Kurdish attire. The photo below of two women are my team mates in the Kurdish dresses they wore to the celebration. Outside the enormous hall was the wide open spaces of Kurdistan with high mountains to the east and the visible peaks beyond of Iran about ten kilometers away. After the festivities we drove to a smaller town to the north and spent the night with a friend and then returned home to Suli on the bus. During the ride back I saw my first Storks nesting on the arms of the high tension electrical towers paralleling the highway, huge nests and REALLY big birds with enormous wingspans! The local name for the birds is, “Haji Luk Luk” which means, traveling=Haji and Luk Luk is the call they make. I also spotted my first Egyptian Vulture, fortunately I wasn’t lost in the desert and being circled by it.

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In Sulaymaniyah during the months of June there are periodic dust storms which kick up out of the southwest and fill the sky with superfine particals of dust turning the sky a light golden brown. Visibility can turn from a bright sunny day to complete darkness very quickly and the dust is literally everywhere and in everything. You taste it, smell it, feel it in your eyes and track it everywhere. I’ve really come to understand why washing one’s feet was considered so important and why it was considered a distasteful chore, its nasty but a necessity. The image below is of the dust storm coming in from the roof top of the CPT office looking toward the Mosque across the street.

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Today was a RED letter day! I never imagined on the day of my baptism into the Mennonite Church that it would lead me to driving a Russian made Volga through the teeming streets and alleyways of Kurdistan but today was the day. (Get the pun? RED, former Soviet Union … Russian Volga? The cars name is the White Bear, also a play on words given the Russia was the Bear. Driving here is not too bad, mostly it is like driving in a shopping center parking lot, a lot of stopping and going and no discernible rules except direction of flow. The other drivers despite the cutting off of each other, slow speeds due to speed bumps which are EVERYWHERE, are very respectful, no honking of horns, or displays of road rage. Driving here so far is relatively easy despite the aging Russian car of the secret police of the Saddam era.

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Another great find is coffee shops! Absolutely the best place, artists, writers and such hanging out drinking espresso, who can complain? The photo below is Cafe 11 the home of the avant garde and people like me.

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Another aspect of local culture and religious faith that is soon approaching is Ramadan. I have much to learn about the Muslim faith and traditions and it seems I am fortunate to have many of the faithful who are willing to provide me with instruction on its beliefs and practice.

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