Sophia's Peace Work

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Price of Low, Low Prices

Looking for a good deal? Listening to this NPR story should be required before your next trip shopping trip.

Jordan Accused of Harboring Sweatshop Factories

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Post from a Good Friend here in Amman

Dear friends,

The Jordanian Police at the border gave the Iraqi mother a choice “You can cross over, but your children can’t.” Pregnant and with two small children under five years of age, she had traveled with a driver and her father the death defying road from Baghdad to Amman to be with her husband. He was already in Amman and wanted her to have a rest for one week from the violence and stress in Baghdad before he would return with them to Baghdad. I was sitting next to the desperate husband and father yesterday afternoon in Amman as he tried to maintain phone contact with his
wife. He had asked me if I could speak in English, as an “American” on her behalf if she could find someone in authority? Of course, I said, if there is anything I can do to help. Our attempts were in vain, she was sent back to the Iraqi side.

“It is the dirty way” the husband said to me after the connection broke. What kind of decision is this, I thought, to put to a mother? Yes, it is a dirty way; it is a dirty war. I was thinking of all the other desperate Iraqi families who would be trying to “cross over” to a safer place. Safer than Baghdad maybe, but by no means safe. Iraqis have no peace inside their country and no peace outside. Here in Amman Iraqi “refugees” are rounded up on a daily basis for deportation. From the stories I have heard, more and more of the few countries that have received Iraqis
are now closing their doors to them. They are stuck. Not able to return to Iraq, they are also not able to resettle here. Except for wealthy Iraqis who are able
to deposit $100,000 in the bank (which is then frozen), the less fortunate are “fair game” for Jordanian authorities. “I don’t care where I live” one Iraqi man said to me the other day, “I just want to live in peace.”

Yesterday morning I had my unkempt head of hair cut. I put on a nice blouse and went to pick up the “business” cards I had ordered from a nearby printing shop. I was to begin a project as part of Voices for Creative Nonviolence to visit the 70 or so embassies in Amman. Following the suggestion of a trusted Iraqi friend who arrived a few days ago from Baghdad, we are pursuing the idea of doing a survey of the embassies to ask what immigration possibilities their countries offer Iraqis. Our friend told us that “rumors” abound among Iraqis both in Iraq and Amman as to what embassies might receive them or deny them entrance. Perhaps the project will serve to dispel some of the confusion as well as to surface new ways to address
the desperate situation of Iraqis.

Iraqis I have spoken with are overwhelmingly in support of the idea. After visiting 3 embassies in the last two days, I am heartened. Not about the results of the visits which have not proven favorable toward Iraqis, but about what we might be able to do on down the line with the information. More and more I believe that we need to appeal to the international community on behalf of our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

Much love, Cathy

Friday, June 23, 2006


Jordan drives my crazy sometimes ... I just had some good friends take the very long and risky journey to the Jordan border from Baghdad ... only to be rejected. The reason is not clear ... though there is a rumor that there is a new Jordanian law that no Iraqis are let in with new passports (or maybe it is that they wont let any Iraqis in who haven't been to Jordan before) ... whatever it is, it is fucked up! I'm finding that (aside from Syria) it is easier for an American to move around in the Arab World than it is for Arabs.

Dear Mr. So & So

I'm sorry I haven't responded to you. I did have my assistant send you the information you requested. My director has also returned to Amman and I needed to drop everything else because of the workload he gave me. I must also be honest and state that I got the impression that you had more than just a professional interest in me. Not my work but me. I have a rule .... one that I broke to meet with you .... I do not meet men that I don't know very well here in the Middle East by myself. Atleast not in a social setting. Perhaps I am being overly cautious but I would rather be safe than sorry. I have just had one too many problems in the past and I don't want to repeat them any more.

Yet if you have a sincere and strong interest to be involved or help in our work, I would encourage you talk to Dr. Somebody who is our Senior Project Manager in Baghdad. He is in charge of the actual work itself. His email is bla bla bal

Please accept my apologies for not responding to you earlier.


This was the message I sent to an older Kurdish business man who I met once on a plane to Iraq. A year later I met up with him again in Amman and told him we would be doing projects in the north of Iraq and he asked to meet me to discuss them. "I have important contacts in the Kurdish government that might be useful," he said. So I met with him at a nearby restaurant ... but I got a creppy feel off him. I mean he was perfectly nice but, well, you can just tell sometimes when someone has a hidden agenda. Maybe I'm wrong ... but hmmmmm ... nay, I don't think so.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Only the "worthy" get Residency? Yeah, right!

My boss just bought an expensive apartment here in Amman ... I think it's pricey enough that perhaps the Jordanians will grant him the much coveted residency (If you have the money and are willing to invest in Jordan, you have no problems getting residency and staying in the country).

I laughed at him and said "The last person who needs residency, get's residency!"

His response was, "This is what happens when you plan ahead."

This made me angry and I started to argue with him. Considering all the Iraqis who are struggling here in Amman, I thought he wasn't appreciating the fact that he comes with more advantages than other people .... as if it is only "planning ahead" that gets you what you want.

According to him he worked hard and struggled when he was younger, lived in poverty and by denying himself then, planning ahead and working hard ... he has achieved his standing now all of his own accord."

I don't deny any of this. He has worked hard and he has planned ... but he had help in all this and he didn't start with some of the disadvantages that other people had. His family was educated and certainly not poor. He was able to travel to the U.S. years ago when it was easier to get into the U.S. Certainly he had to overcome obstacles, but it wasn't all his own doing.

This all comes down to one of the oldest argument: poor people resent the unfairness and abuse of those with wealth and power; rich people assume that the poor are just poor because they "don't work hard enough" and that their poverty is all their own fault.

Don't get me wrong, my boss is not rich ... but nor is he poor and struggling like so many Iraqis here in Amman.

A friend here in Amman told me the other day of an Iraqi Christian family she met in Amman ... several of the men in the family were killed in Iraq and the family was given an ultimatum to clear out or face a similar fate. How can "planning ahead" help you in a situation like this? I suppose as Christians who had been living peacefully for years in a majority muslim country, they should have seen this coming and dropped all their ties to their own country and cleared out years ago?

Anyway, I like my boss and I think his heart is in the right place most of the time ... but sometimes he says the most thoughtless stuff.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Planning a Park While Rome Burns

Sometimes my work is a little surreal when I hear what's going on in Iraq. I work for an environmental NGO ... not a Chicken Little-type NGO, but one that is relatively forward thinking and solution-oriented. The work itself is exciting and well, strange to say, grandiose. Some of these projects have the potential (the potential, mind you) to have a major (and we presume positive) effect upon the country. My boss, who has been at it for more than five years, three of them in Iraq, refers to himself as a bit of an addict now ... he doesn't feel he could go back to a normal job again. This is nation-building to him.

But spend five minutes listening to the news and you start thinking you are living in a dream world, building ephemeral castles that will come to naught. How can Iraq's nearly ruined environment be restored amongst all this horrible violence? Some might ask (and have asked) aren't Iraq's political & social problems a little bit more important that a few drained marshes and some extinct, endemic species?

There is a saying ... "fiddling while Rome burns" ... in other words occupying oneself with unimportant matters and neglecting priorities during a crisis. This comes from a story that Nero played an instrument while Rome burned, during the great fire in AD 64.

I don't believe this ... the environment is not an "unimportant matter" but actually a centrally critical matter ... without it we can not survive ... and we ignore it at our peril. I've said it before ... more people (and most of them children) are probably dying in Iraq from dirty water than from bombs and bullets.

One thing is sure, atleast for now we (I say we, but I really mean my Iraqi co-workers, since I'm cooling my heels in the relative safety of Jordan) seem to operate under the radar screen of most of the violence in Iraq. The shit can be hitting the fan on a nearly constant basis in Iraq .... but we just keep plugging away, quietly going about our business, working in the field and planning for projects that will (atleast we assume) make life better for Iraqis and people in the region in some bright future down the road. Afterall, even terrorists want to be able to drink a cup of clean water, right? Why should they trouble us.

But then why do they go after teachers and students ... and, good Lord!, even hairdressers?

When Tom Fox, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team, was killed ... my faith in our relative untouchability was shaken. If they could kidnap and kill such an innocuous, sweet guy like Tom, maybe they will come gunning for a few environmentalists next. And heck, if the terrorists don't get you, the Americans or the Iraqi police are just as likely to take a trigger-happy shot at you.

My Iraqi translator, who is now working with me in Amman, told me that after leaving Baghdad last fall the air was cleaner and the sky clearer as soon as he arrived at the Jordanian border. A pall of dust and smog seems to hang over Baghdad, over the whole country. I think there is value in working for a day when those skies will be clear again. So some do have to remain in Iraq ... planning for the day when people can have clean air and water ... when they can go to a park that protects their cultural and environmental heritage ... and look out over a vast marshland that seems to stretch forever and see birds and animals that can be found nowhere else in the world.