Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, December 25, 2009

Something in honor of Christmas in Iraqi Kurdistan - The Kurdish Wonderland
(sung to the tune of “Winter Wonderland” ... the lyrics are from a friend here in Sulaimani but I added the environmental verse)

Sleigh bells ring Talabani
People sing out Barzani
Just listen, you’ll hear
A promise of cheer
Dreaming wistful dreams in Kurdistan

Now I know you’ve heard of it
It’s a brand others covet
A thought you unlock
The other Iraq
Dreaming blissful dreams in Kurdistan


I would like a share of all the money
I would like a share of all the deals
If you think that I’m just being funny
Hey, I say money’s honey and it’s real

Drilling for oil and for water
Never plan, though you oughter
We’ll grow ‘til we burst
Or die of toxics first
Living out our dreams in Kurdistan!

No more products from China
I’ll be buying much finer
Democracy’s great but I’d rather eat cake
Living out my dreams in Kurdistan

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pan Arab Conference on Biodiversity

Just returned from a conference on biodiversity held in Alexandria, Egypt. Arrived a couple of days early and got to see a little of the city (with a very brief, rather surreal swing by the Pyramids in Cairo at night when we arrived). The old part of Alexandria was largely built by Italians and peopled by French, Italians & Greeks ... I heard several of the older generation of Alexandrians speaking French. The buildings are very cool but largely not maintained well. And there are many beautiful villas but they are largely surrounded by highrises that tower over them. In contrast, these newer buildings are cement monstrocities ... equally decaying due to the effects of the salty environment of the Med. The city is huge (about 5 million ... but Cairo is passing 8 million), having long ago expanded far past the borders of the old walled city.

I was able to visit and walk through the Qaitbay Citadel. (The following comes from: - The Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria is considered one of the most important defensive strongholds, not only in Egypt, but also along the Mediterranean Sea coast. It formulated an important part of the fortification system of Alexandria in the 15th century A.D. The Citadel is situated at the entrance of the eastern harbour on the eastern point of the Pharos Island. It was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The conference I attended was held at the Library of Alexandria, a really marvelous building to visit. I told my father I was going there and he said that I should read up on Callimachus. Callimachus (305 BC-240 BC) was a Greek (by way of Libya) poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria who was responsible for producing the catalogue of all the volumes contained in the old Library. The great reading room of the current library is named after him.

The conference itself was rather strange ... it seemed that the organizers intent was to introduce the concept of the Encyclopedia of Life ... and to discuss the development of a regional organization to participate in the EOL ... but that was not really made clear to those of us attending. Many (including us) had hoped to make a presentation but the conference ended up only being really on one day and there was no time for us to discuss our work in Iraq. We did get to met alot of people from the region and set up a table outside the conference room with our presentations running on laptops. Time will tell if we made any kind of impression.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dog Walking in Iraq

Some friends of mine are leaving Iraq for two and a half weeks and they want me to look after their dog. She's a small, shaggy dog of a certain breed I don't recall the name of. At first I was reluctant (you see I'm more of a cat person ... cats are just so much less effort than dogs), but I decided to go for it. My office environment is loose enough that I can take her in with me and having a dog will get me out walking more.

Of course, I warned my friend that they may want to think twice about leaving the dog in my hands. I've nearly killed my dream dog ... and I've done in two dream horses and countless dream cats. I dreamed about my dream dog last night. He's a german shepard half starved for food and attention, living in a dirty pen. It's one of those stupid anxiety dreams I have at times, particularly when someone asks me to watch their pet. I start dreaming of all the ways I could fuck it up - forgetting to feed or care for their animal, losing them, letting them waste away. Mind you, I would never do such things in real life, only in my dreams am I that irresponsible. I only take care of my dream dog when I remember to dream about him.

Last night, I woke up after having dreamed of him and said, "Man, every now and then I dream about this damn dog that I'm supposed to take care of. Why don't I just let him out of the pen so he can atleast fend for himself when I'm not around to dream about him!" So I promised him from then on, you are free to come and go anytime you want ... no pens, no leash, dream or no dream. Hopefully he's a happy dog now. I named him Max.

But taking care of a dog in Iraq should be interesting. Dogs are considered dirty in Islam and most people don't have dogs (or cats for that matter). Occasionally you see pet dogs and there are working shepard dogs, but the rest are usually feral dogs that hide out on the edges of town and in parks and come out only a night. I remember a fellow peace activist telling me a story about being in Baghdad before the war in 2003. He got up very early one day to go from one hotel to another on Abu Nuwas Street (a road along the Tigris River with a wide green ribbon of park between). People weren't up in the second hotel and the door was locked, so he waited outside for them to open up. While he waited, he could see dogs coming out from the river parkway to check him out. They looked tough and just a little to interested in him.

But during the day you never see dogs around and when you walk a dog here, people generally give you a wide berth. I remember I was going to take my friend's dog down the lift in their apartment building one day and when the door opened there was a young boy inside, he took one look at the dog and jumped to the back of the elevator with an expression of sheer terror on his face, eyes riveted on the dog. It was like I was walking some kind of monster, which is funny, because the dog is (despite a few territorial displays around food), pretty damn innocuous most of the time. Needless to say, I stepped back and waited for the next elevator.

Another friend here told me the story of how he'd found an injured dog and took it to a succession of veterinarians who reacted in much the same way. Even they were afraid to touch it despite their profession. It's a tough life to be a dog in the Middle East. Max is probably lucky that atleast he has me.