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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today was a special day we went to the Residency Office to apply for and receive my resident card. A kind of driver’s license looking thing with your photo and social demographic information on it. This card can also be used in place of a passport while in country as it acts as a visa as well. Preparing for the trip to the residency office is a pretty enormous task and it is made much easier by Mohamed who knows, writes and speaks Kurdish as he fills out the mountain of forms. When we arrived at the offices, a huge building I imagined being used to house Saddam Hussein’s secret police with torture chambers and things, but was assured it used to be a school until it was given to the immigration service after a new school had been built. AS we approached the building about 7:30 AM local time, there was already a huge line of people waiting in line perhaps a hundred or so all foreigners trying to gain the coveted card. Mohamed fortunately, took us right to the entrance telling us that was not our line, that was for the male factory-company workers and we were looking for the NGO line. Once inside the building, which was also very crowded, we were directed to a room way in the back somewhat similar to a DMV waiting area which was empty save for the four from CPT. Soon this area too became as crowded as the other spaces with people from all over Asia, China, the Philippines, Mongolia, India and so many others each with its unique qualities. After sitting in the heat for a time, watching the comings and goings of these people and not being able to perceive any pattern to their movements I began to feel a little disoriented, maybe it was the heat or the jumbled cognitive processes I don’t know. We had lost our guide for sometime and all we could do was sit and wait. After a time he returned but with the news that our paperwork was incomplete, we needed to return to the office, fill out more forms and procure our CPT official stamp for them. SO, back to the office, eat lunch and back to the lines and chairs and people watching. Sitting in the room on old blue chairs, listening to the echo of a multitude of languages while trying to piece together the stories of the people around me, I began to see that Kurdistan was experiencing the flood of oil money and the people here were here to benefit from their new found affluence. Like the 49ers of old drawn to the new found wealth in the ‘black gold fields’ of Kurdistan. The Chinese oil workers in their orange jump suits, the well dressed people of Indian with hotel-company logos on their bags and the impoverished low paid workers brought here by some contract company to do menial labor the Kurds no longer want. I think about their situation, how they are being treated, were do they live and the circumstances that brought them to this? After waiting for several hours Mohamed returned and informed us we are in the next step, the interview, photograph and fingerprinting. We take our number and continue our wait for the number to be called. 140, its me and I walk to station 4, and stand in front of this large eye looking camera with a woman behind a computer screen. She asks me questions which Mohamed answers, she turns to her neighbor and asks questions while holding my passport up, they look at me, then back to the passport and back at me for what reason I do not know. She then gestures for me to look at the eye and tells me, finished. Once completed we walk to room 8 hand the paper work to the man behind the counter and sit yet again. Here however is a big screen TV with a soap drama about Kurdish life under Saddam Hussein. Finally I hear my name called out and pick up my Residency card, here as I look at my new ID, I realize that with all the inexplicable culture, languages and dress there is a constant in the universe, ID photos are universally horrible. Be it the DMV of Iowa, AMBS student ID, CPT ID, or a Kurdish residency card, they are all bad.
Today was a busy day. We left Suleimani at 7 AM and traveled down to Kirkuk then up to Hawler, capital city of Kurdistan, also known as Erbil, to visit the Ministry of international NGOs.The drive to the capital felt a little stressful because your reminded of all the strife the country is experiencing as you pass through all the check points. Lots of serious looking soldiers with AK-47s asking for your passport, giving you the once over, then pausing before giving it back and waving you through, usually with a smile. After our arrival in Hawler we stopped for breakfast then went on to find the Ministry. Hawler is an incredibly busy and beautiful city, much of it under construction with new buildings, schools and retail space.Once we completed our task at the Ministry, see the previous post, we went and had lunch and then drove the back way through the mountains on our return to Suleimani. What an amazing place! Steep mountains many with sheer rock faces, lakes, rivers and wide open spaces abound. Once the adventure seekers discover whats here the place will become a top destination. Still, CPT will have much to keep busy with. The Kurdish people have been through so much and unfortunately are still experiencing hardships in many areas. Then there are the Syrian refugees who’s plight is on going and their call needs to be answered.
The journey reminds me of how I like to live life. The modern highway with its fast past, heavy traffic and roadblocks leave much to be desired. Life should not be simply the drudgery of moving from point A to point B with only the designations having value.The journey is an integral part of the narrative of our stories as became the roads traveled to and from Sulimani. The modern road expressed what life has become for us today, rushed, crowded, moving at great speed and placing oneself into position of acceptable risk of harm from others. The road home was slower paced, with frequent stops to refresh, becoming close to those who live by the road, traveling villages and climbing over mountains to discover vistas of unparalleled beauty and yes, placing oneself at risk of harm from the environment. I really do love the road less traveled.
CPT Media Interview Kurdistan Ministry of NGOs
Today after a lot of hard work and effort CPT was awarded permanent certification as a registered international non-govermental organization in the Ministry of Planning. Immediately following the presentation of the certificate CPTers were interviewed by local media.