Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, March 31, 2005

I know I've been remiss ...

I've been participating in a long UN Environmental Program training course here in Amman and haven't had time to post ... also many friends have been coming and going out of Baghdad and Israel/Palestine. Two Iraqi friends here (one my housemate Salam) have finally received the much coveted U.S. Visa and are traveling to the States. What I haven't had time to prepare for is my up-coming trip to Baghdad.

Yep, looks like I'm going in ... I had to push for it, my boss was reluctant (and I'm sure my family will not be pleased) ... but I'm only going in for a short peroid of time ... to have some meetings at my workplace in Baghdad, to reconnect with some folks I've lost track of and to meet with some Environmental NGO's in Iraq (I'm helping to write a chapter on Enviro NGO development in Iraq for a book about Iraq's environment and I am in some serious need of some informatio that I can only get in Baghdad).

For the record, I thought it was prudent to include here my updated Statement of Conviction and Purpose. It is added below. I hope everyone will wish me luck. I should be posting next from Iraq.

Sophia's Statement of Purpose & Conviction

I am aware of the many concerned inquires from my families members, friends, and other supporters, asking whether I should stay out of Iraq for my own safety. I am aware of the risks both Iraqis and internationals face at this time. However, I am convinced that these risks are not disproportionate to my purposes in going and working in Iraq, which is intended to aid and support Iraqis and to improve the health of their environment.

I state unequivocally that I, Sophia, and my estate, do not hold any individual or any group responsible for my actions or for my safety.

In addition I reject kidnapping and hostage-taking wholesale and the paying of ransom as simply the continuation of these violent acts. If I am taken hostage, I ask that my organization attempt to communicate with the hostage-takers or their sponsors in an effort to negotiate my release but that absolutely no ransom will be paid.

I reject the use of violent force to save my life should I be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation. I also reject violence to punish anyone who harms me. I ask for equal justice in the arrest and trial of anyone who commits an act of violence and ask that there be no retaliation on their relatives or property.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Cultural Frontier Update (aka. the latest issues with Toilet Paper Man)

I know this is all a little silly (please forgive me) but my Iraqi roomies never cease to amaze me. The following is a recent exchange between myself and a friend in the U.S. named L. about my Iraqi roomie named S. (I went to Zarka a over a month ago when S. voted in the Iraqi Elections)

L. says:
are u there?
Sophia says:
seems that I am ... wait ... let me check...
Sophia says:
yes, I'm here.... So I had a meeting with S. Did I tell you that he moved out of the apartment without any explanation? It's been 3 days and I finally saw him tonight and got the key back from him.
L. says: all of this late breaking news I keep forgetting to ask you whats up with him.
Sophia says:
He left because I let a friend who stayed over use his blanket from his bed three days ago. My friend was staying over and S. was away. When he got back the next morning, my friend apologized for using it and S. said, 'No problem.'
L. says:
oh my lordy
Sophia says:
Since he left without any explanation, my other Iraqi roomie and I have been wracking our brains to figure out what was the problem with him.
L. says:
what a princess he is
Sophia says:
My friend was worried that it he caused the problem.
L. says:
I am sorry but I am laughing out loud..he is a princess
Sophia says:
When I finally wrenched it out of S. (and the whole time he seemed to think I should just "KNOW") as to the real reason for his leaving, he said, "I can deal with anything ... it is no problem ... but when you take the blanket off my bed ... "
Sophia says:
And I interrupted him and said, "But it was a cold night and we only had your blanket and my friend even apologized!"
L. says:
i am laughing on the floor now...
Sophia says:
And he replied, "But you didn't."
L. says:
tell him I'll buy him a new blanket. oh lordy lordy lordy
Sophia says:
I stood up, shook his hand and said, "S., you could have borrowed the blanket off my bed any time." And I left.
L. says:
good for you!
Sophia says:
The funny thing is ... I bought that blanket.
L. says:
The whole country needs some therapy
Sophia says:
But I thought that was too petty to bring up.
L. says:
oh my god
Sophia says:
Do you know? He was living with me rent free.
L. says:
I am talking out loud now!!!!!!!
Sophia says:
Some friends of his paid for both his February & March rent because he doesn't have much money.
L. says:
NO!!! WOWOWOWOWOWOW! What a piece of work...
Sophia says:
I suppose I should give him 15 JD back (the total was 25 JD) ... He didn't even stay for 1/2 of March. And I think he took his cousin's place who just returned to Baghdad ... paying good money for a real shit hole. Go figure.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Visa Application Blues

I went with an Iraqi friend to his interview for a visa at the U.S. Embassy today. He was attempting to get a training visa so that he could go to the U.S. He is the supervisor of a Modern Dance and Theater troupe called Marduk in Iraq.

Marduk is the only modern dance group in Iraq and after the war they cleaned out the bombed, burned and looted Rasheed Theater and put on an original performace of an interpretation of Shakespeares play "Othello." They have also performed in Korea and Jordan. I saw a video of their Rasheed Theater performance and their performance in Korea. They may not meet international standards but for a country that has lived through war, sanctions and occupation, they are amazingly good. A friend took the video back to the U.S. and showed it to some influential people she news in the Dance/Theater world. They were also impressed and invited my Iraqi friend to come in advance of the group to receive training and organize the tour of the group in the U.S. Letters were exchanged and my friend was encouraged to file a visa application even through the $100 fee was a bit steep for him.

Unfortunately after just a five minute discussion with the consulate official at the embassy, his application was rejected out of hand. My friend stood back from the window dazed ... he thought, we all thought, he had a strong application. I went up to the window to ask why he had been rejected. The woman handed me a very obtuse document full of legalese. Basically he had been rejected because he couldn't prove to the official that he wasn't trying to go to the U.S. to stay there illegally. So short was the interview (she didn't even look at any of his supporting letters and invitations), that the whole situation felt like she was just filling a quota of rejections. My friend is a young, Iraqi male ... who have the hardest time getting visa's to the U.S. We speculated that she is told to reject most people like him unless they have a compeling story ... but she hardly took the time to determine if his story was compeling or not.

My friend is very disappointed but I was outraged. The strange thing is that he has even traveled to Australia last year on a three month training visa ... and he came back before the visa ran out. If he didn't stay there, why would he stay in America?

And now I am angry with myself. I should have argued with the woman to atleast give him an interview that was worth his $100 before she rejected him out of hand.

An consular officer had once told me that the $100 fee hardly paid for any of the processing that a visa application must go through ... after today, I find that hard to believe.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Jordan River Symposium

Today I went to the Jordan River Symposium hosted by Friends of the Earth Middle East. It was all about how the abuses by Jordan, Israel and Palestine have turned the Jordan river into nothing more than a polluted trickle.

The conference was held in a militarized zone called Peace Island (go figure, given the tragedy that happened there in 1997) ... the following is an excerpt I found on the web about this location written right after the incident in 1997:

Seven Dead in New Gun of Horror

SEVEN Israeli schoolgirls were shot dead by a crazed Arab soldier with an automatic rifle. At least another six were wounded in the bloodbath.

It happened at a beauty spot called "the Island of Peace" on the border with Jordan. About 40 girls, aged 12 and 13, were enjoying the sunshine on a school trip when a Jordanian soldier on a watchtower grabbed a rifle from a comrade and opened fire on them.

As victims fell screaming to the ground, the gunman climbed down from the tower and began chasing those who survived. He was named as Lance Corporal Ahmed Yousef Mustafa, 22 - an army driver. An eyewitness saw Mustafa coolly take aim and shoot one girl in the head at point blank range.

When he stopped to reload he was overpowered by other soldiers, who shouted "madman, madman" at him during the killing spree. It wasn't clear last night whether Mustafa is an anti-Jewish fanatic or simply mentally unbalanced.

One of the injured, Hila Ivri, 13, remembered the gunman as "a bad guy with big eyes".

She wept: "As he fired at us and the girls began falling on the ground I thought it was the end. I saw one girl hit in the shoulder. She rolled in the bushes and stopped breathing. Then the soldiers came and rescued us and I don't remember any more."

She added: "We had just got off the bus and some of the girls were taking pictures. It all looked so wonderful, this green little island in the middle of the River Jordan. Then the soldier opened up on us."

"I saw the soldier load a new clip, but he didn't manage to fire any of it."

Local Israeli council chief Shuri Shalev, who raced to the scene as news of the massacre spread, said: "I was stunned when I heard what had happened.

"Relations here across the border are good. We have never had any violence.

"We immediately organised a shelter for the surviving girls, many of whom were hysterical."

The dead and wounded were taken to hospitals in Jordan, and hundreds of local people queued outside to give blood.

One, farmer Ibrahim Alayan, said: "We are at peace. There should not be such killing and agony."

The murder scene, where the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers meet, is nicknamed Peace Island because of a treaty signed there between Israel and Jordan in 1994. It was a popular destination for tourists and school parties because it offers fine views of Jordan, Israel and Syria. Although officially under Jordanian control, Israelis usually have free access to the island. Some even farm there.

It is a beautiful spot ... the only indication of its tragic past are the guard towers the dot the area and the soldiers who stroll about with their automatic weapons strung from their shoulders. Still it was so nice to get out of the city ... smell the fresh air ... see the migrating storks above our heads (the Jordan Rift valley is a major migration route and the birds are heading north!).

But really the Jordan River itself is more like Chimacum Creek back home in the Northwest!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Frontiers of Cultural Conflict

I'm having a bit of a challenge living with these Iraqi men. Today, one of them announced that he was moving out (he was actually going to sneak out but the other housemate convinced him to atleast talk to me first). When I asked why, he told me this elaborate story that he had made up based on one comment I had made the night before related to the toilet paper in the bathroom. Somehow this comment seemed to have all of these hidden meanings to him. I was flabergasted (wish I could spell that correctly). I couldn't believe it. At first I was offended but it was sooooo bizarre the way that he had built a mountain out of a mole hill.

When I explained my comment to him, I said, "You can still leave if you want, but to leave over a comment about toilet paper is ... well ... just silly."

He relented and has decided to stay (which I'm thankful for because he has been so helpful in setting up the apartment with me) ... but if he had gone ... I was going to start calling him "The Toilet paper man."

Geez these Iraqis are soooooo sensitive.

Anyway, signing off from the frontiers of cultural conflict!