Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tree Planting? Is that all you can do?

Last week, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq) kicked off an environmental improvement campaign that will include the planting of over 2 million seedlings in the region. The opening ceremony for this campaign featured Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih at the Hawari Shar Park near Sulaymaniyah.

I'm really glad that these guys are getting out there and getting their hands dirty planting a few trees (I do hope that they are atleast native species ... maybe too much to hope for). The forests of Northern Iraq have been decimated over the last century ... and they need to be re-planted. But there is a part of me that still wanted to go out to Hawari Shar Park and lead a counter-demonstration.

As much as I like a good tree-planting, I would really like to also see the KRG tackle some of the other big problems facing the region. Like how the sewage of the entire city of Sulaymaniyah goes completely untreated into the Tanjero River (acutally every town and village in the country is putting their sewage into local surface waters untreated). I'd love to see them really deal with the local cement factories that are destroying the river in the their rush to mine for gravel or address the emissions from these and other industrial establishments that pollute the land, air and water. I'd be really impressed to see the cities do proper waste managment and recycling and finally close the Sulaymaniyah Dump (which I like to call Dante's Inferno) with its open pools of waste oil and muck trainting the grownwater and river below.

Trees are great, I'm all for trees ... but I want to seem them do these other things too. These problems are directly and quite literally killing people here. Killing the kids and the grandkids ... and these problems get worse and worse every year. I think it's long overdue that we saw an opening ceremony for the Sulaymaniyah Waste Water Treatment Facility or a new state of the art recycling facility. We can even plant some trees there.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book Ideas
I always marveled at all the people I knew who wrote books about their experiences in Iraq, some after living in the country for only a few months. I don't dispute the validity of their experiences or the worthiness of the final result; I just couldn't see myself doing it. I always felt, "How can I write a book about what's going on here. I hardly understand what's going on here!" In Iraq there is so much history and so many cultural issues dripping off everything that is said and done that I don't know how to interpret what's happening most of the time and it felt impossible and presumptuous to write about it.

In fact, I think I felt I wasn't smart enough to do it. I have always had difficulty getting past the surface of things in Iraq, which my friends seemed to have had no problem passing. And I felt that a book needed a unifying theme and my experiences have been so diverse and eclectic that there was no central thread. But I've now lived in the Middle East for, all told, almost 7 years and 4 of those years have been in Iraq and I've felt the need to process this whole experience - from the time before I came to live here when I was active in the local peace movement of my town before the war in 2003 through to the present, working for an Iraqi non-governmental organization. Perhaps I'll never do it but at least this blog and all the posts here might be some of the source material I could draw upon. Or maybe I'll just throw it all out and start over.
Anyway, I was considering some of the things I would write about and came up with a few chapter titles that I thought I'd share:

Title: Sophia's Peace Work (We'll it can be a working title for now)
Chapter 1: Civil Disobedience Clusterfuck (is that one word or two?)
Chapter 2: Wide-eyed and Bushy-tailed in Saddam's Iraq
Chapter 3: Iraqi Students and not teaching them a thing
Chapter 4: Sex in Iraq
Chapter 5: Dijla: The Tigris River Boat Trip
Chapter 6: The Great Director: "I am God!"
Chapter 7: The Iraqi Tick
Chapter 8: Romance (strike that and replace with "More Sex") in Iraq
Chapter 9: A night at the hospital
Chapter 10: The Fighting Bird Men of Iraq
Chapter 11: Ministry madness
Chapter 12: (There's the rub ... I don't know how to end this thang!)

Any thoughts, advise, anyone?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What is missing is outrage

The team had found lakes of oil in the desert caused by the SOC (Southern Oil Company of Iraq). I asked, "What are we going to do about this?" "We will talk to the Minister," said the Director, "These lakes are continuing to kill."

"Yes, everyday!" said one of our staff, "We watched as Martins came upon the lakes, thinking it was water in the desert and diving down to drink."

"You could just stand there and watch it happen?" I asked aghast, (but I feel now that I was really asking two questions. One saying, "Are you for real?!" and another saying "how could you just stand there?!") But of course it was for real. Those lakes are killing machines ... species are dying there needlessly because people are too damn lazy to clean up their messes 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And they have been there months, probably years.

But his response had something of a barely perceptable shrug that seemed to say both, 'Of course' and 'Oh well.'

The Director said to him, "You will be a leader when you find a way to immediately take some kind of action about things like this."

I thought, what is missing here is outrage, but who am I to say this to an Iraqi who has faced outrage upon outrage and was forced to be silent. They are innured to it. It's banal now. The banality of evil.

We need real help here to protect Iraq's biodiversity and in a country that is throwing everything into oil development to ressurect itself, a few birds (thousands) are not even discussed or thought about ... but once the oil runs out, what will be left? No one in Iraq can stop oil development and it would be a waste of time to try. Iraq needs that oil to develop but it's got to protect its environment along side that development if it wants to be left with something more than a wasteland.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

There was a recent story on the Mesopotamian marshlands done on PBS (The Public Broadcast System of the U.S.) ... I noticed a comment on the story from an Iranian gentlemen named Parviz, that I just had to respond to. I've repeated these two exchanges below:

parviz said:
November 5, 2010 at 9:23 pm
this is wonderful to save and vivid that lands i am a Persian from south of Iran

can you Please tell me where is Arabian Gulf is? and when it existed? why do you change the name of Persian Gulf in your Articles. there was not ,is not ,and will not be such a fake name for our Persian Gulf please correct yourself ( see the maps ) or we might thought you got some money from rich Arab Shaikhs to use a FAKE Name Persian Gulf is where that all those water finally end in thanks
and hope one day see that Place become as it was for thousands of year

My response:
This issue of whether to call it the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf always gets people riled up. Remember what Juliet said:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

I suggest you do a little search on wikipedia if you want to hear the whole tired story on what this area is called ... essentially Arabs, particularly Iraqis, perfer to call the area the Arabian Gulf and people working in Arab countries get a similar lecture to Parviz's if they use the term "Persian Gulf." I guess you just can't win. I myself, who work in the Middle East have sometimes written it the "Persian/Arabian Gulf" ... this is done in a similar vein to what may be the more politically correct term "Isreal/Palestine."

Personally, I find these debates all rather silly ... far more pressing are the many problems of the Gulf including the environmental devastations of wars, oil and industrial development, municipal pollution, and overfishing that this body of water (call it what you will) has faced. This rose doesn't smell so sweet. I suggest we focus more on that.