Letters from Iraq-Dec. 9. Demonstrating at the UNDP
Iraq Dec. 9
Today was our first public demonstration. If you get CNN in Spanish, Japanese Public TV, Iraqi TV, Dubai TV, or German TV, you might see me holding a "No War" sign or Peter holding a multi-colored heart flag or a white banner reading Peace in English or Arabic. We were in front of the UN Development Program office for 2 1/2 hours, causing traffic to back up. There was a meeting inside with the heads of the 5 agencies that UNDP works with including the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), WHO (World Health Organization), HCR (High Commissioner for Refugees), UNICEF, and possibly CARE as well. There were about a dozen UN troops stationed by the front of the building to insure things went smoothly. I'd take it that there aren't too many demonstrations like this in Iraq!
It was wonderful to be able to look into the eyes of the Iraqi people driving by, smiling, blowing their horns, waving, giving us the peace sign- reminiscent of our Tuesday vigils on the Franklin Street bridge and Wednesday on the Lake Street bridge- only without the occasional drive who gives us only one finger instead of two! There was so much traffic that I'm sure world will get around the city tonight that we are here. It was truly an international event with demonstrators from Sweden, Canada, Australian, American, and even a Iranian-Canadian! What a terrific bunch of folk to be in solidarity together.
The four of us in our arrival group that are under 60 went and got our mandatory AIDS test today. We were very relieved to see they use a new wrapped needle each time. Now we have to go to the Foreign Ministry office to get our 10 day visas renewed so we can stay until Sunday (for Peter and me) or longer (for the other 3). Charlie just got a one month extension so he'll likely be here into the new year.
My diet is back to normal after two days of only bananas. I bought a backpack so I can carry my water bottle with me when I'm out and about. Hope you were able to get some of the pictures I sent. Here is a description of them:
- one is of the outside of the Amariyah bomb shelter with the grave stones that soon will be installed to recognize the 408 civilians killed there in Feb. '91. You might note on the top of the building is a horizontal ventilation opening; that is where the second bomb entered that created the firestorm.
- a second picture is all we could see inside of the shelter because they are renovating it so more people come view it. You can notice the black charring around this metal door a see a little of the devastation the bombs caused.
- there is a picture outside of the orphanage with the group of people awaiting the relic of St. Therese of Liseaux. I have another picture of the box the relic is carried in which I'll show when I return home.
- the picture of the kids giving the peace sign are part of Karima's family that I visited with Dean and Kathy. Dean is in this picture. Mahmoud is the young boy. Fatima is the older girl in front. Peter and I are still working on spelling the names of the twins.
- the other picture is with the twins, myself, Kathy Kelly, and Karima
Great News! Kathy just informed me that Peter and I will be able to travel to Basra on Wed. and Thursday. Pray for no bombing.
I came here wanting to see the face of Iraq. Being able to look into the eyes of the thousands whip drove by our witness reminded me that these people are just like you and me. Yes, some were frustrated and irritated at the delay that was caused by our presence alongside the highway but many, when they the reason why, after seeing our signs, said in their hearts, "Yes, we want peace, too". We are one human family. But we also witnessed as well, one of the faces of evil that stalks this land. The UN troops were stationed in a line between those of us on the building's entrance-side of the street, spaced apart so cars going by could read our signs: "No War", "Peace", "Don't Nix Blix" (let the weapons inspectors do their jobs), "We support the UN Charter", Cherish Live, not Oil", "Speak Truth to Power", ...
Most of the UN troops appeared to be unarmed, although several carried rifles usually slung over their shoulders. The first soldier in line did have a weapon and was responsible for getting the traffic moved over into one or two "lanes", (One of the first things you learn here is that traffic lanes are merely a suggestion. Most cars end up merely inches apart.) As the traffic was funneled into a more narrow space, it naturally backed up, causing more congestion. Some cars actually bumped the end of this soldier's rifle at times.
After a very fancy car eased its way past this soldier, a new, monstrous SUV stopped a few feet from this soldier and a large, burly man stepped out of the vehicle from the driver's position. With an act of authority, he quickly strode up to the soldier a slapped him with great force across the side of his face. He obviously cursed him and challenged him although I could not here what was said. Immediately, a dozen or so of the UN troops rushed to the aid of their fellow soldier. Meanwhile, three or four other large men, brandishing automatic weapons jumped out of the SUV to join their driver. As the soldier obviously in command of the UN troops rushed to the scene, the luxury car in front quickly backed up to the scene as well. After heated words were exchanged, the "big wig" and his henchmen sped off. Some of these men who have killed and intimidated their way to power here, are used to being a law unto themselves.
It reveals the face of evil just under the surface. Of course, we remember Jesus' words and seek to over this evil with the goodness of the love and compassion of God. I was so proud of the soldier who stood his ground but did not retaliate in kind or escalate the violence. We pray we will have such discipline when we are confronted.