Monday, June 20, 2011

Highly Visible or Invisible--It's all your point of view.

Dress shop in Suly bazaar
It won't be surprising to learn that I don't blend in very well with the native population here in Suly.  I dress conservatively and cover my head so that my blonde hair doesn't stick out quite so much, but it's pretty unmistakable that I'm a foreigner.  And dressing conservatively in this part of Iraq is not quite the same as in other parts -- even other parts of Kurdistan.  Of course sleeveless shirts or blouses on women are inappropriate (I'm just not sure what it is about the upper arm that demands modesty) as is any garment that does not fall below the knee.  However, jeans that look as if they have been painted on and heavily applied make-up are quite common in Sulaymaniyah, which is considered to be one of the most -- if not the most -- liberal and sophisticated cities in Kurdistan and Iraq. 
Mobile clothing store making its neighborhood rounds
If someone speaks English -- even just a few words -- they tend to stop me and ask me where I'm from (often they think I'm Swedish) or some other question that invites conversation.  Kurds like Americans and they invariably try to relate in some way -- that they have relatives somewhere (outside of Iraq) or quite often that it is their dream to go to America, most often to study.  If, however, I encounter an older and more traditional man on the street, he probably won't even look at me -- it's as if I'm invisible.  Mind you, this is not always the case; every day on my way home from work I pass a group of gentlemen of many ages, but mainly elderly, who are playing dominoes -- a very popular game here.  They always smile and wave as do I.
As I was walking home this evening, a man in an SUV with his wife and young son stopped and he asked me where I was from and what I was doing here.  When I explained to him that I was here working with Iraqi lawyers in human rights advocacy, he asked if we could perhaps help his wife's stepfather.  He and his wife left to live in England for a while.  When they returned, she found that her stepfather who, in his words, "was not quite right in the head," had been removed from his home by relatives who then sold his house.  I explained that this is exactly the work we do -- helping people in vulnerable situations access justice -- and gave him our phone number.
Later this week we will begin our mobile outreach visits, taking the "help desk" to places where we can provide our services outside of our office:  women's shelters, detention centers, clinics for the disabled etc. -- places where vulnerable people or people in vulnerable situations can use our help -- both in Suly and the various districts in the Suly governate.  This way we can reach greater numbers of those who heretofore have found (or thought) that justice was inaccessible to them and begin to change that -- be visible to help the invisible.
One of the less prosperous housing areas in Suly

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