Saturday, June 5, 2010

Final Blog from Iraq

28th blog

Gentle Friends, Family, and other Readers of this Blog:

As the summer temperatures begin to rise to unbelievable heights (we no longer can walk to the bazaar in the heat) and our assignment at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani is about to end, this will be our last entry sent from Iraq. God willing (Inshallah – as is said around here), we will return to the US on June 11. We will write one more after we have returned to our home, just to let people know we made it back to our home, but we do not intend to continue the blog after that. (Our world and our lives in Indiana are much too prosaic to presume on anyone’s time.)

For this last blog from Iraq, we have chosen to offer concluding comments on things we have missed or things we look forward to upon our return home. We do this with some fear that our listing of activities we have missed, or our listing of aspects of our lives here that were less than pleasant, means that we wish we had not embarked on this year of teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing all we now know, we would do this again, no doubt about that. Yet we would be dishonest to say that every aspect of life here is perfect for us. But as is always the case in situations like this, our lists are much more of a mirror on us than on life in Sulaimani, Iraq.

Things we are looking forward to when we get home:
*Being able to visit directly with family and friends, and not having to do this by Skype and phone.
*Being able to drink water directly from the tap.
*Being able to drive ourselves in our own car whenever and wherever we want to go.
*Being able to hop on a bicycle and ride without dodging cars and breathing dust and fumes. (Here, the traffic, dust and hills are such that the use of a bicycle would be difficult. )
*Being able to watch movies of our own choosing, not being limited to what is available on satellite TV or in the local shops.
*Getting our hair cut by people with whom we can actually communicate. (This problem is our fault; we never mastered much in the way of the Kurdish language.)
*Being released from the demands of alarm clocks and everyday work schedules.
*Knowing that when we travel, we will not struggle to find clean, functioning toilets.
*Being able to go outside in a pair of shorts in warm weather. (To wear shorts in public in this area is considered immodest, even for men, even when the temperature is near 115 degrees. Yes, that has been the daily temperature for the past two weeks and we are promised it will get worse before the summer is over.)
*Being able to exercise in a great wellness center when the weather is foul.
*Being able to send and receive parcels and mail with ease.

Things we will miss:
*Interacting with students who are so grateful for whatever we do for them. We will never forget these beautiful young people.
*Experiencing evidences of the gentle Islam that pervades this culture. While we could do without being awakened by the pre-dawn call to prayer, the call from the minaret serves to remind us that many people quietly and unassumingly have vibrant prayer lives. They are the antithesis of the angry, strident Islamists that make it to the news programs in the West.
*Having the opportunity to help birth a new educational enterprise that is shaping a generation of leaders for this region.
*For Carl, as he taught, learning so much about the Middle East from students and from reading recent literature on the region.
*For Carolyn, as she taught, learning so much about the Middle East business culture and the huge difference of a cash based society rather than credit based.
*Trusting and being trusted in trade transactions in this cash-only economy. Where else could men, prepared to change money or sell a phone card, stand safely on the streets with four inch stacks of cash?
*Living in an academic community of people with extraordinarily diverse backgrounds. Some are local; some from abroad. They bring a rich variety of prior experiences from all over the globe.
*Walking through the bazaar, and hearing the variety of sounds and seeing the vibrant colors and activity.
*Buying fresh bread directly from the baker, and fresh meat directly from the butcher.
*Buying good, inexpensive, fresh vegetables, and delicious watermelon.
*Knowing and being welcomed by the man who runs the small convenience store in our apartment complex. “How are you Mr. Hemn?” “I am fine, how are you?” How many clerks do we ever know in Walmart?
*Being able to travel in a beautiful part of the world.
*Being treated with great respect simply because we are Americans.
*Seeing sunrises over the hills east of Suli; seeing the sun shining on the same hills as it sets in the west.
*Watching the mountains and hills around here turn a lovely shade of green in March and April after the brown of fall and the rains of winter. Then turning back to brown by June as the rain dries up and the temperatures turn very warm.
*Enjoying the contrasts of this city of nearly 1,000,000 people: in one block, a sophisticated mall like something one find in the West; nearby a block in which chickens move about pecking at the ground. On the circular road, modern, sophisticated automobiles sharing the road with a donkey drawn cart.

Things we will not miss:
*Dealing with the dust and pollutants in the atmosphere. On dusty days, it is hard to see the mountains that ring Sulaimani. The dust lands on everything, and requires weekly cleaning and mopping of the apartment. Who can ever know how much of this dust we have breathed in the past 9 months?
*Walking past electricity generators that are the size of a small box truck, knowing that while we need them for their electricity, they create much noise and belch huge amounts of pollutants into the air.
*Observing and stepping over the trash that seems to be present in many streets and vacant lots.
*Living through momentary outages of electricity. These are short-lived annoyances, but annoyances anyway, especially when we are on the elevator that carries us to and from the seventh floor of our apartment building. Or on occasion, walking those seven flights with a watermelon because the elevator isn’t working.
*Being frustrated with the narrow bandwidth on the internet that makes every program feel like someone is pouring molasses into the internet.
*Having travel interrupted by the requirement to stop at check points.
*Living in a world in which armed guards are present outside every public building and many private homes. We have never quite gotten accustomed to seeing AK-47 semi-automatic rifles slung over the shoulders of guards.
*Putting up with the inconveniences of living in an apartment block, e.g., the noise that comes through from the apartment above ours.
*Taking cold showers about once a week because the water heater isn’t working for the apartment building.
*Dealing with inconsistent banking services.

What we fear:
*Settling into a complacent lifestyle without remembering how we could get by with less.
*Being bored after living with so much change.
*Not living in a context in which we are valued for our contributions.
*Overlooking other great opportunities to learn about other cultures.

We close with these nighttime photographs of Sulaimani taken from the rooftop restuarant of a nearby hotel.