The good Doctor and I were up (from our separate homes) and out at sunrise this Friday morning, in order to lay the foundations of our Fountain of Hope, in the Garden. Whilst standing there in the early morning but ominously threatening heat and gazing over at the tents all bundled up against the day, that I realized that until the tent people move into their new homes, that I too, have to wait for this season to pass. I can’t circumvent it, can't speed it up. When the season changes, we will know.
Living here on the edge of the plains of Nineveh, life has taught me patience, that there is a season and a time for every purpose for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3) and to try to jump out of the season would be to come out of alignment with both the land and the people. I would be swinging alone on the axis of the region. So we linger with The Fire for a little longer. I have been asking myself “what is this season, what is it saying to us, what’s the lesson it is telling us?” It feels hard, harsh, and unkind. The Fire is its direct manifestation. It is way more than a fire which caused destruction and shock, it is a season, a perpetuating cycle in itself. This is a season of instability and displacement, of turmoil and uncertainty. We have realized over this past month that our role is to provide security, and confidence in a region of shakings. As Thursday evening began to relinquish its fierce heat, I sat in the Garden with Aras, the Chairman of our local Board of Directors who lives in the nearby city. His mood became that of a concerned lawyer as he received bitter news on a phone call. He sighed deeply, “I have to go now, my village has been taken over by soldiers from a neighboring country. My clan is on the way to Duhok. Soldiers are living in my house. No one had time to take anything, they just picked up and fled. We have to prepare and find places for them to live. I have to organize people to cook food for them.”The displacement of Kurds within Kurdistan. Yet another ethnic cleansing is taking place, in front of our eyes. An entire clan uprooted, probably never to return to their ancient tribal lands. Another sign of the season of shakings and illegal conquest and plunder.
Aras received his call to take care of his clan and our attention has remained with our Yezidi tribe. Forty families of those displaced by The Fire are living in temporary tents close to The Hope Centre. As Musa and I drove in to deliver a new bike, our vehicle was surrounded, pressed into by women begging us for water. They thirsted. We returned to the centre to form a plan of action, namely the purchase of a paddling pool, purchase of ice blocks to dump into the pool to cool bottles of water...and three times a day distribution of cool water.
You may be asking, why the tent people don't even have money to buy water. A good question indeed, those who had money from day labor, kept it in jars or pans inside the tents. There are no coins in Iraqi currency, only paper notes, all of which burned. There are those who had managed to save something for a child’s education, all burned. They are dependent upon being fed and given water. Being reduced to total dependence shakes the very core of one’s being. We are anticipating a continued period of time where, once in new homes, we continue to provide food boxes until they are able to stand alone again.
All of which circles us back to the season of uprooting and displacement and August 3rd, 2014. Listening to Khero and Sami who are super troopers, hauling bottles of water, blocks of ice, kilos of veg, out in the camp three times a day, never later, never missing a beat, gave me understanding.
“August 3rd, 2014 and the weeks after, were just like this. Exactly the same. The heat was the same. The hunger was the same. The thirst was the same. The fear was the same. The lack of security was the same. The screaming was the same. The sobbing was the same. The silence was the same. The abandonment was the same. You know something, the tent people know that Springs of Hope will come with food. Food and drink are security and confidence. It is a promise assuring them that they will live and not die. They know we will come at 9 with water, at 12 with food and water and again at 6 with water. No one else is giving food. They trust us not to abandon them. Every day our actions are saying, “This is not August 3rd, look here is your portion and you will have leftovers until we return late I know when someone is lying to me saying he has twenty people in the tent when he only has eight. I get annoyed but I know where he is coming from. His fear is speaking, not greed, fear. So that man I will give an extra portion or two, so that he will not fear. So that he will be in peace and will trust us.”
“Would we be killed by Daesh or die of hunger or dehydration? I saw those dying of thirst. I will never let anyone be thirsty again. If I have to go into the camp six times a day, I will. Whatever I can do to assure them that there is food and water, and that they will not lack, I will do that.”
“This month has been so hard. Springs of Hope has been the frontline. I did not think that I was traumatized by August 3rd, 2014 but this month has shown me that I am. Every time I look at our huge pots and pans, something inside me shakes. Every time Havend lights the gas at 08.00 to begin the preparation for lunch, I have to look away, breathe deeply and make myself refocus. I have to tell myself that we are in 2021 not 2014. The sight of the pots and pans take me back to when the Sinjari refugees reached Shariya, and were pouring into the village. My friends and I went from house to house looking for the women who had the pots and pans so that they could begin to cook. We cooked rice and chicken for one month, and Khero distributed it to the refugees. Nu? What are we doing now, tell me it's not the same? It's the same. I see the pans in my dreams. Every morning I wake up in a bad mood. We live with uncertainty. Thank God we have been able to provide solutions this time. It's good that we are planning the Fountain of Hope in the garden. I hope that by the time it is ready, this season will have changed and we will all walk into the garden, turn on the fountain, and become clean from all this suffering and trauma that keeps catching up with us.”
- Dr Saeed
Havend Preparing Food
We do have so much to share, interesting encounters with special people, projects, horses, but somehow until those homeless are settled, hopefully this coming week on Sunday or Monday (lack of electricity has slowed the building of block homes down) we remain in sync with the season but with one difference, living above it and not below it, as the head and not the tail. We remain so very thankful to God and to you who have enabled us to give with radical generosity thus being a stabilizing factor and place of refuge during this period. We have by the grace of God been able to live the promise of hope and future.
This month, we have cooked 1950 meals for 670 families. We have given 1500 kg of cucumbers and 600 kg of green peppers.
Musa was at the farmers market one morning at 06.00 so that we could give 5 kg of fresh fruit ( ours here in the village is dead upon arrival ) with the lunch delivery. As you read this we will be buying ice cream just for a treat and on Monday when they move into homes, candy just to sweeten their new season. I can not but think that with every act of radical generosity in giving, we are breaking the power of dread and terror that August 3rd holds over this community.
The word got out that we were buying bikes. This week we had fifty boys, none of whom could sit on the saddle let alone ride a bike, swearing by the life of their father that their bikes were burned in the fire. We stopped buying bikes.
However, there were precious items which we replaced as our hearts moved with compassion when we heard tiny stories with a big impact on fragile lives.
“My name is Suham. I was taking a shower in the washrooms close to my tent when the fire broke out. I dressed quickly and ran to my tent. Everyone was screaming as we couldn't find my brother. He was ok, he was with a friend. I had slowly, slowly collected small money to buy dolls, they were my friends, I cherished my dolls, they were of course burnt in the fire. Now we all sleep in relatives’ tents, it’s hard but I can do it. I really miss my dolls, playing with them made me so happy. Springs of Hope gave me new dolls. It was such a surprise for me. They are way more beautiful and gorgeous than my old dolls. I love these dolls more than anything. I am dying to open the box and play with them, but I am keeping them until I move into my new house. Only then will open them and give them a home to live in.”
“My name is Shamo Kote, I am 55 years old and have 9 children. I lost everything in Sinjar. When I came to Shariya camp I did not want to sit idle, so I made a trolley which I pushed all day inside the camp, trying to sell small things to earn enough money to feed my family. My hands and my feet are worn out by walking and pushing the trolley but I don’t pay attention, I have to work. My trolley and all the little things I had for sale, the combs, and the shampoo, all were burned.”
We ordered a custom made trolley for Mr. Shamo from a local welder, and blessed him with a few dozen shampoos and hygienic products, mattresses and blankets, clothes, shoes and toys. His world along with hope and dignity were restored. It was wonderful to see him limp out of The Hope Centre, pushing his new trolley. As for his hands and feet, he will be treated by Nurse Bassima.
“It was so traumatic to lose everything, it's not that we really had much, but it went in the fire. It was the worst day of my life. Almost a month has passed and my father and brother are still sleeping outside in the camp street because the temporary tent is not large enough for us all. I lost my cat and my pillow. It was awful to lose them both, they were my life. When I was sad I would talk and cry with my cat, she knew exactly how I felt. When I was scared and stressed I would hug my pillow. Now you have brought me this wonderful pillow. As soon as my eyes saw it, I fell in love with it. I feel so comfortable and relaxed when I cuddle with it. I had my first pillow for seven years, since the day I came to the camp. My pillow has heard all my struggles, my pillow was my best friend that knew all my secrets. I told my pillow everything, all the things I couldn't share with anyone. I love my new pillow so much. I pray for happy things to share with my beautiful pillow. I am so happy. Thank you for caring about me and my pillow. I think that when we move into the new home a new cat will come looking for me. My happiness will be complete."
Amidst the fifty or so boys who came looking for a bike was young Farhad, who went one step further than the other 49. “I am having nightmares about my burned bike.” Psychologist Noori, the very same one who once asked an entire class if anyone was seeing dead bodies at night, decided it was time to intervene and figure out if the kid was super savvy or whether he really was having nightmares.
He was, and as with this generation of camp kids for whom August 3rd is their parents' experience, his nightmares were an indication of his levels of trauma and his readiness to process. We bought him a new bike. He is now visiting with Noori to work through his trauma and has joined Shex Sirwan’s sports class.
The Biblical account of David at Ziklag holds many parallels to this current season, and the seven year cycle which commenced on August 3rd, 2014. “When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives, sons and daughters taken captive. So, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep." The account continues with “David recovered everything the Amalakites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing, young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken, David brought back.” 1 Samuel 30.
And bikes, trolleys, pillows and dolls. Because the cycle of loss, like the Amalakites, can't get away with it.
To end with a smile or two, Khalaf the orphan for whom we bought clothes is now in class with us discovering the world of computer science. Finally out of his tent and making friends.
Sami has joined the sports class and has given his doves names, Spring and Hope.
We gave a wonderful lady made homeless by the fire a solar radio sent to us from Korea. “Ohhhh” she said, “I love this radio. I am over a hundred years old, and have run out of things to do so this will keep me busy.”