Friday, May 24, 2013

Two Years in Iraq

Kurdistan is having a lovely spring -- not too warm (last time this year it had already gotten very hot) -- and it's been a busy one for me.  I went to my first concert earlier this month.  It was a famous singer, Neriman Baban, and it was called the "Home Concert" because he is from Sulaimaniya.   He was great and he had wonderful musical accompaniment:  a small symphony, a rock and roll band (drums, guitar and keyboard), some traditional Kurdish instruments and a chorus.  I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Neriman Concert

Afterward,my colleagues and I went out for dinner to a new place in town:  Burger Fuel.  It is apparently a New Zealand chain and advertises that it serves New Zealand beef.  We had cheeseburgers (my first since coming here), fries and a milkshake -- a perfect way to end the evening.

Last blog entry, I wrote about Heartland Alliance's 125th anniversary.  I'm celebrating my two year anniversary in Iraq this month (May 26).  It's hard to believe I've been here that long, and that short.  On  the one hand, I still feel like a new comer in so many ways -- other than a few words, I still don't speak the language and I  still have so much to learn.  On the other hand, I consider Sulaimaniya my home.  When I reflect on the time here, I realize what an amazing experience I've been given by being able to work for an organization like Heartland, the many things I've learned and the opportunity to work and be with such wonderful people.
Being interviewed
A couple of weeks ago I did an interview for Kurdsat TV.  I was asked about Heartland's work here in Iraq and Kurdistan and had a chance to talk about our programs:  treating survivors of torture and other trauma, training Community Mental Health Workers, providing legal services to vulnerable populations, including victims of trafficking and gender based violence, and the importance of our youth media program in Kirkuk and Baghdad, two cities that suffer the horrible consequences of continuing sectarian and ethnic violence. 
I was also asked why I would leave London and my former career to come work for an NGO in Iraq.  Many people might think it was so I could help change things--help improve people's lives by working for human rights-- and I suppose that there is truth in that.  But what I have discovered is that the experience has profoundly changed me: seeing first hand what it means to grow up and live throughout years and years of conflict, being challenged to approach problems in new ways, working with wonderful partners and staff, and living in a culture with a long rich history, but one which includes barbarian traditions, such as female genital mutilation and a belief that "honor killing" is justified if a woman has "shamed" the family.
And I was asked what I would remember most when I left Iraq.  That question was easy.  Without a doubt, I will remember the warmth and generosity of the people here with whom I've been privileged to live and work.  If you'd like to hear the interview, it's available on YouTube.
Generous Kurdish hospitality
I have been incredibly privileged over the last year as Country Director to have a wonderful mentor and teacher -- our MENA Regional Director, Ramsey Ben-Achour.  Ramsey was previously Heartland's Country Director in Haiti and he made my transition into the job of leading the Iraq office easy.  I've learned a remarkable amount from him and so enjoyed working with him.  Like my colleagues in Sulaimaniya, Ramsey has enriched my experience here incredibly; in fact, there was a time when I couldn't imagine being able to do my job without him to turn to. 

Ramsey and me at his going away party
Regrettably, I'm going to have to now learn how to get along without him as he will be leaving Heartland in August after he gets married.   Thank you, Ramsey, for all you've given Heartland and all you've given me, and may you and Eva have a wonderful life together. 
Spring Sunset