Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Living in a city like Amman gets depressing after awhile ... the noise, the traffic, the seemingless endless miles of concrete ... I'm not really a city girl at heart. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Aqaba and I jumped at the chance to get the heck out of the city. I had my first opportunity to go snorkeling there ... actually I've done it before in the Pacific Northwest but I didn't like it ... all that gear you had to wear to protect youself from the cold water made me claustrophobic ... but snorkeling on the Red Sea was a different matter. I loved it! ... especially since I used to work at an aqaurium and have seen hours of educational videos on coral reef ecosystems. Finally a chance to see these animals with my own eyes!

We had to go drive south of the city to find a nice private beach (at the public beaches in town a woman in a bathing suit would cause quite a stir ... the men around here don't get to see alot of naked female flesh). Also just south of town, right after the port, is the Jordan Marine Science Center and Aquarium. Of course, that warrented a stop. It is a small facility and looks a bit run down ... but the tanks were in good shape and the animals looked healthy. Unfortunately the educational posters they had, though colorful, were mostly in English and their tanks were not properly labeled.

In fact, the educational component seems to be almost completely lacking and there was no one there to do any interpretation. I kept thinking about how we ran things at the center back in the northwest ... and realized how important our volunteers were. Walking into a place like that without anyone to show you around and introduce you to these amazing animals is really a terrible waste and a missed opportunity.

And Jordan really needs to work on their public awareness as far as their environment goes. The other day I was walking in town along a road following the contours of a steep hill. Three guys were unloading the back of a pick-up truck full of garbage and just tossing it all over the edge of the road onto the steep hillside ... in broad daylight and no one around seemed in the least disturbed about it. I should have said something to them, but my lack of ability to curse someone out in Arabic for such behavior makes me too shy sometimes!

Anyway ... here are a few pictures from the Aquarium in Aqaba.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rebuild Iraq

There was just a trade show and conference on rebuilding Iraq (I think the 3rd one they have had) here in Amman, Jordan ... my boss thinks they are a waste of time, money and energy, but I was asked to go and talk to a specific exhibitor there. The trade show was kind of interesting ... there were exhibitors who make security equiment (flak jackets, helmets, police riot gear, armored vehicles, prison doors, etc.), contruction equipment (pipes and valves, back-hoes, road building equipment, electrical parts supplies, brick and cement products), food and pharmaceuticals (packaging machines, conveyor belts, food processing equipment, test tubes, etc) ... and a whole bunch of miscellaneous stuff ... charter services, furniture makers, hotels trying to drum up business ... there was even an exhibitor from India trying to market their packaged indian foods (just boil the pouch in water for 5 minutes, open and serve ... got alot of cool samples from them).

I only attended one session (at the 5-Star Inter-Continental hotel) on Natural Resources and Environmental Management. The Ministers of Environment and Industries and Minerals for Iraq were both supposed to be there ... of course they didn't come. The guy from the MoE who came was a total loser. He didn't address any of the issues listed in the program and only gave a laundry list of Iraq's environmental ills.

"Excuse me, sir, but may I say BORING!" ... I've heard the list a thousand times and geez, I mean for god's sake, this is a conference about rebuilding Iraq and the room is filled with potential investors (well, there were only about 1/2 a dozen of us in the room). Can't you even think proactively? Propose some ideas for how people can help the MoE and Iraq to improve the environment?

The guy from the Ministry of Industry and Minerals (MIM) was much better and very informative. He spoke mostly about issues in the State-owned companies and ways that outside companies might invest. My favorite quote of his was, "Waste Treatment is a growth industry in Iraq."

He spoke about the cement factories in Iraq as an example, which are actually doing well (there are alot of needs for cement security barriers afterall). There are three State-owned cement companies running about 16 factories total. These 16 factories have 31 production lines but only 16 lines are working. Of these 16 only five have working precipitators (I believe these are the devices that keep the cement dust out of the air during the manufacturing process???). This industry could use outside investment he said and it could be profitable for Iraq and the investors.

But most interesting was what happened after the session was over. A few folks gathered around the moderator, a U.S. State Department guy named Savello who is an advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. He told us that, in keeping with the West's policy that Iraq should privatize it's State-owned companies, the U.S. government has not been willing to invest in Iraq's State-owned Companies. Many of these companies, if they are open at all, are running with efficiency rates as low as 10% and are paying a workforce that isn't even required to show up for work. But they will certainly not disappear over night and when they do start to disappear, Iraqis are likely to face massive unemployment as a result (just as the former soviet states have). He gave us and example.

He told us of a tour he had recently taken at a food processing plant (State-owned of course) in Abu Ghraib. He said the manager of the plant was very competent and he said that he had over 1000 families dependent on the plant (note, said Savello, he didn't say 1000 workers, he said 1000 families). The plant itself, according to Savello, was the worst he had ever seen ... boilers in disrepair and wasting fuel, production lines that looked like a rats nest, contamination issues of the food line, etc. At the end of the tour, the manager of the plant, with some pride it appears, asked Savello what he thought and if he thought they could attract outside investment. As diplomatically as he could, Savello told him basically the following.

"Well, if a large multi-national company, for example Nestle, were to come here what they would likely do is dismantle this factory, and put up a new factory about one quarter the size, install automated processes and hirer only about 30 people to run and maintain it." The Manager of course was shocked and Savello explained that the large companies would do this not because the workers cost so much (labor in Iraq is extremely cheap afterall), but because the workers represent a source of contamination to the production line. "One sneeze and you have a disaster," Savello said. Of course the question is, as the plant modernizes under such a scenario, what happens to the other 970 families.

Savello was well aware of what this would do to Iraqis (it has been clearly seen in the aftermath to the collapse of the Soviet Union) and he said the same issues face Iraq across the board. For example, Iraqi wheat farmers are grossly inefficient. It is much cheaper for Iraq to buy it's flour on the world market than buy it from small Iraqi farmers and the only way, according to Savello, of making Iraq self-sufficient in food is for it to move to large scale, automated agriculture production.

And he raised another issue, which he indicated many people were not even talking about and that is the rising population in Iraq ... (sorry I can't remember the actual rates ... will have to do some research there) but Iraq is looking at a very high population increase ... when you combine that with the economic changes that are taking place in Iraq, you have a recipy for a big, big socio-economic disaster (or well, perhaps, just a continuation or worsening of the current socio-economic disaster).

It would seem, I said, that by now we would have learned some lessons and could help Iraq make these transitions better. The problem is that we lack the political will to really do so. Such transitions need to be coupled with social programs that assist people in dealing with the changes around them, but governments have never been willing to make the required investment.

I also don't completely buy that there is one way to turn Iraq into a modern nation. Do they really have to modernize to the point at which they fire most of their workers? Are there not some State-owned enterprises that are worth saving (I'm really tired of hearing about how private companies are so much more efficient that state-owned companies ... I worked in the private sector once and that was not my experience ... there was alot of waste and fat that never got trimmed)? Do Iraqis need to change their tomato farms to the point where they are harvesting green, thick-skinned and tasteless mono-crops by automated machines like the rest of us?

Oh god, I hope not.

How one kind of terrorism breeds another ...

A friend of mine living in Jordan who has worked with the Christian Peacemaker Team in the West Bank of Israel/Palestine came over for dinner awhile ago. "Did you read the report about the Israeli settler attack on the Palestinian kids and their escort going to school?" I had to admit that I hadn't ... I get reports from CPT all the time, but I don't always have time to read them all and I must have deleted this one without looking at it. I had seen the small school in Twani, a small Palestinian village in the southern hills of the West Bank, in the summer of 2004 when I was volunteering with CPT. The village is overlooked by the Isreali settlement of Ma'on and some other settler outposts. There are several Palestinian villages scattered through the area that send their children to the school in Twani, the only one for miles around.

The settlers have been harrasing the Palestinian kids coming from the village of Tuba for some time and finally the Israeli authorities started sending escorts (often grudgingly) with the kids to protect them. Apparently the settlers have tried a number of techniques to stop the children ... resently they built a roadblock along the main path they have been using that stops the army jeep from escorting the kids all the way.

But on the morning of May 6th, the school escort drove from Twani, left their jeep at the roadblock and then walked to collect the children and return to the roadblock. Children and soldiers reported that settlers shouted and threw rocks at them at the roadblock. Soldiers said that the settlers had a large dog with them.

At 1:00 pm, the military escort jeep for the Tuba schoolchildren arrived to escort them home. One soldier told the other to put his helmet on (were they expecting trouble?). Three soldiers walked, one drove. Five male settlers shadowed them almost from the start. At 1:15 pm, when they reached the roadblock on road about thirty settlers ambushed the children and soldiers. Soldiers said that about half of the settlers were younger than eighteen. Settlers threw rocks at the children and soldiers, and kicked and punched them. Several children sustained injuries to legs and heads. One soldier fired his gun in the air.

A second military jeep arrived, five soldiers went into the woods and international peace activists nearby heard them shouting at and talking with settlers. Soldiers
did not arrest any settlers. The children ran the rest of the way home and later two children required medical treatment; one said that two settlers came very close on either side of her and shouted in her ears very loudly.

A group of Israeli peace activists was trying to get down to At-Tuwani all morning; police trailed them and stopped them several times. At 1:45 pm, they arrived and a group of sixty began walking from At-Tuwani toward Tuba. Settlers watching from the trees didn't attack the large group of activists, but yelled at the police to arrest the activists.

Soldiers and police tried to stop the peace activists and detained several of them until members of the group negotiated for their release. The activists agreed to leave the area if police released the detained members of the group and if the military would evacuate the children who needed medical treatment because of the settler attack.

It is hard to imagine that innocent children could be targeted in this way. Some of these children are very, very young ... and, it appears, the settler children are being encouraged to act this way by their elders. What kind of trauma is this causing to both sides? What thirst for retribution like an evil seed is being planted here? One radicalism breeding another. Israeli fundamentalists terrorizing Palestinian children, leading to a new generation of Palestinian fundamentalists terrorising Israeli children.

We get all high and mighty and talk of how Palestinians violence is self-destructive (and of course it is, but so is Israeli violence) and we can't even think of helping them or negotiating with them until they renounce violence completely. We are living in a dream world and can't face the fact that the world is a messy place where if you really care about peace, you have to willing to talk to the terrorist.