Tuesday, June 21, 2005

For the Sake of Our Children

A colleague and I walked to a shop to pick up an order. The shop owner told us how very depressed she is regarding the ongoing security and infrastructure crisis in Iraq. She feels, as do many Iraqis, that things are getting worse not better. She said she is beginning to feel as if her life has no meaning beyond working nine hours a day, six days a week. A co-worker did not dispute her assessment of the situation but made an impassioned plea never to give up hope for a better future. And even more importantly to never stop working to help bring that better future to come to pass. The co-worker concluded by saying, “Things probably won’t get better in my lifetime but I will keep working to make things better for the sake of our children.”

Our apartment is across the street from a park. Many evenings around the time we are gathering for supper a mother and her three children walk by our living room window. The western sun illuminates her face and the faces of her young children. I don’t know her but in a way I feel I do. She looks tired. So many, many people here in Iraq are so very tired. She looks a bit fearful. Will today be the day when the insurgents set off a car bomb near the park? Will today be the day when the young men of the Iraqi National Guard, riding like cowboys in the back of their pickup trucks, get trigger happy and start shooting with her and her children in the line of fire? Yet day after day I see her taking her children to the park. Underneath the fatigue and the fear I can sense the hope and the courage in her heart. It reflects on her children as does the setting sun reflect on the nearby Tigris River. She gives me courage to face the overwhelming difficulties of life in this broken land. She is living in the present moment fully aware of the dangers and uncertainties and yet she has not given up hope, she has not given in to despair, she has not let herself be driven into hiding by men with guns and bombs. She is my teacher. She teaches me how to live fully conscious of the horrors of today and still be able to envision a future of promise, peace and plenty. I would pray that we all live each day, no matter where we are, “for the sake of our children.”

Monday, June 06, 2005

Tunnel Vision

“Iraqis always seem to have lots of guns in their houses.” A U.S. Army colonel was making reference to how prevalent gun ownership is in Iraq. We were meeting with him in his office in the Green Zone. Draped across his high back chair was an ornate leather holster with his service revolver.

“Our young technician can barely keep up with the demand.” The colonel described the work of a sergeant who is an expert in constructing artificial limbs. The colonel said proudly that no one in Iraq has the equipment or expertise that this young man has. Yet there did not seem to be an acknowledgement of why there is such a demand for artificial limbs in Iraq at this time.

“The Iraqi NGOs we work with have a lot of trouble developing a level of trust between them.” He noted that when his office organizes a conference of NGOs in the Green Zone often they don’t want to follow the set agenda but need to express their lack of trust for the U.S. military and for each other. Yet he failed to mention the years of totalitarian rule by Saddam followed by two years of anarchy, neither of which would tend to develop trust in any institutions.

“All of us took a nine hour seminar on understanding Iraqi culture when we got here a year ago.” The colonel said his unit would be going home at the end of the month after a year in Iraq. As is the case with many U.S. military and civilians working in the Green Zone, the colonel said he has never set foot on a street in Baghdad. He has never been inside the home of an Iraqi family nor has he seen any of the historical or cultural sites of the country.

It would seem easy to characterize the colonel as hypocritical and bigoted. I am not the greatest judge of character but I kept having an image of him on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon holding up a tube from a roll of paper towels and describing what he saw. We are all finite creatures with a very limited field of vision. But what I do (and it is my sense that the colonel does this also) instead of opening up my field of vision to include things that I don’t understand or agree with is to make my field of vision even narrower. “Out of sight, out of mind” is an old saying that seems rather apt in this case. The colonel seemed very confident that the vision of the world he described was an accurate and complete one. And this was true. Within his extremely limited world-view, his vision was indeed clear. But what about the vast universe he was not seeing? What about the vast universe I’m not seeing? How do we all expand our vision to see things we don’t want to see? How do we stop putting “out of sight” things we don’t agree with? I wish I had an answer but I don’t even know where to start.