Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sampling in Kurdistan, Iraq

Now that the Tigris River Flotilla water quality sampling effort is complete, I returned to Sulaimani, in Kurdistan, northern Iraq on Thursday.  After a short visit in the office I went out the next morning sampling with J and R.  I'm trying to hit some of our regular water quality stations on the Lesser Zab River and the Tanjero/Diyala River Basins (both major tributaries to the Tigris River).

There are about 24 stations that we sampled in the spring in these two basins and I want to try and get fall samples from these locations as well. On Friday we got Kani Shok (a Lesser Zab River Station) with J and R (before R had to catch his flight to London) and yesterday I visited Raparin (a Tanjero/Diyala River Station).

I'm hoping to get some students from the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani involved in the sampling effort because they have a teacher there who is interested in the program.  If we can get this additional sampling data over the next month that I'm here it will make the final Scorecard more solid.

A Scorecard is basically a report that gives a grade (A, B, C ... F) to the different parts of the river basins based on the results of the water quality testing effort.  This will make the data much more user-friendly for the public to understand what's happening in their waterways. And it will also allow us to monitor the success of any future attempts to clean up and protect these waterways.

J & I sampling at the Kani Shok Springs (above station Z8), which are characterized by low oxygen

Raparain stream/drainage ditch (Station T1). Got the highest reading so far for Phosphates (over the 5.5 mg/L limit of the device. The official legal limit should be less than 0.4 mg/L). Oxygen was also extremely low.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Baghdad's National Museum - 23 October

In the few days I had remaining in Baghdad, I got to do a very abbreviated tour of the National Museum. This stores the collected artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia and was one of the state institutions that was looted and damaged in the aftermath of the 2003 war.

What struck me about the museum was the large number of people working there in a vast warren of rooms that are part of the museum complex and the time and paperwork it took to arrange for permissions to visit the exhibit.  Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was a foreigner but my understanding is that it is not very easy for even ordinary Iraqis to visit the museum.  It turned out that it was the first visit to the museum of the NI staff who went with me, H.

Here are some photos (mostly different textures that struck me) from the visit.

Nabu (Assyrian and Babylonian god of wisdom and writing, worshipped by Babylonians as the son of Marduk and his consort, Sarpanitum, and as the grandson of Ea)

H, by a series of stone panels

me flanked by two statues of the God Ea (aka Enki, a Sumerian, Akkadian and Bablyonian God of water, intelligence and creation)

Flotilla Coverage

Here are some links to media coverage on Flotilla Issues:

The Economist

Al Hurra

The Christian Science Monitor

Al Fayhaa TV

Al Fayhaa TV 2

Al Hurra 2

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trip to Ur - 18 October

We travel to Baghdad tomorrow but today, those of us that are left from the Flotilla Team, did a trip to the ancient Sumerian city of Ur.

The archaeological site of Ur is a dry and dusty place.  Hard to believe that Ur was once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Gulf.  The river left the city long ago and that's likely when the city was abandoned.  Established in the Ubaid Period (3800 BC), its first recorded kind was Mesh-Ane-pada and the city's patron deity was Nanna, the Sumerian moon god.

The site contains the ruins of the Ziggurat of Ur (once holding the shrine to Nanna), that was originally excavated in the 1930s, but also the foundations of other temples, a palace and burial areas.

After a brief stop by a house near the site that is being used by an Italian archaeological group, we headed the Ziggurat with the local interpretive guide and took in the views from the top.

Ancient head in a bucket (recently excavated)

J and the interpreter

Playing around with my keffiyeh

View from the top of the Ziggurat

R strikes a Sumerian pose

World's oldest arch

Outside the tomb

V and J in the tomb

Back in the 1990s, the Pope was supposed to visit Iraq and Saddam had a building made on the site that he called "Abraham's house" (Abraham is said to have come from Ur) as an attempt to impress the Pope.  We walked in and on top of the walls of this poor attempt at ancient reconstruction and had a slight incident with a brick ...

Against Flies - A Sumerian incantation

This is a spell from ancient Mesopotamia to ward off flies:
I have swatted you at the crown,
From crown to brow,
From brow to ear,
From ear to nostril of the nose!
I exorcise you by Ninkarrak:
You shall rise a locust's rising
From his thrashing.

... they also have spells against constipation, headaches and flatulence.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Race

This is footage of a very brief race between the Flotilla Tarada and a sculler and kayaker we met between Amarah and Qurnah.  Notice that they gave the Tarada a head start!

Eid in Chibaish - 16 May

Some images of hanging around the office and the town of Chibiash

I woke up to these hanging in the back yard .... the preparation of Masmuta. The fish is salted and hung to dry for 2 days, than cleaned and grilled.

Canal in Chibaish (most of these boat, like the one in the foreground, carry equipment for Electro-fishing)

A homestead in the marshes

Reed mats ready for loading

"Miss you" - There is a belief here that a cloth cover for ones motor that dips down into the water will keep the engine cooler ... many are quite flashy

J (far right) planning a sampling trip for me deep into the marshes for tomorrow

Abu Haider singing on the Tigris River

One of my first attempts to use iMovie ... not too bad, I think

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chibaish Corniche - Last Event of the Flotilla

Aside from a little bit of sampling in the marshes the night before, we'd mostly had a low-key rest day in our Chibiash office and so it was a bit hard to crank up for the morning event on the Chibaish Corniche, but by the time we got their, the crowds were gathering so we drove over to the boats to do the last paddle into the event.

Again we had some Olympic hopefuls (yet another sculler and kayaker) join us as well as a number of other boats to swell the ranks of our Flotilla.

Our boats with a couple of new additions

We even got the Kalak set up again.

J and Abu H in the Kalak

There were tons of young boys on the waterfront, many waving the Iraqi flag as we came to rest at the base of the speakers platform.

Later they were all over the boats .... there is some magic about kids and boats ... and had to be shooed away.  But Rashad and S gave several a ride in the Guffa

Rashad & S and the kids

S helped me get the water quality equipment up on display

S and the Water Quality Equipment originally purchased for the RiverWatch Project in Iraqi Kurdistan but used throughout the Flotilla

There was quite a bit of speechifying (in Arabic of course) and some were quite impassioned about the River, including our own founder, A

A addressing the crowd

This was the final event to our month-long trip down the Tigris from Hasenkeyf in southeast Turkey to Chibaish in southern Iraq.  We are already talking about next year (I'm holding out for an Iraqi bellam with a lateen sail) and ways that we can improve the Flotilla (more youth involvement would be a great addition).

I'll be spending a few more days in Chibiash with some of the team but the bulk have left for Baghdad and Sulaimaniyah as it is now the start of the Eid holiday and they want to get back to their families and relax.

I'll be working with some experts to work up the water quality data from the Flotilla and get something published but am also on to the next projects ... fundraising for a Rawanduz Kayak Expedition to promote the threatened rivers of Kurdistan, Iraq, the completion of the book on the Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq, and of course, looking for gainful employment!

I'll continue to post about these and other follow-up activities and hope you'll follow along.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Final Sampling - Central Marshes of Iraq - 14 October

We spent most of the day cleaning up, downloading data and uploading photos, but J want to go out for one final day of sampling in the Central Marshes.  We waited until the heat of the day was past and headed to a boat.  J wanted to sample in 6 or 7 different spots for basic physical parameters (oxygen levels, conductivity, salinity, etc.).

Heading out, S & I ready to sample (M in the background getting footage of the marshes for the Ministry of Water Resources).

Our boat driver

 S and I sampling.  I'm doing the physical parameters and S is doing the Turbidity

Salinity levels were the highest we've seen and several sites in the marshes had the lowest dissolved oxygen levels we had seen as well. You can look at the final data HERE.

L, one of our ornithologists photographing birds

 The crew: S, me, Laith (with camera, M and J, who runs the southern office.

Heading back to base 

The marshes at dusk

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Euphrates - Arrival in Chibaish - 13 October

 After a difficult night, I managed to recover enough to rejoin the team today.  We had a long delay in the morning because we found that there was a bridge blocking our path.  So I had time to take a picture of the famous "Adam Tree" in Qurna (personally I think they need to plant a new tree

Adam Tree

H, our logistics staff having trouble waking up

Our plan is to proceed up the Euphrates River to the town of Chibaish (where our southern office is at the bottom of the Central Marshes) today.  Several years ago an earthen dam was built across the Euphrates because the river's flow was so low most of the marshlands were not getting enough water.  The dam backs up the Euphrates, forcing the water into the marshlands.  As a result, the river above the dam is essentially a lake with very low flow.  We loaded up the boats in Qurna and moved them to the dam, to start the last leg of the journey up to Chibaish.

Morning in Qurnah (The start of the Shatt Al-Arab in the distance)

Unloading the boats at the dam

We paddled for about two hours but quickly realized that we had misgauged the distance.  We also were facing a strong head wind and due to our late start we decided we would never make it in before dark. So we rafted up the boats and put the engine on to cover the remaining distance.

One of the original breaks in the embankment near Chibaish that was used to re-flood the marshlands

S, A and Abu H on the way to Chibaish

After arriving in Chibaish, I stayed out longer with S & H to sample just near the Nature Iraq Mudhief.  Here the Euphrates water is too salty to drink and most people rely upon reverse osmosis units for their drinking water supply.  But particularly near the dam, the water is quite clear as the high sediments that the Tigris-Euphrates both carry is here able to settle out. 

 A and S, sampling near Chibaish

Until now the only place we have had an armed escort was in Baghdad, but two river police boats joined us at the dam.  We joked later that despite all the warnings we had received, the worst threat we had face on the whole trip was from some stupid adolescent boys two days before throwing rocks and showering debris on us from a bridge.

V with our police escort

Resting in the Nature Iraq Mudhief after our arrival in Chibaish

We have one final event in Chibaish on the 15th of October and we'll spend tomorrow cleaning up the boats, organizing the gear and uploading photos and data.