“And the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden.” Genesis 2;8
I read that verse and pause. A long pause because I always wonder where both Eden and the garden in the east were. Not to mention why it is important that we know it was planted in the east. And how did God plant? And what was special about the east that it was planted there? And. And.
Jumping from God to Iraqis, ask an old Iraqi, one steeped in tradition, he will tell you with unwavering certainty that Iraq (known as Mesopotamia until the British changed the name in 1921) is part of Eden, the Garden being located at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates, at Al Qurna where an old tree known to locals as Adam’s Tree remains. People will grant you that it is not the original tree, but insist it is one that grew up in its place.
The modern day name Iraq is supposed to mean, “deeply rooted.” Locals will point you back to the tree in the garden which was “just down the road.” When purveying our garden, I side with the locals.
We are blessed with a fruitfulness and abundance that vastly outweighs the quality of the soil and the greenness of our fingers. We did not inherit deep soil that had become rich through years of careful cultivation. We have a few truckloads of soil that we laid on concrete, yet the growth is staggering and miracles are our norm. I am sure that the echoes of Eden reverberate in our soil.
We are not without struggles, the climate is nearly always extreme. Just as one begins to breathe in spring and autumn, they have passed. This summer has been a challenge for Sami and his team with outside temperatures hitting 48C day after day, and inside the polytunnel where we grow the cucumbers and green peppers, the temperature has reached 53C.
Despite the heat, we have grown and given away 1000 kgs of cucumbers, and 800 kg of green peppers. Our second cucumber season is just commencing, with a similar expectation. We have grown abundant green onions, fennel, radishes, and herbs such as coriander, parsley, oregano, basil.
The fruit trees have suffered, none have died due to the endless attention given to them by Sami and team, but they have produced way less fruit, good fruit that we have used in our daily community life and for events, but less.
“When you see a bit of earth, if you want, take it and make it come alive.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett.
“This summer has been especially hard. It's been scorching not hot. We have needed to protect ourselves first of all, we sweat constantly so drinking and resting is vital. It's been hard to work the ground which is constantly dry, and our water supply has been less this year.
I change my work hours during the summer. I usually come to the garden early, about three in the morning to water and prepare for the day. I then take a break, and when I return our wonderful friends, Yasser, Nawaf and Shex Dakhil join me to help clear the weeds, water the ground around the trees, and pick up any dead branches. We take a break during the heat of the day and then return late afternoon to continue into the early evening.
Despite the heat we have given cucumbers and green peppers every other day to our students, and have grown eggplant, tomatoes, figs, melon, watermelon, and grapes which we use in the Hope Centre for our students and staff.
We have just finished clearing the polytunnels and have prepared them for the next cucumber season. I have planted the seeds and soon will be able to plant out.
After the cucumbers, the herbs and radishes will come alive again, we have grown but they have struggled in the heat. Once the second cucumber season is over, we have to lay the land to rest until the spring. I really need one more polytunnel which we would divide into two, and place on an empty area of land in order to crown potatoes, carrots and root vegetables throughout the winter. That way we can keep both the rotation of land and production continuing throughout the year.
I also need a small tractor, in order to dig the land inside the polytunnels, which I do by hand at the moment, it's backbreaking and takes a long time, several days in fact.
My joys outweigh the struggles. It is a wonderful feeling when we sit together to weigh and bag the produce. To be able to give fresh vegetables to our students and to the needy in the community brings me such joy, such a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we have helped our community in bringing them clean organic produce.
I enjoy watching the different seasons, watching them change. At first there were no birds here because they had been used to a slab of concrete where kids played football. Then every now and then I would look up to see where the bird song was coming from. They come in the early morning and then again when the heat of the day is over. They come to the bird bath but they prefer drinking water from the fountain. It is wonderful to hear the bird song when I work. I listen to them and sometimes I feel that they listen to me. They have been a little quiet in the last two months as it has been too hot for them but come September they will be back with their birdsong.”
“And the garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett.
“Hi there everyone, I am Barkat, Sami’s brother. I help out whenever I am needed, particularly during the hot summer months when the vegetables need to be tended to like children, round the clock.
The garden is an amazing place, everyday there is something new to see. I love watching the students, they enjoy helping us, they look for the birds, they come to sit and relax when they are tired from the camp. We have a radio which I often turn off just to give the birds space and quiet so that they will feel safe to come.
It has been a very special gift to work alongside Nawaf, Yasser and Shex Dakhil for the past four months. They have come at the hottest time of the year to help us, they never miss a day, I don’t know how we would have made it through the summer without them. Even though they have special needs and need to be close to the ground, they are so inventive and creative. I learn much from them and it makes me happy to be around them. They have great ideas and some previous experience from Shingal, they are a great addition to our team.
I see how they come with an expectancy every day. Their faces light up when they come through the gate. The conversation with them as we work is always positive, we laugh and sing a lot which is great fun, and good for our psychology as the camp continues to be a hard place to live.
The garden and everyone who comes through our gate is totally beautiful. It is a gift from God to us and we have to do our best to take care of it.” - Barkat.
“When I heard that Sami was called up by the army for three months and would be away, that’s when I decided to help out. I told him not to worry, to be at peace that anything on ground level I would take care of. I became addicted to the garden, it is a different world and it gives me such peace to work there, to partner with nature to make things grow.
From the first day that I came to Springs of Hope I knew that I was family, but thanks to the garden I have learned that I am important, that I am needed. My difficulty is split loyalty, I also know that the guys at the stables need me, I help to clean the tack, polish the saddles and all the leather and keep the storeroom in order. Monday is my day at the stables so I always wonder what’s happening in the garden when I am away. To solve my problem, I usually visit the garden both before and after the stables and then return to the garden in the afternoon.
The garden and the stables are my very happy and secure places. The two places where I have value and bring value.”
“I love working in the garden, I love weeding, picking up stones, and extending the water holes around the trees so that they can hold more water. I love doing everything in the garden. I am not bothered by the heat or the cold, I will give all my time and my care to the garden. As I love the garden so the garden loves me.
What’s my motivation? Firstly, I love being a part of this amazing SOHF family and this is one way that I can contribute. Secondly, I do it for the students who were rescued from captivity and for the orphans. They both deserve their home to be wonderful, well taken care of and fruitful throughout the year. They both deserve happy friendly people who understand them to be in the garden to welcome them when they enter. There is no other place in Kurdistan with such a garden. We need to develop it more. The students need more tables and benches so that they can spend longer periods of time, doing their homework in a place of comfort or just sitting and chatting.
When in the garden I don't think about the time. Four hours pass as if it were four minutes. Yes this summer has been boiling but Sami, Barkat and Khero keep us well supplied with drink, and food from the kitchen. I love weighing out the produce knowing that we have produced fruit and vegetables that are totally pure and healthy and knowing that they will go to people who have no money to buy even the cheapest vegetable. When I see people leaving the Hope Centre with bags of vegetables, I am happy.”
“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Henry David Thoreaux
“I love the garden, in the beginning I went down there just out of interest. I found my friends Nawaf and Yasser working there and that inspired me to join them. We all are in wheelchairs, we all were taken captive by ISIS, we have a lot in common.
I am very happy to help with anything that I can do, I will give everything a try. The students are very helpful and respectful when they come because they know that I am family. I have worked five days a week now for four months, one day I go to the stables which I love and will not miss going there. And one day the garden is closed. I know that even though we are closed Sami comes in very early to water, but it’s too early for me.
I am very curious to get to know the garden in winter. I think it will be a different experience. We will try to grow potatoes and some winter veg but really we need another greenhouse for that because the ground will be too cold. We will plant a small amount and do our best. It would be great to give our students potatoes.” Shex Dakhil.
We have a few students who have become part of our team, part of our family and part of our daily life. Those who physically are restricted to a wheelchair but whose spirits run and jump higher than many. We immediately “educated” all our students not to refer to them as “dis-abled” but as “otherwise-abled“ to look for their abilities and help develop them. These three men in particular (and Saadon at the stables) have proved their many talents and abilities along with a determination that many lack. Determination, commitment, faithfulness and many qualities from which we can all learn.
I often find myself asking a question which comes in different formats but is actually the same question. So is the garden healing our men, or are the men healing the garden? Are the horses healing us or are we bringing healing to the horses?
The horse question I will leave for another day, but with regards to the garden, I think it all goes back to the roots, eastwards in Eden and trees with leaves for healing. And if, perchance we should happen to be somewhere in the west of Eden, then its kingdom and dominion has gently expanded and included us."