I have been pondering palm trees and planting for the last few weeks since a truck carrying 16 date palms arrived from Baghdad for our Horses for Hope complex in the Old Shariya village.
I have grown to appreciate the timings of life out here in the village, where little goes according to plan but timing is always perfect. Just a few days after our visit to the frontline Peshmerga base, we received a call from Baghdad, saying that our trees were ready for delivery and it would be our responsibility to arrange Peshmerga authorization for the truck and crew to cross the checkpoints into Kurdistan. Easy, we now had our personal General, who called all the checkpoints under his jurisdiction across the seamline, and then called his best friend at the Duhok turnoff, to arrange for ongoing delivery into the village.
Tree prep, delivery and planting turned out to be a full day event. At sunrise, we began to dig the holes. And here my lessons began. Khudeida the Bulldozer man asked me “ how deep should I dig?” My suggestion of a metre deep and two metres in diameter was rejected by the Baghdadis, who insisted on no less than four metre depth and three metres diameter to protect the roots and for stability.
Throughout the gloomy, cold day and way past sunset I observed the well-oiled process of the planting team, and thought of our kids, those rescued from the captivity of ISIS. Those who were found under the rubble of crumbling Iraqi and Syrian cities and those whose lives were redeemed for ransom were brought in kindness to Kurdistan, to a refugee camp, set down, having been uprooted for a second time. Yes, even leaving ISIS was an uprooting. They were placed in the strange soil of Duhok province, where the culture of the local Yezidis was foreign to the Sinjaris from Iraq. Wounded and bleeding, their roots were in need of good soil and a long watering.
"The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree."
It takes an army, working as one to plant a date palm. It takes a structure to plant a tree, and a structure to keep it in place. The crane man begins the process of coming as close as possible to the hole, he with the direction man, guides the palm into the prepared hole, the stabilization guys gather round to hold it in place as Khudeida the bulldozer shifts the soil he took out back to cover the roots. Then there is a guy who jumps into the "mouth" of the bulldozer which hoists him high to cut the ropes between the crane and the palm. Kind of cutting the umbilical cord. There were moments of danger, when the palm tree swung out of control and had to be pushed by hand back onto the truck. Moments when the wind that was gaining force threatened to steer the lowering into the ground off course. Three men holding a six metre tree in place was cause for concern as was the possibility of toppling when the rope is removed. Every step of the process held its own dangers, danger for one was danger for all as the life of the tree swung in the balance.
We drove away that evening around 9pm, frozen, exhausted but exhilarant. My joy was short-lived as the rains and the wind came that night tearing many trees down in the region. I was scared to drive out the following morning to see the fate of our trees. The timing of the rain was perfect, but the wind? That remained to be seen. Thankfully, all was well, these guys knew how to plant trees that would withstand the storms and the rain. The first call of the day after the night storm had abated was from Baghdad with further instructions on building "urgent even in the rain" additional support systems strong enough to keep the trees upright until their root system was established and strong enough to support them.
Whilst we had Baghdad on the line, we posed another question, one related to the beauty of the tree. "When could we open the rope that tied the branches together?" Such an interesting answer was given. "The first year, maybe more, is not about beauty or fruit, it is about supporting the tree so that the roots can go down deep and not be moved. Don’t think of beauty, don't be tempted, not even in the summer. Give the tree its time and space to establish its support system. Call us in a year from now, when in the area we will come and check. Some trees may be ready, some will need more time. Look at the tree, it will tell you."