Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, April 23, 2007


We are having a major staff meeting in Kurdistan soon ... we have about 20+ staff coming up for the meeting and we have to put them up in the house somehow. We need to make some hard decisions about who is coming up and who is staying in Baghdad. Last week we had a bad experience ... some "security police" invaded the office in Baghdad and put all the staff in one room while they searched the office ... they didn't take anything but they asked alot of questions about a senior project manager (who is in Canada at the moment) and a senior project advisor who has recently left NI. It really scared the staff and we've closed the office for the time being ... the staff have all been working out of their homes or in internet cafes since than. We even have people doing lab work in their homes (because we were doing water quality samples in Kurdistan only a month ago and the lab work isn't done yet). One of the lab technicians snuck into the office for two hours to precipitate samples. What a crazy time!

We have five staff here now here in the north ... a kurdish office manager who's English is ... well, ok but whenever I ask him a question, he must first start by sputtering, "Yes, yes, no, no, yes, no, .... what?" (to be fair his English is miles beyond my Arabic and of course Kurdish ... so I have no room to complain)

A Kurdish logistics guy who is in charge of transportation issues. I seems quite nice and helpful but whenever I ask him to get something, this begins an hour long discussion between him and the office manager about what I want and how to go about getting it.

An Arab logistics guy, this guy was forced upon me ... he is the nephew of our senior staff (I am forever a victim of WASTA, aka cronyism) ... but so far, he's working out well.

Another Arab logistics guy, who is really pissed that I wont let him drive the car (we bought a car for field work and I've decided only our Kurdish logistics guy is allowed to drive it) ... the first day we had the car, this guy sat in the drivers seat playing music.

A Kurdish cook/cleaner ... who I resisted hiring because there are only a few of us staying here in the office at present and it seems wasteful to me ... but he's a really great guy and a good cook (but I admit that I am getting tired of the Iraqi tendency to use tons of oil and tomato paste in ALL of their dishes).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Iraqi Kurdistan

I moved to Kurdistan in February to open our new office here. It's been a crazy time and I've had either no time or no internet connection to post. Our first major work here has been to conduct a biodiversity survey of the three Kurdish governorates (Sulaymaniyah, Erbil & Dohuk). It was more of a pre-survey ... since we are new here and need to learn the lay of the land. We also had to be very careful to involve Kurdish University and Ministry staff along the way. We really are the guest here and as an essentially Arab organization, not everyone is that happy to see us working here.

I was able to go on a few of the survey trips and Kurdistan really has some stunningly beautiful areas but plenty of environmental problems as well. They burn trash (often including plastic) everywhere and here in this city there are two cement factories (as I say, making the world safe for impervious surfaces) and they are pumping out all kinds of crap ... one is actually right in the city. Every river has, atleast somewhere along its course, been turned into a gravel mine and people like to come down to wash their cars and trucks in the river beds. There is almost no protection of the beautiful sites of Kurdistan (of which there are many), which have been over developed and in many cases spoiled. Dumping occurs everywhere, including around peoples homes and no one seems to be bothered by this. Sewage goes right into the rivers, etc ... anyway it's a long and sorry list.

People in the West should have a healthy appreciation for all the work that has been done to improve and keep the environment clean & healthy ... they complain or make fun of environmentalists but they have just never seen how bad it can get. Here, after so many wars and unrest (on a drive around this city our office manager points out areas where he knew people who were shot and near by our office is a big park, formerly an Iraqi Military base and a major site for the killing and torture of Kurds), the Kurds are just getting started on the long road to recovery.