Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sampling on the River - Bombs in Baghdad - Drive to Kut - 30 September

Because we can't float much of the river in Baghdad, I requested to at least visit one other sample location higher on the river, so two of our guys gave me a ride up to Adhamiyah, a neighborhood in the northwest of Baghdad. It only takes me about an hour to complete the sampling but half way through we heard three of the nine car bombs that rocked Baghdad today.

It was some distance to the north of us and apparently it was Shia neighborhoods that were targeted (I just learned that about 60 people were killed ... you can check the Al-Jazeera reporting on this HERE). So I had to hustled to finish ... there was no real concern that we were in danger but when bombs go off in Baghdad, the "Seytirat" (checkpoints), which are all over the city, tighten up and sometimes even close down.  We were far from our office and needed to get back to move on to Kut for the next leg of the Flotilla.

Sure enough, once we were in the car we were quickly stuck for nearly an hour in stop and go (more stop than go) traffic due to a checkpoint we needed to pass through.  We eventually decided to do a 180 and circle around the city via a longer but more open pathway get back.

Our morning sample location in Adhamiyah (that is a dredger behind me ... this was not the best location or way to sample but we had little choice).

My trusty helpers!

Once we were finally back in the Baghdad office (after the usual delays), we finally got loaded up and on the road to Kut ... this will be our next put-in for the flotilla.  Kut, which is in Wasit Governorate, is the gateway to southern Iraq. It was also the location of an important battle and siege during World War I.  The British, lead by General Townshend, captured the town from the Ottomons in Septmeber 1915.  
The Ottomans, under a German commander, Field Marshal Baron von der Goltz, then set siege to the town and all attempts to relieve the british under the siege were ultimately unsuccessful.  Over 20,000 British and Indian soldiers died in the attempts to retake Kut and Townshend eventually surrendered in April of 1916.

The landscape as we approached Kut

Our put-in along the river in Kut.  Tomorrow we float down to the barrage (a 1930's addition courtesy of the British) and will host an event there the next day.

Abu Haider, Rashad, and our host, Mehdi (from the Ministry of Water Resources), having a bit of cold instant coffee.

Sunset over the Tarada

When we arrived we found out that our raft had been left behind ... I had been worried when I heard that the equipment had be sent on ahead.  Whenever the core team is not present for equipment loading & unloading, that's when we have the most problems.  But the boat will be sent down tomorrow morning and we should be back on track. Live and learn.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Al-Qashla and Al-Shwaka - 29 September

Today we took the Quffa down to the center of Baghdad at the old traditional boat crossing between Al-Qashla (Turkish for "fortress" on the Rasafa or east side of the river) and Al-Shwaka (literally 'forks' or 'thorns', on the Khark or west side of the river).  I haven't been to this place since 2004 but it really the center of old Baghdad.  The ancient Mustansiriya Madrasa is on the river on the Al-Qashla side.  Built in 1227 it is literally one of the oldest centers of learning in the world.  Nearby are the Saray Souq, the Baghdadi Museum, Mutanabbi Street (famous for its booksellers), the Abbasid Palace and Caliph's Street.

The actual Qishla was built by the Ottomans in 1855 as a headquarters for their troops and the tower there contains one of the oldest architectural clocks in the world.  As we pushed off the Quffa into the rather stinky waters of the Tigris (there is some sewage outfall upstream), I jumped into another boat and started water quality sampling (check HERE if you want to see our sampling results so far).  I had to be quick about it because our time was limited and so I did not get to really sit back and enjoy this historic occasion while our Quffa, probably for the first time in over 50 years, was once again plying the waters of the Tigris between Al-Qashla and Al-Shwaka.

Here are some pictures of the day:

 Walking towards the river through old Baghdad

Typical electrical wiring in Baghdad

Arriving at the waterfront

The Qashla (and clock tower) 

Hussain, a young boy on the waterfront who kept telling me this his father was dead

Getting a bit of grub before setting off (James, Abu Haider and Rashad)

One of the old houses along the waterfront

Abu Haider and Rashad setting off in the Quffa

The Guffa afloat

The Baghdad Rowing Club

Rashad being interviewed

Hassan, a team member, in a very interesting chair

Fishing nets drying ... hard to believe that people fish in such a polluted river ...

Harder still to believe that kids are swimming in it ...

Garbage was everywhere ... floating in the river, on the river banks, and the sewage smell here was quite strong.  This is a large, public hospital on Al-Qashla side just upstream of this photo where there is a sewage outfall. 

Going home after our float

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Baghdad Float - 28 September

Passed through our first float in Baghdad just fine (it was only 2 km just off Jadriyah Lake (an artificial lake at a hairpin turn in the river near the University of Baghdad Campus).

No arrests but we had to pay a $2000 bribe to go on the river.  But due to the security and uncertainty, the event at the end of this short float was rather limited ... the press release went out so late that few people showed up except people who know us.  Ah well.

We also had one of the engines stolen (I think the one that was giving us trouble up north) .... Tomorrow we do an event near the center of Baghdad ... should be more interesting but I don't know if they will let the foreigners on the Flotilla really participate.  I've also requested to sample further upstream (to get a better 'before' and 'after' understanding of the water quality in Baghdad).

Here are some pictures from the day:

Tarada with Jassim and the boat repairman (the Tarada needed alot of work after its long travels over bumpy roads to Baghdad)

Our River Police escort

Doura Power Plant

Our fearless leader at the oars (which he has finally granted might have been worth getting)

The Tarada & Guffa near Doura power plant

Sewage outfall on Khark (river right) side ... pretty stinky

Salman & Hassan in the Guffa

Floating Baghdad .... 27 September

We are about to float a short section of the river in Baghdad ... but last night we were told by one of the many conflicting security organizations here that they wouldn't allow us to do it.  Our organization's founder was talking about doing it anyway and getting arrested because the group refusing us has no official right to do so (as we have all the official permissions in order).  Anyway, who knows what will happen but if our leader is going for it, so will I (getting arrested in Iraq was always on my bucket list ... though I could live to regret saying that).  I really don't think anything bad will happen and when it comes right down to it, we might chicken out but I thought I should at least take this precaution of informing friends and family of the basic plan.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Arrived Baghdad ...

The core team has arrived in Baghdad where we will be joined by new team members.  Several folks have been working on making repairs to the boats to prepare them for the big event tomorrow.  We are only floating a short section of the River but we are already running into security issues.  Mostly concerning getting permissions from all the divergent security agencies that say they have jurisdiction over the area we want to cover.  We have plenty of permission letters but there are both formal and informal security groups who have a stake in the matter and its proving quite difficult to get them all on board.

I've visited the 'new' office that our organization has in Baghdad ... just part of some run-down old house ... rather disappointing.  Still nice to see the guys!

On to Baghdad

Tomorrow we join the rest of the Flotilla Team in Baghdad to continue the trip south.  We have decided to cut a major sections of the Tigris River from Mosul to Baghdad out of the overall trip.  Poor security and we do make a rather bizarre show as we head down the river in our odd collection of vintage and modern boats.  We would be quite literally sitting ducks out there.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dohuk Water Project (Site F5) - 25 September 2013

We did our best to break camp but despite our early start did not get out of camp until about 10 am.  Due to people's transportation schedules (the folks from Turkey had to return by late afternoon), we decided to bring the engine for the raft and it proved an important addition as the river, as it draws closer to the Mosul Reservoir, grows sluggish.  From start to end we mostly saw flat water and no longer had the clouds to shield us.

The Kalak, always our slowest boat, fell well behind.

Nab, our Waterkeeper, and Rashad as well as I, spent time on the oars, and Jantine was our main point person on the paddleboard.

But even though was had only about 10 km to go on the river, we were making slow progress and worried about the time for our Turkish folks, we started up the engine and did some towing.

We did take on break and stopped to enjoy the generous hospitality of a local hermit/fisherman at his camp/home. He had a very sweet spot along the river.

We had a little trouble with our engine which Nab was unable to fix (a task to address in Baghdad), but between rowing and other boats assisting us, we were finally able to make it to Site F5, the Dukan Water Project (sorry no pictures, just a water treatment plant).

A shepherd and family seen along the way:

Unfortunately, the Turkish group had gone ahead to rush off back to their car, so we were even more undermanned and in a particularly muddy spot to be able to pack up the boats and gear ... and sadly, we discovered that the bow of the Tarada had been broken in the loading process ... another task on our long list for Baghdad!

After a short stop in Dohuk to eat dinner at the Shandokah Hotel (which I remember from our biodiversity survey days), we hoofed it back to Erbil, a clean room and a shower (a blessing when your dirt is caked in dirt!).

Baghlujeh (Site F4)- 24 September 2013

Baghlujeh (Site F4)- 24 September 2013

Our first float day was from Fishkhaboor to the village of Baghlujeh about 13.7 km (as the crow flies downstream) .... the river was flowing well and we even saw a few Class 1 rapids!  I was worried about the sun but the sky was full of puffy clouds that sometimes gave us a respite from the heat.  It was a real blessing to finally get away from the chaos of the camp, logistical craziness, safety talks and finally get some river time in.

And how amazing being on this great river is!  We were all smiles and enjoying it tremendously.  I rowed for the first hour straight getting a good start on thee calluses on my hands.  Rowing can really become a meditative, zen-like experience

Our Ministry of Water Resource folks seemed to enjoy the day ... and M helped me with the rowing and the Riparian vegetation survey.

We even got a little swimming in ... the water looked a little marginal to me. I could do no biological tests but the conductivity was below legal limits and the oxygen level was good.  Turbidity was only bad near the gravel mines (as expected), of which there were several throughout the day.  Most of the land appears to be used for grazing, wheat or corn fields, and gravel mining.  We also saw several boats with fisherman using electricity (not a sustainable practice).

We selected a nice spot for our lunch break (Nab, our Waterkeeper, took the first shot with the whole group in the background, the second photo is off Jennifer):

I also did some close ups of some of the plants that were blooming/fruiting:

Our only negative experience was with an Asaish officer.  A fisherman, un-used to seeing such a bizarre collection of boats and foreigners on the river, called the Asaish (Kurdish Intelligence) and an officer showed up on a boat and was not very pleasant, but our permission letters are all in order and our trusty Waterkeeper, Nab, did an excellent job of dealing with the matter.  We finished our journey at Site F4 - the village of Baghlujeh and asked a local guy to watch our boats for us and returned to camp to reminisce about our first wonderful day on the river in Iraq.