Planting Peace on Day 9 in Najaf, Iraq by Steve Clemens
The interpreter called me aside saying, “Mr. Steve, this man would like to ask you a question”, after we had just planted 70 trees in the street median of the Salam District of Najaf, Iraq’s Sister City to Minneapolis. The young man in his 20s, the left side of his face obviously indented and scarred, looked at me and asked through the interpreter, “Do you know a humanitarian organization that can help me [fix my facial injuries]? I was injured by the Americans while I was a student at the University.” I told him I was sorry for his injury and I would ask others when I returned to the US.
Cameras clicked to capture the moment; traffic slowed to see what was happening; the Plant a Tree members held a sign: “Plant a Tree … harvest peace”. The city manager who helps provide the trees came by to greet us and have his photo taken alongside us and the Team.
After we finished and posed for a group photo, I asked Ahmed, the group’s coordinator and obvious animator if there were any young women who were part of this organization. He smiled a little sheepishly at first and then pointed to the 2-year old daughter of one of his Team who had indeed helped us push sand into the hole and said, “One”. I encouraged him to recruit more. He inquired if there were any NGOs in the US that might partner with them, I told him there are many environmental groups in the US and we should look for them together with our Facebook connections.
I’ve read numerous accounts of US troops bulldozing down hundreds of date palm trees here in their rush to control the landscape and people in 2003. Our 70 trees are just a small symbolic part of our repentance and a beginning journey of reparations coupled with a genuine desire for partnership as we move forward toward a greener and more peaceful world.