Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nineteenth Blog

Nineteenth Blog, March 7, 2010
In our last blog we told you about the dust storm that had blown through this area a couple of days before we wrote. We made the ill-advised statement that what we need now is a good rain storm to wash away the dirt that settled on every horizontal surface. What we had in mind was an Indiana thunderstorm that would come in, rain hard for an hour or so, and then move on. What we got, instead, was about five days of unrelenting rain, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, but always present. Sure enough, this rain washed down the dirt deposited in the storm, but it also made getting about the campus a wet mess by turning the sidewalks that link our offices and classrooms in to small lakes and the roads that lead up to our apartment complex into muddy pathways. The rain finally stopped on Thursday, March 4, and for the past two days, we have had lots of sun. As we talked with students about the weather, expressing frustration with the rain, we learned that all were grateful for the rain as it fills the reservoirs that provide water to this region in the hot and mostly rainless summer months.

The temperatures are warming, and when the warm temperatures are combined with the moisture the net effect is green. We see the hillsides that were golden brown when we arrived in September are beginning to turn green. Today as we walked the two miles to the bazaar, we observed some flowering trees beginning to form buds. We even saw a person in the bazaar who was selling daffodils. So spring is on its way. We’ll tell you more as we know more.

Based on observing CNN and BBC television, it would appear that few Western media have carried stories about the upcoming parliamentary election in Iraq. This election will take place later today, Sunday, March 7. Given our plans for posting this blog, we will not know outcomes by the time of the posting but we want to give you some impressions.

Unlike the campaigning process in the US, in which campaigns seem to go on forever, the campaign process in Iraq is short and tightly managed. No one was allowed to campaign openly until about three weeks ago, at which time this place burst forth in a kind of avid grass-roots campaigning process that we never see in the U.S. Various political parties put up flags across roadways and on buildings, people plastered campaign posters on their cars and trucks, and groups of supporters of one party or another conducted traffic-slowing parades on the main roads. Drivers of cars honked their horns in a short-long-short-short-long cadence of horn blasts pattern hour after hour. People sat on hoods of cars, or hung out of car windows waving flags. Children and adults alike rode standing upright in the backs of pickup trucks, waving flags and shouting. The climax of the campaign came late Friday evening when there were massive parades, including lighted floats, and fireworks displays. After Friday’s climax, the campaigning ended as suddenly as it began. On Saturday, the day before the election, they declared a moratorium on campaigning, so aside from the ubiquitous flags and posters stuck on every vertical surface and hung on ropes across all major streets, it was all very quiet. Shortly the polls will open and the voting will take place.

Regardless of the party one wants to see win in this area, the campaign process says a great deal about how the folks of this region have taken to the electoral process. A few of the more cynical of our students say that elections do no good, i.e., they keep returning the same politicians to power, but most disagree. But anyone who has lived through this campaign season can only conclude that there is a great deal of grassroots involvement in who wins and who loses. Their exuberance is a joy to behold, and a kind of living proof that in an important way people enjoy the most elemental aspect of democracy: having a say in who will lead. This is, after all, only the second parliamentary election since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and there continue to be many difficult issues to sort out both nationally and regionally. But our experience here and what we learn from the several reports from other parts of the country suggest that Iraqis have rejected various outside influences in charting the course for their own future, and they very much want an Iraqi solution to Iraqi problems. With you, we look forward to reading the outcome of the elections in a few days.

We have placed below several photos of the election campaign activity, and apologize that we may not have photos of every political party in the race. The photos we took were the result not of design, but of the vagaries of when we happened to be out, and whether we had the camera at a given moment. We intend no favoritism in the selection of photos.

We continue to be healthy and to be able to get around town safely – except for dodging the occasional car or bus driver who appears to be playing the game of “let’s see how close we can get to the pedestrian without actually hitting him.” We will begin the fourth week of the spring term this week and are a little over three months from the end of our time here. We thank you for your continuing reading of our blog.

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