I have no idea where yesterday's blog went. Let's try again. :)
Thursday, September 30, 2010
I have no idea where yesterday's blog went. Let's try again. :)
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday was a workday for everyone. All of the women met at a conference center to work on the humanitarian aid packs. There were women packing bags with hygiene items, and women making packets for the children. Some women were scattered about the room chatting and sewing on quilts or making beaded jewelry. What you hear is what makes this scene unusual: three different languages all being spoken at the same time. The room is filled with the Gold Star moms, the Kurdish women and the women from Baghdad, making the room a musical mixture of Arabic, Kurdish and English. It’s amazing how much communication can happen between the eyes and the hands. Everyone was helping each other, some of the Iraqi women speak both Kurdish and Arabic and are always there to help interpret, but they usually are not needed. When the words fail, the body language takes over, and it always works. Besides the sewing and packing there is lots of picture taking. The ANFAL Widows especially like to have their photos made with the Gold Star moms.
I have learned that the best tool of communication I have is my camera. Everyone loves the camera. They see it and strike a pose or wave or grin from ear to ear, but there is always a reaction. They are not a shy people.
Monday night we were treated to a quite a feast at a private palace. This trip is very important to the Iraqi people. They are welcoming these women with open arms and going out of their way to make sure they are treated with the utmost respect.
When you go to an important dinner in Iraq, you start out in a sitting room with a bottle of water, you chat and mingle with each other then move to the dinner table. You take an appropriate amount of time to eat then you move to either a smoking room or you go to a room for hot tea and fresh fruit. Couches and chairs line the walls of the rooms so the center is left open for mingling and a spread of fruit and cheese. So dinners take a long time. After dinner we were taken to watch an Islamic Religious Ceremony. As a Christian, I found it very disturbing, and I don’t remember ever being so thankful for being born in the United States.
We did manage to go shopping in The People’s Suk in the afternoon. Let’s just say it’s like the Anderson Jockey lot on steroids. But it was the first chance we’ve had to be among the Kurdish people and see how they live and work.
It was a good day.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Without getting into too much history, The Anfal Widows group was formed after Saddam Hussein's regime launched chemical warfare against the Iraqi Kurds, targeting mostly men. This left many widows and at the time it was against the law for a woman to remarry. It is no longer against the law but the majority of these women have never remarried.
Several police escorts arrived to take us to the political offices of the PUK. The PUK is the political party currently ruling the Kurdistan region. Party Speaker Mala Baxtiar greeted each Gold Star mom individually, and then we were ushered into a very official looking conference room.
Through a translator, Speaker Baxtiar welcomed the Gold Star Moms and thanked them for the sacrifices of their children. There were also many Iraqi women in attendance, all who had suffered significant losses under Saddam’s rule. Several of the Gold Star Moms and the Iraqi women were given an opportunity to speak. The Iraqi people, especially here in Kurdistan, are so grateful for U.S. troops and the help they have provided.
After the meeting, we were taken to an elaborate lunch in the political building. The food was actually very good. Speaker Baxtier dined with us and talked with all the moms through an interpreter. After lunch we moved to another room with couches lined against the walls. Ottomans covered with plates of fresh fruits lined the center of the room. We drank very strong hot tea in small glasses, almost like shot glasses. The tea was delicious.
At one point, I happened to be at the front of the line as we were escorted through the building. A young Iraqi woman was walking with me. She spoke just enough English for me to understand that her mother, father and brother had been killed by Saddam's people. Someone explained later that’s how Saddam worked; he would leave one person alive to be a witness to his cruelty.
After lunch we finally got to rest, then had dinner with the Mayor, Police Chief and other local officials. More thank you’s and good food. Then finally more rest.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
We are finally in Iraq. So much has happened since I had access to my computer, I hope I can get it all in.
Friday, September 24, 2010
We are now in the airport in Paris waiting to depart to Jordan. I actually slept well on the overnight to Paris. My favorite thing about traveling is the people that you meet along the way. My seat neighbor on the flight from Atlanta was a young comedy writer and actress from L.A. headed to Paris on a mother/daughter vacation. Cool. Good luck in your career, Kate.
The closer we get to Iraq, the more emotional it becomes for the mothers. Earlier I noticed one of the moms being comforted by another in the airport. They are all really concerned about each other.
It’s been interesting to watch the reaction of other travelers as they hear about this group and why we are traveling. Southern accents tend to attract attention, so we are getting asked a lot about where we are from and where we are going. As other travelers hear and understand the story they are amazed. Some actually tear up. Almost always, you find them patting, hugging or thanking one of the mothers for the service of their children, and expressing condolences for their loss.
Seat 11A. My seat from Atlanta to Paris is 11A. Which on this airbus is in the second row of coach. From here I have a perfect view of how the folks in first class travel. Especially the Frenchman sitting in row 8C, he’s in my direct line of sight. I don’t know if I have ever been so aware of “coveting” anything before, but this morning I coveted his nice, hot, in a regular coffee cup, cup of coffee, and his bagel with cream cheese. I think I’m over it now, I was finally served my tiny Styrofoam cup of coffee and banana and I’m trying not to look toward 8C for the duration of this flight. Enjoy your coffee Mr. Frenchman.
In seats 10A and 10B are two of the Gold Star mom’s from Utah. 10B is also a Blue Star mom. Her oldest son was killed in Iraq and her youngest son is deploying to Afghanistan on Saturday. She’s on her way to Iraq. I think I would be a basket case if I were in her shoes.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
So we are finally on the way and so far so good. Well, except the issue with the internet. Ann and I just spent an hour looking for a place to get free access. Mission accomplished and Ann is blogging away and posting to GreenvilleOnline.com. You can follow along there as well.
At this point, my traveling companions include Ann Hicks who is freelance journalist covering the trip for The Greenville News. The leaders of the group Joan and Fareed Betros, security detail, the Gold Star Mothers and one Blue Star Mother. At GSP the mothers were presented with gold star lapel pins to wear for the duration of the trip.
I caught my first glimpse of emotion at GSP as one of the mothers, Tammy, pulled a small Bible out of her bag to read a message from her husband. She teared up as she read the sweet note with the reminder to come home safe. Then teared up some more when she explained that he had not bought into this trip 100% because they had lost so much in Iraq already.
There are some pretty brave ladies making this trip. And I expect many more tears to come.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
If you are taking the time to follow along on this journey, remember I'm a photographer and not a writer. My teacher and writer friends are not allowed to judge. :)
Thanks to those of you who have supported this trip. Monetarily, through prayer and kind words. It means a lot.
Myron, Chandler and Kaitlin (and Kevin) - thanks for supporting my need to use what I do for some greater good. Hopefully this trip will produce more than just photos, hopefully these images will be reminders of how blessed we are as a family and a country.
For the Gold Star Mothers who are seeking healing, I hope this trip brings you peace.