Thursday, December 1, 2011

Winter Comes to Kurdistan

Jim and my parents in Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral in the background)
You never know what you'll see in Suly!  Walking to work this morning I encountered two sheep grazing by the side of a very busy road -- a sight I'd not seen in the city (though many times in the countryside).  However, they looked warm in their fluffy coats, which is more than I can say for us.  The reason I haven't posted  a new story for so long is because Jim and I spent a few weeks in Paris for time with family and R&R (though I had lots of work to do while I was there, which has been typical throughout my career) and I had lots of things to catch up on when I came home to Kurdistan.  When we returned, we soon discovered that it was cold!  I mean, in the 30's at night, 40's during the day and it's supposed to get colder still in the coming months.  Who knew when I was moaning about the heat this summer that I would long for it come November?  

But Iraq as ever is a country of contrasts -- snow on the mountains and leafless trees on the one hand, orange trees outside my office on the other.
I'm from Chicago so I'm used to the cold (I must confess, however, I probably didn't bring enough cold weather gear with me when I moved here but that can be rectified when I go back to the US for Christmas).  But I'm not used to it being so cold inside.  Just as the electricity went on and off during the summer, the situation is even worse in the winter with all the heaters on throughout the city.  In fact, there are scheduled outages.  On top of that, our friend Ahmed told us that our house has only enough electrical amps to support one heater at a time, so we've been bundled up inside and spending most of our time in the living room where we have the heater on -- eating, sleeping, working and relaxing there.  To keep warm (and because he is hair-challenged, i.e., bald), Jim has been wearing his black hoodie, even while sleeping.  For me, it's been a bit like lying next to the grim reaper.  But as with so many things, this is just part of the experience of living here -- something I wouldn't give up for all the ampage in the world.
Jim bundled up.
We will soon be moving to a different house that hopefully will have better utilities, but it has a much smaller yard.  So a big question is what to do with our five chickens?  I hate to say it but they are like house pets, particularly one -- named Justin -- who was raised from a baby chick; and frankly, that's about all they are good for because as far as we can tell, they haven't laid a single egg. 
Justin outside the kitchen window.
When we wake up in the morning, Justin is standing on the window sill outside the kitchen looking for activity in the house which means breakfast.  The other chickens are gathered on the step squawking until they are fed.  There is divided opinion among the housemates about whether they move with us.  Some believe that they should be given away as pets or a future dinner (horrors!); others want to take them along to the new digs.  None of us are quite sure what they do in the winter to keep warm (and we are not providing them little heaters!).
Is breakfast ready yet?
As I mentioned, I've seen sheep in the Kurdish countryside many times.  Most recently, driving to and from Erbil earlier this week, I noticed that there has been much development in that city even in the relatively short time I've been here (a little more than six months).  However, again reflecting that this is a region that is in the midst of transformation, I saw a shepherd with his flock of sheep on a hillside just below a new development of luxury modern homes.

The reason I was in Erbil was to participate in a two-day UNDP workshop in Erbil reviewing draft chapters written for the Civil Law and Criminal Law Manuals that are part of the Access to Justice Project.  The workshop was attended by representatives of UNDP, the European Union, UNHCR, WEO, other NGOs, legal academicians, the Kurdistan Lawyers Syndicate and other members of the legal profession.  The manuals are intended to be a resource for Iraqi lawyers wishing to do the very important work of representing those who cannot afford counsel.  Long after international NGOs, such as Heartland Alliance, as well as the UN and others are gone, it is critical that the access to justice legal aid work being done be sustained, and in order to do that it is necessary to build capacity among local lawyers, organizations and other nationals. 

Legal services for all is central to the rule of law, which is itself critical to the democratic and economic development of any country.  The new Iraqi constitution provides that "Every individual has the right to enjoy life, security and liberty.  Deprivation or restriction of  these rights is prohibited ...."  However, without lawyers and organizations willing to provide legal aid services, particularly to the most vulnerable, these constitutional protections will remain hollow guarantees.  The purpose of the manuals developed as part of the Access to Justice Project---and in fact all capacity-building activities being undertaken -- is to provide guidance to those wishing to engage in legal aid activities in order to help meet this essential need.  Fortunately, there are many here who want to do just that.
My son, Christian, and his wife, Daisy, under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.