Letters from Iraq- Dec. 5. first day of EID

12-05-02, first day of EID

Went to the mosque this AM for celebration of the end of EID (see 12/5 email from Peter and me).

About photographs- even though I purchased the digital camera so I could send back photos, if appropriate -especially if the war intensifies, we were informed in our orientation here that we are to take no photos outside in the streets (or anywhere outside) because:
1) one doesn't know what might be nearby that the Iraqi government doesn't want photographed. Across the Tigris River just outside our hotel, is one of numerous Presidential palaces. Since our government has made no secret about wanting to assassinate Iraq's leader, it is no wonder the government wants to forbid any photos of the area. Of course, in this totalitarian state, the US is not the only one interested in "regime change" and I'm sure Iraqis are no freer than I am in taking pictures.
2) connected to this is the fact that the US has bombed here before and has clearly threatened to do so again, so any pictures taken outside might be construed as helping Americans plan their targets. After visiting the Ameriyah bomb shelter yesterday, where 408 Iraqi women and children were blown apart and incinerated by 2 US "smart bombs" in Feb. of 1991, it is quite understandable that anyone taking pictures might be suspect. Although the US at first denied hitting it, four days later they said it was targeted because they thought top Iraqi officials were there. I think it was targeted to send a message to the average Iraqi civilian that one isn't safe anywhere.

I walked toward the downtown area to look for a backpack but all the stores, except for a few small restaurants were closed for the first day of EID.

I was hoping to have more contact with the average Iraqi family but the restrictions of this closed society make that very difficult. By law, people must report the visit of any foreigner to one's home. Since it is estimated that 1 of every 7 people reports back to the ruling Ba'ath Party leadership, the nation is full of potential informants. Saddam's history of brutally executing not only the opposition but also the other leadership within his own party make people hesitant and fearful. The gesture of visiting someone's home if one is a foreigner makes that family suspect. We are here to protect and affirm the dignity of those families yet find it difficult to have much direct contact. Again, we must remember that our nation is at war with Iraq. We are told (by VITW vets) that our visiting in Iraqi homes might be compared to our finding out the people with ties to Osama bin Laden are visiting some of our neighbors. Would we want to know who they were and what the visit was about? It is hard to grasp what all the ramifications are for us being Americans here in Iraq. Even though we strongly disagree with our nation and its foreign policy, it is hard to trust that we might not have an informant or agent provocateur in our midst. On a more realistic note, who would be crazy enough to spend $2,000. to be holed up with peace activists, fearful of eating or drinking something that will make you sick? Under the Iraqi constitution, ordinary Iraqis can be executed for criticizing their government.

We are told that it is likely we are under constant surveillance when we leave our hotel. (Probably by US and Iraqi intelligence. Why don't they just cooperate and take turns watching us?)

We carry with us the "magic sheet" a one page paper written in English on one side and in Arabic on the other, describing who we are and why we are here. When I went to purchase an adapter which allowed me to plug in my laptop computer to the 220 wall outlet, I handed the hardware shop owner a copy of the paper. Within a minute of reading it, he was beaming and said "thank you". He wanted to give me the part free but I insisted on paying the normal price which came to 50 cents, US.

David flew to Mosul with Amir and David Swan to check out the hospital situation there. We got to know David S. and Amir better last night when we had our first full team meeting. We were meeting together at the Al Dar Hotel (where Cliff, Cathy B., and Peggy are now staying) and met to discuss plans for considering a action/press conference/or whatever for 12/10 when it is Int'l Human Rights Day and the day Jimmy Carter the Nobel Peace Prize and Kathy Kelly and VITW are nominated for the 2003 prize receives by one of the past recipients from Northern Ireland. After a log discussion, we will discuss it again. We also go over the schedule for the next few days to let each other know what is happening. They are looking for a volunteer to help at the UNDP office and I'm going to check it out, but with EID on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and the UN being off on Sunday, I don't know if I can be that helpful. Peggy, Cathy, and Cliff cooked our meal last night as they have access to their hotel's kitchen. We had rice and lentils, bread, and some sweet pastry items for desert. Amir also brought along some small meat pies he had purchased. We assume, since they are cooked, that they will be OK. Amir is a physician from Montreal but don't know much more about him.

Yesterday, at the orphanage, while we were waiting for the relic of St. Therese of Liseaux to arrive (we never did find out what was in the ornate box covered with a Plexiglas dome but it resembled a small coffin), we met the children who are raised by the nuns (of the same order as Mother Theresa of Calcutta). The nuns are primarily from India, although there are several from other countries as well. They dress in the same white garb, trimmed in blue, that Mother Theresa always appeared in. Peter was really impressed with them today when he went to volunteer. Charlie and Peggy usually go every day to play with the kids and help feed them. Most, if not all of the approximately 15 kids have cerebral palsy and range in age from 2-15. One little boy appears to be about 3 or 4 but is really 10 years old. A few are blind as well. Since the nuns speak both Arabic and English, a couple of the older boys call out to us in English and try to grab our hands or our clothes.

While waiting for the relic (we were told there would be a service at 8 AM but it turned out to be 9:30 or 9:45 before it arrived), we met a wonderful Iraqi Dominican nun who had to be in her 70s. She was graceful and very eloquent even though she hadn't had a lot of English. (Her order is French which she spoke as well as Arabic and English). She told us how the Dominicans started schools in the 1870s to help teach girls in both Mosul as well as Baghdad because girls were traditionally excluded by the educational system in Arabic countries. In 1974, the government here nationalized all the private schools and took them over. The Dominicans were allowed to continue to teach but lost control of the schools. I'd love to see the De LaSalle students adopt her classroom for one of their projects!

Thursday evening was a sight to behold. People out in the streets celebrating the end of Ramadan. I should say men because there are few women out on the streets. You might see 1 or 2 women for every 50-100 men out tonight. But there were scores of people by the fountain in the middle of the traffic circle. Other evenings I've never seen even 1/2 the number of people out. Peter, Charlie Lietkey, and I go out for chicken and rice at a nearby restaurant that Cynthia recommends. We had a good meal (1/2 of a roasted chicken, a whole grin-style rice, a cream of chicken soup, flat bread, salad-which we chose not to risk), pop and Tea for about $2. USD each. We had a great conversation about Charlie's various times in jail for peace protests and continue the conversation as we walked about 2-3 miles along the Tigris. We continue the conversation in our room for another hour before 72 year-old Charlie reminds us that we have a group reflection time at 7 AM tomorrow.

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