Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring in Sulaimaniya

View from my office of snow-capped mountains.
I know it's been ages since I've posted a new blog.  During that time we've passed through the winter with its snow, cold and winds.  I'm from Chicago and the Midwest where the winters are REALLY cold and the wind whistles across the flat prairie lands and the bridges over the Chicago River.  I swear that the office building where I worked before moving to London and then Iraq was on the coldest city corner in the world.  The difference is that here in Iraq, as I've mentioned before, the electricity goes off for periods of time -- sometimes several hours -- and of course that means the heat goes off.  I often went to bed in socks, sweat pants, a hoodie and gloves under a down comforter and blankets piled on.  I'm pretty warm-blooded but I swear there were times when I didn't think I'd ever be warm again.
Fields of grass whizzing by on the drive from Erbil to Suly.
But now it's spring and the loveliest time of the year in Kurdistan.  We've had rain and everything is green.  Riverbeds that used to be dry are now filled.  The temperatures are perfect and there's often a delightful breeze.  There are two gardenia trees right outside my office that smell heavenly.  The roses are blooming in the gardens.  It will be like this for another month or so before the heat and dry weather arrive -- so it's to be enjoyed: picnics, weekend strolls, sitting outside reading, just soaking in the sunshine and fresh air. 
Crossing a river which is dry most of the year.
The above pictures were taken during a trip last week from Suly to Erbil to Duhok and back again.  It's a difficult trip -- 5 to 6 hours each way on roads, some of which are good and some of which are bad.  But our drivers are wonderful; they drive fast but carefully and I'm always confident that they will complete the journey safely (when people ask me if I have safety concerns here I always reply that if I'm injured or killed, it will most likely be in a traffic accident!).  And I never cease to be surprised and delighted by the contrasts in this country.  For example, on this last trip, I saw sheep being herded right beside a football pitch where kids were playing the most popular sport in the world.  
UNDP Access to Justice Team in Duhok
The UNDP Access to Justice Project for Vulnerable Iraqis officially ended on March 31, 2012; however, we've continued programming on a part-time basis in April and are hoping for additional funding that will continue the Project to the end of the year.  Since the Project's inception, Heartland Alliance's two A2J Legal Help Desk teams in Sulaimaniya and Duhok have served approximately 6300 people who were provided legal consultations and full case representations, received answers to various inquiries and/or attend Mobile Legal Clinic Outreach sessions at a variety of locations in the cities and outlying districts of Suly and Duhok, including high schools, jails, women's shelters, senior centers, youth centers and orphanages, and for various groups (e.g., women's unions, organizations for disabled persons, and tenants' rights organizations, just to name a few).
Sulaimaniya Legal Help Desk
Each Legal Help Desk team member -- lawyers and social workers -- as well as our administrative assistant in Duhok and staff in Sulaimaniya, contribute to the effectiveness of the Project.  But the success of the Access to Justice Project is owed primarily to our Project Coordinator.  She is an amazing woman who I am privileged to be able to work with and call my friend.  In addition to being a dedicated, intelligent, kind, accomplished, beautiful and professional woman who is passionate about the work we are doing, she is a devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister. 
The UNDP Access Project Coordinator and me.
She was raised by wonderful parents who gave her a sense of independence and instilled in her the belief that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and she and her husband are now passing these gifts on to their two daughters.   She and others like her are the hope of Kurdistan and Iraq. She abhors corruption, believes in the sanctity of human rights for every Iraqi, rich or poor, and is willing to work for the change that is necessary if this country is going to be able to provide equality, peace, security and wellbeing for all its citizens. 
The Project Coordinator (second from right) with her
youngest daughter, her mother (second from left), her
sisters and nephew.
This Friday we are having a photo exhibition/media installation in Azadi Park, the largest park in Sulaimaniya, as part of the UNDP Access to Justice Project Supplemental Activities program.  Entitled "What the Eye Does Not See: Faces of Vulnerability in Iraq," the exhibition includes 20 beautiful photographs by various Iraqi photographers and is intended to highlight the work of the UNDP Access to Justice for Vulnerable Iraqis Project.  The exhibit will then be held in various other venues in Sulaimaniya, Erbil and Duhok.  If you are in Sulaimaniya on Friday, come see us!   You can view the photos on line at UNDP's website.