November 5, 2007: This website is an archive of the former website, traprockpeace.org, which was created 10 years ago by Charles Jenks. It became one of the most populace sites in the US, and an important resource on the antiwar movement, student activism, 'depleted' uranium and other topics. Jenks authored virtually all of its web pages and multimedia content (photographs, audio, video, and pdf files. As the author and registered owner of that site, his purpose here is to preserve an important slice of the history of the grassroots peace movement in the US over the past decade. He is maintaining this historical archive as a service to the greater peace movement, and to the many friends of Traprock Peace Center. Blogs have been consolidated and the calendar has been archived for security reasons; all other links remain the same, and virtually all blog content remains intact.THIS SITE NO LONGER REFLECTS THE CURRENT AND ONGOING WORK OF TRAPROCK PEACE CENTER, which has reorganized its board and moved to Greenfield, Mass. To contact Traprock Peace Center, call 413-773-7427 or visit its site. Charles Jenks is posting new material to PeaceJournal.org, a multimedia blog and resource center.
See previous Baghdad Briefing Notes
and Rick McDowell's pre-invasion reminder of victims of war in Iraq
My dear friends,
It has been entirely too long since I last wrote. Our time in the Middle East has lengthened as each day confirms our feeling that this is where we should be.
Because of such a long time lapse some of you may not know what we are doing here. As the fight for Baghdad came to an abrupt halt, AFSC asked us if we would take a three month contract as Iraq County Reps. We wanted to come to Baghdad and this was a good opportunity to do this and to continue the work with AFSC that we had started in Amman. At the end of April we traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Hilla and Mosul on a relief assessment trip for AFSC with other members of ACT (Action for Churches Together Ă a world wide coalition of 160+ church relief agencies). On May 1 we started our contract with AFSC and after a brief time in Amman we settled in Baghdad. We will be here until the end of July, go back to the states for a month, and then hopefully return here. After a couple of weeks in a hotel, we have found a nice apartment. One of our jobs here is writing for the AFSC website, so take a look at www.afsc.org Well, that═s the bare bones of it.
t is difficult to begin to describe what it is like over here. As I start this letter one day and then attempt to finish it the next, I realize that everything is so fluid here that any description feels somewhat inaccurate. So please keep that in mind.
Baghdad is a very old, large city. It is covered with dust: the never ending dust of a city that sits in the middle of a desert, the dust of city that is worn out from 12 years of sanctions, the dust of 3 wars. It is also very hot at this time of year. When you go outside during the day, it takes your breath away and never gives it back. And when you try to sleep at night, especially with no air conditioning because of no electricity, it is impossible.
Baghdad is also a very modern, cosmopolitan city. You can find any kind of computer equipment, satellite dishes, even a French press coffee pot at the corner store. But you can═t call from one city to another or overseas or in many neighborhoods from one part of the city to another part of the city Ă the communications systems were considerably damaged by the war. Often you cannot cook a meal in your electric oven unless you try to guess when the electricity will be on and when it will be off. If you forget to turn the water pump on when the electricity is on, you won═t have any water. And everything electrical is subjected to the constant power surges that accompany a severely destroyed grid, so refrigerators, pumps, air conditioners, etc are constantly being fried. Now, of course, all this presumes you were lucky enough to have had enough money to have any of this in the first place. And even if that is true, now there is no pay, no jobs, no banks.
And people are afraid. Fear is not unusual here. Under the regime, everyone was afraid to talk openly. But this is a different fear. People are afraid to go out, not just at night but - especially for women - even during the day. This is a new fear and imprisons everyone. They are afraid of the increasing violence. Today at noon we heard gunfire in the neighborhood Ă not a little but sustained automatic fire. When the Dominican sisters, who live in our neighborhood and have adopted us as family, dropped by this afternoon, they said it was a car jacking where the driver Ă a woman Ă was dragged from her car by the hair in a hail of gunfire. This kind of violence in the streets is new to Iraqis. They want their life back. This is a city where people were on the streets all day and most of the night. Especially at night Ă especially during the long, hot summers when meals are at 9pm or later and people come out after the blazing sun has set. But not now, now people make sure they are home before dusk Ă and most of the city closes down by late afternoon. Parents are afraid to allow their children to walk to the neighborhood schools alone as reports of abductions circulate in the city.
And people are afraid of what the future might hold. Daily, there are increasing attacks on the Coalition Forces. Everyone becomes vulnerable to these attacks as convoys move around the city among the general population. A most distressing sight has been the soldiers playing with the children on and around their tanks and armed vehicles. There is always something inhuman about people with guns hanging out with children. But on a walk past the local police station yesterday, which is manned by armed American soldiers and unarmed Iraqi police, surrounded by razor wire and tanks, we saw children climbing on the tanks as the military, fully armed and in flak jackets and helmets, ˝playedţ with them. This is especially unacceptable and dangerous, as the Coalition Forces are on high alert because of the increase in targeted attacks against them. They are here by choice Ă how can they put these children at risk?
Ah, I started another paragraph about all that is wrong here when I realized I have not told you all that is right. It is impossible to know what hospitality means until you have lived with these people. Everywhere you go, you are offered a tea, a coffee, a soda, and if there is nothing else, some water. During the hot summer days, you will always be offered water as you come in out of the sun. A plate of cookies or cakes or candy will always be passed around. I said that our friends the Dominican sisters have adopted us. They have brought us sheets for our beds, vegetables for our dinner, fresh yogurt and cheese, and today when we stopped into say hi, they handed us two large, freshly baked pizzas. If we do not drop in for a few days because of our schedule, they come by to see if we are ok. Our next-door neighbors, who are also our landlords, invited us to lunch the day after we moved in. And on Rick═s birthday, we had just returned from a trip to Mosul in the north, when they brought over a beautiful cake for his birthday. Zoya said she thought I would not have time to make one or buy one.
When people greet you or say good-bye, they put their hand on their heart. And the phrase in parting is Ma═assalma Ă peace be with you. It flows from the lips of everyone from your friend to the taxi driver.
What will become of Iraq? Nobody seems to know. For the people of Iraq, it must seem like more of the same Ă a harsh present, an uncertain future. For them, freedom from the oppression of the regime has not brought what people need to feel free: security, jobs, food, water. A doctor in Mosul said to me last week: ˝You know for us there is no difference between the American Occupation and the regime of Saddam. Previously we were in a big prison; now we are in a bigger prison.ţ
To all of you, thank you for your continuing support. We feel extremely blessed to be here.
Mary and Rick
Page created June 18, 2003 by Charlie Jenks