Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Art of Apology

A wise friend once told me that when in doubt, apologize. No matter where the fault is, apologize --- sincerely and without qualification (no, "I'm sorry for what I did, but ..."). Even if you believe you aren't to blame (most likely you are wrong about that anyway) just apologize. It will open all the doors and overcome all resistance. Apology, in short, if done right, is disarming.

Certainly it can be a challenge to eat crow in this way, especially when all your emotions are screaming, "but I didn't do anything wrong!" It doesn't matter, my friend said, just apologize. I've tried to follow my friends guidance as much as I could and haven't regretted it though I've been known to choke on an apology once or twice myself.

I try not to paint people with too broad a brush but if there were ever a people who collectively could benefit from learning this art of apology it is Iraqis. For some reason they equate it with losing face or honor. They can't admit to their mistakes - they must throw the blame on someone else or make even the most outlandish excuses to avoid admitting that they were wrong. Perhaps lies are easier to say than apologies.

A friend in Sulaimani told me that though this is generally true, people here will actually apologize for silly things that they don't need to ... particularly to a superior. Perhaps it is a way of ingratiating yourself with the boss, for example. But apologies to a colleague of equal or "lesser standing" are unthinkable for some reason.

I have seen this play out again and again - and it is really quite tragic. You wonder at the pain it must have caused and all the problems that might have been avoided if people had simply learned to apologize to each other. I've seen co-workers here brought to a fever-pitch of anger, instilling long-term vendettas against one another over things that a simple apology might have resolved in moments. But it was always pride or some false sense of righteousness that gets in their way.

In the face of this I wonder what I can do to try and help. Provide some positive role model? Play some kind of peacekeeper/peacemaker? Once, when an Iraqi friend here hurt me, he never apologized, so I hurt him back. So who am I to play the peacemaker? I'm still trying to learn the art of apology myself.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mongo Pomegranates Appear in Sulaimani

Over the last year a new phenomenon has appeared in the city of Sulaimani. Huge apples and pomegranates have been showing up all over the city ... as if dropped from some celestial tree. They are all basically the same size and shape and made out of some cement-type material (as is everything in Iraq these days).

I first spotted them on the airport road into town ... dotting the median strip ... a big green apple and a bright red pomegranate. They were a welcome sight in a landscape that often appears like a cross between a lunar landscape and a, I'm sorry to say, garbage dump. Aleast someone put some effort into making a piece of art and, I thought, a pretty good one.

But then dozens showed up in Park Azadi (the local park down the street where I run in the morning) but these appeared more like poor production copies and had convenient seat-shaped chunks cut out of them ... showing the bright red, pulpy seeds (these are, in case you wanted to know, called arils in a pomegranate) ... at least until you get up close to examine the paint job.

Then one day I stumbled on the mother-load ... in a building behind the passport office (where I had to renew my residence in a curiously Kafkaesque procedure requiring running around between half a dozen offices filled with tea-inebriated civil servants). There I spied over a dozen of these massive fruits (all essentially identical in size and shape but painted to represent the different types of fruit ... there were even a few painted as watermelons). They were lined up like little soldiers about to march off into the city streets. No doubt to make the place safe for civic arts in Kurdistan-Iraq (and just when I was celebrating the removal of that god-awfully misshapen statue at the entrance to town showing a kneeling woman breaking the chains that bound her hands ... it was removed for a road construction project ... my apologies to the artist but it looked like it had been created by a class of kindergarten students).

Well, art is in the eye of the beholder and I'm happy to see an effort but I find myself wishing that the people here could see the beauty that they have covered up in garbage or spent time hiding under stupidly-conceived cement monstrosities. I wish they could find a way to simply uncover and protect that. Sulaimani might then be a real work of art.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Surrounded by Iraqi 'Republicans'

So we are about to have a new president named Barak Hussein Obama. The first African-American president for the United States. I'm excited at the prospect. I left the country in disgust when Bush was re-elected for his second term. All my life, having grown up in a family of democrats (well, my Dad says he is a republican, but only so he can vote in the primaries against 'the crazies' of the party) and worked for lefty organizations (environment & workers' rights), I haven't really known too many folks that supported the Reagans, Bushes and McCains of this world.

Some members of my family consider that now that we live in the time of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, that the republican party is the party that stands for torture and lies (you know, about things like weapons of mass distruction and other reasons for going to war against foreign nations ... little stuff like that). But now I live in Kurdistan, northern Iraq and I'm surrounded by McCain supporters. I kind of get where the Kurds are coming from (to them, Bush was the great liberator). I was arguing with our logistics guy about it yesterday (in a cross between kurdish, arabic, english and sign language) ... he felt that Bush had been and McCain would be stronger on terrorism than Obama. I felt the republican crowd has actually done a piss poor job of handling terrorism and have ignored the roots from which is springs, ensuring a perpetual cycle of violence.

But even some of the Iraqi Arabs I work with are worried and some that carried American passports and could vote in the election supported McCain if only on the one issue of Iraq and their worry that America will withdraw under Obama.

For sure, I tend to agree that an abrupt pull out would be quite problematic for Iraq, but neither do I agree that the sky will necessarily fall. People are worried that Iran will come to fill the vacumn and that this will have terrible consequences for the region. Perhaps, but as weak as the country is when compared to its neighbor, Iraq still has a strong nationalistic sense and if it didn't want to be controlled by the U.S. I believe the same will hold true where Iran is concerned. Despite the strong ties that link the two countries, I hope that Iraq can hold its own course regardless of the shifting winds in Washington.