Last evening I was with what seemed to be about 200 or so others who had gathered to honor Sami Rasouli at the Crescent Moon Banquet Hall in northeast Minneapolis.
Sami: native of Najaf, Iraq; thence Minneapolis resident and restaurateur and U.S. citizen; thence back to Najaf to work at restoring destroyed relationships between the U.S. and Iraq; establishing Muslim Peacemaker Teams on the model of Christian Peacemaker Teams. Sami also was the inspiration which became the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project.
It was an inspiring evening, and I’m glad I went over to northeast Minneapolis. The evening was an honor richly deserved by Sami Rasouli.
The name “Sami Rasouli” is well known in the peace and justice community, and the cuisine community of the Twin Cities. His Sinbad’s restaurant was well known. In fact, the first speaker last night was Jeremy Iggers, long the Food critic of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and more recently Executive Director of Twin Cities Media Alliance, which publishes the popular on-line newspaper, the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
In 2009, the city of Minneapolis entered into a ‘sister city’ relationship with Sammy’s home city of Najaf, Iraq. It is not a routine matter to become a sister city, and a real mutual honor to any city which enters into such a relationship. Najaf is one of only nine cities throughout the world that are ‘sister cities’ to Minneapolis, and Minneapolis has an extensive sister city program compared to most.
It is an impossible task to adequately summarize Sami Rasouli in a column such as this, which is why I reference the google page on Sami above.
Enroute home after last nights event, I decided to word search my computer to find out whence came my first reference to Sami Rasouli. The result, two very long posts from Iraq in early 2005, are at the end of this blog. Similarly, the first photograph I have is from a meeting with Cong. Betty McCollum’s staff in St. Paul in March of 2007. That photo is below.
At an early point I was asked to join the committee which ultimately resulted in the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project. I participated but only for a very short time, solely because there are only so many hours in a day, and too many possibilities of things to participate in. I am delighted that the organization endures and is succeeding.
There are many people who are inspirations by their actions. Some are very well known, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
The real inspirational people are those like Sami Rasouli who by largely anonymous work and action every day make this world a better place.
(click to enlarge)
Here are the first two transmissions I have via Sami, filed in early 2005. While very long, I am publishing them unedited to retain the writers full intention.
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2005 05:50:04 -0800 (PST)
From: Sami Rasouli
Subject: My recent trip to Ain At tammer.
I would like you to share with me the following report about my recent trip to Ain At tammer accompanying two courageous Iraqi ladies, Dr. Eman and Dr. Intisar for examining and evaluating the horrible conditions of the people who escaped the destruction of their hometown Fallujah. This story is written by Dr. Eman.
Be safe and may God bless your souls,
Ein Tamor (Spring of Dates) is a small picturesque spot in the western Iraqi desert, 90 kilometers to the west of the sacred Karbala. It is part of a bigger oasis that contains the Razzazah Lake, many smaller towns, date palm and fruit thick orchards surrounding the lake, and a very important historical fortress called Al-Ekheider Castle. In the seventies, this area was developed as a resort; a tourist complex was built in Ein Tamor.
The tourist complex was fifty small flats surrounding the lake and the colorful natural springs. After the 1991 war, and during the UN economic sanctions against Iraq through the nineties until 2003, this tourist area was neglected, like many other similar places all over Iraq. During this period, when tourism was not a priority in Iraq, the complex was mainly visited by newly wed couples who spent their honey moon there. In April 2003, after the occupation of Iraq, the complex was looted and damaged, nothing remained except the walls.
Now it is a refugee camp for more than 50 Fallujan families, who fled the bombing and killings last October. It is like Habbaniya, another refugee camp, which was a tourist complex 40 kilometers to the north, near the Habbaniya Lake.
Obviously, Fallujans fled to these places because there were walls and roofs which can be used as better shelters than tents in the cold season. Ein Tamor, once one of the most beautiful areas of Iraq where picnics were made especially in winter, is now one of the saddest places. To go there, one has to go through the Triangle of death south of Baghdad, where many attacks against the occupying troops take place daily.
Usually it takes an hour to go to Karbalaa. It took us 3 hours, because of the check points, a bombed car that was still on fire, and traffic jam due to fuel (kilometers-long) queues. The roads are not the same. I used to go there to visit my grand mother. These are not the roads I used to go through; they are not roads at all, nothing is straight, just snake-like curves in the dusty wilderness. Paradoxically, the way from Karbalaa to Ein Tamor was calmer, better, and easier to go through, although the Iraqi Human Rights Watch members who accompanied us to the refugee camp warned us of looters.
The refugee camp was a club of sadness. Every one there had a story, even the children.
“No one visited us, except these people” said Sabiha Hashim, pointing to the Iraqi HRW members who accompanied us. She is a crippled widow in her fifties, and a mother of two young boys. She was burnt two years ago, and was handicapped since. Wrapped in a blanket, she was sitting in the middle of her miserable properties. Few dirty dishes, a blackened broken oil lamp that has not been cleaned ever, small primitive oil stove…etc. There was a new electric heater donated by some generous donor, but there was no electricity. Sabiha was silent,” why do not you talk to this lady” Sami of the Iraqi HRW asked her, pointing to me,” she came from Baghdad to see you”.
“She did not ask” replied Sabiha.
“How did you come here?” I asked looking for some thing to say, after I saw her inhuman, totally unacceptable situation.
“The neighbors brought me when the bombing began”
” She promised to give me a dinar for every joke I tell her” said Sami, trying to lighten the very gloomy atmosphere ” she is my fiancée now”
“poor Sami” I said, “now you have to look for 1000 jokes to get 1000 dinars” ($ 0.7)
“What do you need”, I asked Sabiha
“What is it?”
“I do not know, I did not bring the doctor’s receipt, there was no time. It is unfair” that was the only thing Sabiha said about her tragedy.
I looked for my friend Dr. Intisar, she is a pharmacist who is working with me and other Iraqi doctors to help Falluja refugees with medicines and supplies. I could not see her any where, but I could see a big crowd of women and children near the gate.
“Your friend, Dr. Intisar, is examining the children and giving medicines”, said Ismael Chali, a man in his fifties who is helping in running the camp.
It was not raining that day, Ein Tamor was sunny and warm. The gardens are no more than dusty yards now, few dry trees scattered, the once beautiful tourist flats are just walls, with hanging sheets of cloths serving as doors and windows. Falluja women did amazing job keeping the whole place clean.
“May be you want to see this old man” Sami said and pointed to a man sitting in the sun, two crunches in his hands. Hussein Abdul Nabbi, had an accident and broke his thighs. He is the father of a family of 18; two of them are young and very healthy looking men.
“What are you doing here?” I asked them, in a rather criticizing tone.
“Waiting for God’s mercy” one of them replied,” we are cotton carders, our shop was burnt, three electric sewing machines, cotton and cloths that worth 2 million dinars, and other equipments ,all are gone”
“But staying here does not help, does it” I insisted
“We went to Falluja a week ago; we waited the whole day but could not pass through the check points. Next day we went at 3 am, it was not before 3 pm that we could pass through the third sonar check point. Our house was destroyed, there is a huge hole in the ceiling, the fence is totally ruined, and the furniture damaged. The soldiers told us not to move out side the house or open the door after 6 pm. We are not supposed to make any noise; there is no electricity, no water, no shops, no hospitals, and no schools. How are we supposed to live there with our families? There are no families there, only men, those who can not live in tents any longer.”
Other Fallujans told us that burning houses, bombing and looting are still going on until now.
Mustapha, 20 years, a student, said that he found his house, the furniture, the door, and the car destroyed and burnt. But the American soldiers told him not to use any thing from Falluja, not to use the sheets and blankets for example, not to drink water, and that if he does, it is his own decision and he has to take the responsibility for that.
“What does that mean?”
It means that everything in Falluja is contaminated” ”
Ahmad Hashim, a guard in the Falluja sewage station, and a father of 3 children, found his house, which was no more than a room under the water tank, burnt.” If a child gets ill, he simply dies, it is suicide to decide to go back to Falluja now”
Alahin Jalil, a young beautiful wife and a mother of 4 children, decided to go back home , no matter what. She was too tired of difficulties in the refugee camp, “I have to go to Karbalaa for medicines, there is no water here, no fuel, no money” . When she went to Falluja, she found out that her house which was in Nazzal district, one of the most bombed areas in Falluja, was totally destroyed. She decided to return back to the refugee camp, but it was not a better option. “For the whole family we get half a sheet of ampiciline (anti-biotic)
Money was the most difficult problem in the camp. These families consumed all their savings, if they had any. Food is given according to the food ration ID. Many of them fled Falluja without bringing their documents. Those get no food.
“What about the 150.000 dinars that are given to each Falluja family that we read about in the newspapers this week?”
“We never heard about them” every body replied. Where is UN, the Iraqi government, the humanitarian orgs, the Red Crescent, the Red Cross…they asked.
Darawsha is a small village 5 kilometers to the west of Ein Tamor. The Iraqi HRW in Karbalaa told us that its villagers share their houses with Falluja refugees. When we entered Darawsha, I remembered what James Baker said before the 1991 American attack on Iraq. “We will return Iraq to the middle ages” he said. This is not even the middle ages. The narrow muddy streets, small clay huts were dark, cold and crowded with big families. The smoky burning wet branches are not giving warmth to the damp cottages, more than the thick suffocating smoke .
Sheikh Farhan Al-Duleimi, the local council head, said” my name is Farhan (happy), but I am very sad for what happened to Falluja… at the same time this is a good example of the Shiite-Sunni unity in Iraq. Darawsha families are all Shiite, but they are welcoming Sunnis from Falluja as if they are one family, despite the fact that they are poor, and already in need of much help themselves.
We decided to stop in the middle of the village, and to donate the medicines and financial help to the families, promising them and ourselves to come back again to listen to their stories. It was already 4 pm, we need to hurry back because it is too dangerous to be on the highway after sunset. There are at least 85 Falluja families here. Dr. Intisar opened the car box and began to donate medicines. A young, shy girl approached her and said “do you need help, I am a pharmacist”. We asked the villagers to form a committee with at least one woman in it, to receive the money and distribute it on the Falluja refugees.
“You need to go to Rahaliya and Ahmad bin Hashim villages” said Abbass, from the Iraqi HRW, who was accompanying us all the time,” the situation in those refugee camps are much more difficult, and they rarely get any help, because they are too far away”
“Then we need to come back again soon”, I replied
“Yes, you have also to visit refugees from Basra, Amara and the marshes”
“What are you talking about?”
“There are refugees from the south, fleeing from the worsening security situation”
The way back to Baghdad was the most difficult part of the trip. At 5.30 it was deep dark. No lights on the way, no moon and too much dust. Some of the check points were already deserted by security men. The highway was almost empty except of us. “If you were men I would not worry “Ahmad, our driver said. We could tell that he was very tense, reading lines of the Holy Quran all the time, and smoking too much. “Those looters are the worst of criminals”.
Dr. Intisar was very calm and exhausted “I love you” she suddenly said.
I was too tired to ask what made her say so. Surprisingly, we were not afraid at all, of any thing.
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2005 07:15:28 -0800 (PST)
From: Sami Rasouli
Subject: My 3rd trip to fullujah Refuhees Camps on Jan. 21, 05
Here is part II of my third trip I made to refugees of Fallujah in areas of Karbala with Eman, Intisar, Ahmed and Abou Ali the driver. This report is written by my friend Eman again.
Next story will be about the ELECTION IN IRAQ soon.
Be well and may God save your people and protect your cities,
We were supposed to leave to Karabla’a, and from there to two Falloja refugee camps deep in the western desert, at 7 am, but Ahmad who insisted on accompanying us for protection, showed up at 9.00am. I was impatient.
-”I had to stay with my family for awhile; there were American snipers on my roof” he explained…
He told me the story. His wife went up the roof to check the water tank at 4.30am. For the last three days there was no water in Baghdad. Families fill their water tanks at night when water is available some times. It was still dark. On the roof, she was taking another ladder to go up the attic roof, when she heard a “shshshsh …” sound. Stunned, she looked in its direction, she could not figure out what was there, then she realized that there was a man, an American soldier, heavily armed, pointing his gun at her. Another voice, whispering, came from the other side of the roof, this time it was another soldier, a black one. He said some thing in English and the first soldier put his gun down. He waved to her to go down silently. She did, but she did not know what to do next. She decided to wait for a while. Half an hour later she went up again, they were gone. When she waked up her husband she was still shivering, it took him two hours to calm her down.
This is the second day of Eid Aladha (Sacrifice Feast)*. There were not any of the usual Eid manifestations in Baghdad streets, no children in new colorful dresses, no traffic jam of jubilant families celebrating Eid, visiting relatives and friends, going to parks…etc. The streets were almost empty, except for few quickly driving cars, Iraqi National Guards pick ups, filled with young men in black masks pointing their guns in every direction, police cars and a very long line of American big trucks loaded with tanks and many humvees and armored vehicles heading north. The streets themselves were not of Baghdad that we knew. Sand barriers, cement blocks, burned out and destroyed buildings, with many elections posters pasted every where. Dr.Intisar, my friend, the pharmacist with whom I am working on donating medicines and aids for Falluja refugees, was weeping silently as usual. I remembered that Christmas and New Year celebrations were canceled too. This is the election season, which is in Iraq very different from any where else; it is also the season of extreme insecurity.
On the Way
On the way, through what is called now the Triangle of death south of Baghdad, the situation was worse. Too long queues at the check points, even longer queues at fuel stations, many ING pick ups stopping at the road sides, too serious masked men jump quickly and run in different directions, obviously on a dangerous duty. Some of them were at the check points handing over elections announcements, many burned or destroyed cars, walls covered with bullet shot holes . One of the buildings in Haswa was flattened to the ground; a new neighboring building was thickly surrounded by 2 meter high sand barriers.” This is the new police station “Abu Hussein, our driver said “the other one was exploded by cooking gas tubes”. He is from Najaf, and he works on this line long enough to be well-known at the check points. Some times we were delayed for an American patrol to pass.
Different kind of Refugees
Mr. Mohannad Al-Kinany, the Iraqi Human Rights director, with all other members, happily volunteered to help us around again. We told him that we want to see the Falluja refugee camps and the refugees from the south too. He explained to us the story of the southern refugees and how badly they are in need of help. Karbala’a population is around 790.000 thousands, he said, now they are 1.050.000. Over 200.000 refugees came since the 1990s, from Basra, Nasiriya, the marshes, Amara, and Samawa, over 70.000 came after the occupation in 2003. “It is a big problem that no one is taking care of”. These refugee communities have become a fertile ground for crime. We decided to spend the next day in these places.
Ahmad bin Hashim
On the way to Ahmad bin Hashim village (ABH) we passed by Ein Tamor camp, to greet them for the Eid and to give them the medicines that they asked for two weeks ago when we visited them last time.
Ahmad bin Hashim is the name of a grandson of Imam Mosa Al-Kadhim or Imam Al-Hassan (both are of the 12 imams in Islam who are descendants of the Prophet Mohammad family). It has been a sacred place where people visit to get the blessings in a kind of pilgrimage. It is a very beautiful calm village west of Razzaza lake. The villagers built rows of big rooms for pilgrims coming from far away places. These rooms are now the Falluja refugee camps.
Near ABH there is also an unexcavated historical site that goes back to about 4000 years. It was protected by the Iraqi police and the Tourism State Institute before the occupation. Mohannad told us that this very culturally precious site was looted after the invasion, and that the Iraqi HRW in Karbala’a has documented everything on tapes. He told us how looters attacked the place, dug the tombs and stole what ever was buried there of historical jewelry, beads and household properties… The place is buried again now by tons of sand for protection, we could see the large freshly covered area on the foot of a big castle called the Berthaweel Castle in the middle of the desert.
There are 18 Falluja families living in the ABH pilgrims’ rooms. The majority of them were from Jolan district in Falluja, which was heavily bombed last October. As expected, there is no electricity, no clean water, to bathrooms in the pilgrim’s rooms. Mohannad who owns a hotel in Karbala’a offered his hotel free to these families, but they preferred to stay near the shrine. Ten other hotel owners in Karbala’a did the same. These relatively wealthy people and others formed a group called the Karbala’i Group to collect and donate aid to the Falluja refugees here and in other places. It is another example of the Iraqi people unity between Shiite and Sunnis.
The rooms are very primitive, just roofed walls. Falluja women kept them very clean and tidy, although the rooms were used for sleeping, cooking, washing and living. The most needed thing here is medical. The sick and the old are most hurt, and of course women because they have to run everything in this too difficult environment.
Abdulrahman Khalaf, for example, suffers from chronic schizophrenia that goes back to his years in the Iranian POW camps in the 1980s. He is married, has 6 children, and very friendly. His only abnormality is repeating himself many times.
-”I am the honored one, I am the honored one, I am the honored one, I am the…..” He repeated at least 8 times, replying to Sami of the Iraqi HRW when he said “I am honored to meet you”.
He was repeating the number 50, tens of times. I felt so ashamed of myself when I thought he was asking for $50, because his relatives explained that he needs Modicate injections/50 m, and that was what he was asking me. They showed me his chronic diseases card; he used to get his medications from Falluja hospital free, as all Iraqis who have chronic illnesses used to in the past. Not any longer. I promised to bring him the medicine as soon as I can get them from Baghdad.
Solution rather than Aid
Aalaa’ Hussein, 6 years, suffers from hemiplegia; She looks ok except for her left leg which was shorter and slack. Naufa Hamza, awoman in her70s, suffers from joints pain. Tilba Ali, another old woman who does not know her age, 60 or 70, she said, suffers from diabetes. Sahira Ali, 35, suffers from hormone abnormality; she keeps on getting fatter and fatter. She also suffers from chronic diarrhea, “because of the water” she explained. Dr.Intisar saw them all and promised to send the medicines. Ahmad was busy giving the children some toys donated by the American Families for Peace delegation. I tried to take some pictures of the children, but a young tall man, dashed in, and threatened to beat one of the young girls who joined the others for the picture
“What kind of help is this, just for the media, I know your kind” he was talking to me.
“I understand your feelings very well” I replied, and did not take the picture. “Please do not beat her, here is my camera, I did not take the picture”. He left silently, giving me a very angry look.
Other men apologized, and invited us for lunch.
UN Silence Unacceptable
I did understand his feelings; at many times I feel the bitter humiliation these people feel. They do need aid, but what they need more is a solution to their problem. They are not beggars. They used to have their houses, jobs, lives and every thing. May be they were not rich, but they were dignified. Everyone said that they want to go back to Falluja. This is a big human rights violation that must be investigated, accounted for, and compensated. International organizations, especially the UN, should give this problem the utmost priority. The occupation is responsible for their misery. Silence, justifications, excuses are totally unacceptable. All the human rights, political, medical, law, journalists, teachers….organizations all over the world should not keep silent to these crimes.
Rahaliya Refugee Camps
Rahaliya is a village on the borders of Anbar. Mohannad told us that there are at least 150 families here. I realized that I am in a big problem. I can hardly cover 30 families
, and by covering I mean giving them a gift for Eid Al-Adha. We decided to visit 3 camps where there are many families. There were two schools and a clinic where such camps are, again promising ourselves and the others to try to come back. In the first school, Al-Waha Al-Khadra (the Green Oasis) which is a boys’ high school, 15 Falluja families live, each one(or more) in a class room, the teachers’, and the director’s. The director’s story is interesting. When the refugees came last summer, he decided to give them the school except his room where he kept the files, books and documents. In the last minute a woman came with her children, she had no place to stay in, he gave her the room. The school time table is still hanging on her stove, the books piled under the mattresses. The desks are piled in the unpaved yard, on which children clothes are hanged now to dry.
-”What about the students?!” was my question.
-” there are no schools in all the cities of the Anbar governorates this year, the students just had mid-year exam formally, the boys in the yard and the girls in one class room”
-”what about other schools?” I insisted
-” it is the same in the majority of Anbar schools”. Children gathered near the desks pretending to be very polite to get Ahmad’s toys. Their naughty eyes exposed every thing. Sami, Dr Intisar and Ahmad were very happy with them, asking for more and more pictures.
Beida’a, Iqbal, Amaal, Sajida, Haala, Montaha, Aziza, Um Sofian, Sundos… and others were young women and mothers running the camp. They were heroines, simply, doing an extraordinarily amazing job keeping life going on as smoothly as possible. Cleaning, cooking, making fires, washing, baking bread, and taking care of the children. But Sami was unhappy. He asked Sundos who was a teacher” why did not you open a class for these children?” she was embarrassed, “this is a good idea”, she replied” I will think about it”
When Sajida talked, dr.Intisar could not help her tears. Sajida is a very beautiful girl in her early 20s. She suffers from some kind of brain damage that made it difficult for her to speak normally. She lives in a room with her mother who sells petty things on the street side. Thier room was destroyed. Sajida made a great effort to tell us how her glass dishes, cups and other small belongings were smashed.
I asked Ghazi Mnachid, an assistant doctor in Rahaliya clinic about the situation. “Very bad” was his reply, “we need medicines” and he gave me a long list of most needed medicines. The majority were children’s. Cold, fever, antibiotics, skin, intestinal worms…etc. The most dangerous thing is that there are no vaccines in the clinic. This village is in danger of a health catastrophe if this problem is not solved soon.
All the women agreed that the bathroom is most difficult thing. The toilets were more than 50 meters away from the nearest class room; mothers have to take children all this distance in the cold at night. With no electricity, no water, no fuel, it is almost a miracle that women can manage to take care of the children, and keep so clean and tidy rooms. “You should see the well we dug behind the school, you would not believe it” Iqbal Abdulla , 29, a mother of 5, said. Some times women go to a brook outside the village to wash in cleaner water.
Night in the Camp
“It is almost 5″ Mohannad said, “we need to go back to Karbala’a now, it is becoming too dangerous now”
“I am staying here. I need to listen to these women, I need to see how they live here” I said. Dr. Intisar, Ahmad and Sami exchanged glances. Dr.Intisar pulled my arm and took me a side “these people can barely manage their food and supplies, you are embarrassing them”. Falluja people are well-known for their extreme hospitality; they would do any thing to make the guest comfortable. Actually there are many jokes on there almost illogical hospitality. We had some food, but we know that it is almost a crime even to show your food while you are in a Falluja house. I know that Dr.Intisar was right.
“I can just put my head on my arm and sleep, I do not need any thing, you go if you want” I insisted again. Sami was the first to approve and support.
“I am not leaving you alone here” Dr. Intisar said. Ahmad and the driver had nothing else to say.
We decided to go to the clinic first, then to visit the Refugee houses. We had plenty of time to talk.
“Dinner is going to be here” said Mohammad Abdulla, a taxi driver who is unemployed now.
“No, dinner is at my place” Ghazi objected, referring to the clinic camp.
“Listen, we are here to work, let us finish the job, and then see what we can do about dinner invitations” I said.
Many men gathered to talk to us in the Diwaniya (guest room for men). Beautiful mattresses and pillows were layed on the ground for us to sit on.
“Why do not you ask the women to join us?” I asked, although I know that women do not share such men gathering in Falluja. “May be you can talk to them later” replied Ggazi.
They began to tell their stories. The houses which were bombed, burnt, looted and occupied…
“What do mean by occupied” I asked the speaker.
“Our house is occupied now by the American troops, it is now a headquarter for one battalion”
“I do not know. But the Iraqis are down stairs and the Americans are on the second floor. Actually they took the neighboring house too, and opened the wall between the two houses. It is not a house any more. It is surrounded by barbed wires, the aerials on the roof; we can not even go near”
“What did you do?”
“I went to them; I asked them to give me back my house, an Iraqi captain said this is impossible, I asked what am I going to do, he replied: go wherever you want to go. My mother does not want to give up. She goes there every day; sits in front of the house til the afternoon, just looking at her house.”
Another man sitting in the room laughed and said” prepare your self, you are going to be arrested tomorrow”
-”are there any foreigners fighting in Falluja?
-”even if there are, how do we know! They do not go around saying we are foreign fighters. The majority are Fallujans defending their houses. Many of them were killed guarding their homes. There are bodies till now in some places like Alqudoos mosque, many injured people were shot in the head, and few injured people were left. Falluja smells very bad”
Living in a Barn
The other man lives in a cow barn now. There is a store room in the barn that he sleeps in with his family, a wife and 6 children. The room was dim, wet and smelling bad. Again the main problem for the wife was the toilet for the children, especially at night. This man went to Falluja the day before, he went on a wrong road mistakenly, his car was shot but he was not injured. A tank approached and hit his car from the back. The soldiers told him to get down; they tied his hands, put a sac on his head and took him through a zigzag road. They investigated him for two hours, then let him go.
“Why did not you ask them to pay for repairing the car?” I asked….
“I wanted to run away as soon as possible, I was afraid that they are going to arrest me again”
Abid Awad Sheilam, a driver in his 50s, is a father of a family of 12. They live in an unfinished house structure whose owner let them to use, but Abid had to put a roof for one of the room. He did, using date palm trunk and leaves and a tent donated by Rahaliya mosque sheikh.
“Oh, this smell!” Sami said, taking a deep breath, while we were entering the roofless house. It was a typical Iraqi farm smell, a mixture of smoke, fresh bread being baked, fire, thick green plantations, and dust. It was not dark yet, there were few deep red lines still hanging in the sky, dog barking in the distance. Abid’s daughter was preparing the traditional Iraqi fire place, manqala. There were two empty water barrels.
“How do you get water?” I asked
“Water tank car comes some times and fill the barrels, now the driver says he has no gasoline, we have to pay him to come again”
Shiha, Abid’s 98 year old mother, was deaf and blind. She kept on kissing Ahmad, Dr. Intisar and Sami, and cursing Bush for preventing her of going back to Falluja. There was no door, just a sheet of cloth. Another sheet traditionally embroidered “In the Name of God, the most Gracious, and the most merciful”. The family told us how their house in Jolan was shot, how the furniture was destroyed. Strangely enough, every body we met told us how their glass and porcelain buffet were smashed. The American soldiers must have fun smashing these things.
Sami told the family how he spent 20 years in the US, how his friends were crying in the good by party, how they asked him to tell the Iraqi people that they have nothing to do with killing the Iraqis and occupying their country.
Sami asked Lina, 15, one of Abid’s daughters:” If I were an American soldier what would you want to tell me?”
“Get out of my country”
“and if I were a civilian American coming as a guest?”
“I would say you are welcome, you can stay”
“for how long?”
“As long as you need”
Abid said we thank the American people who reject the war. Isam, a neighbor in his 30s, a graduate of electricity institute, but studying to be a teacher now, said the resistance is legal, as far as there is occupation people resist. We do not want to be humiliated. We do not want them (the American) to be humiliated. But they did not suffer as we did.
Mohammad Kreidi, is 85, he lives with his 4 sons and there families in one house. He can barely feel what is going on around him, he was dying. Dawood Obeid is 73, he suffers from muscles atrophy, and he lives in another house with his 15 daughters and sons….
We had to go back to the school camp. The women have baked fresh bread, cooked dinner and were waiting for us.
Back to the school
It was very dark in the school, the oil lamps can hardly help in the big class rooms, neither the fading embers, or the kerosene heaters which were sending suffocating smoke. It was getting very cold; obviously it was going to rain. Dinner was a big meal, with meat, beans, rice, salad, potatoes, typical Falluja tea, black, sweet and hot, and even Eid cookies. The women helped us wash in warm water.
I was telling them how deeply impressed I am with the wonderful work they are doing in the camp. Sundos said that 25 years of war taught us a lot. Her father was the first man to enter Falluja ten days after the October bombing was over.” The decomposed bodies’ smell was the most hideous thing “he said. Many people stayed in Falluja because they did not imagine that it was going to be so notorious, and because they had no place to go to. Some are still under the rubbles till now. Many houses and shops were looted, even after the bombing stopped. Sundos and her mother tried to go back to Falluja; they found a 20 kilometer queue of cars.
The American soldiers were using obscene words, if some body objected they beat and arrest him. One soldier near the new bridge was repeating “Haush ,Baa’ …Haush, Baa’”(calling the people cows and sheep).
When we went to the toilet we realized what the women were talking about. It was already raining, we had to cross the unpaved yard to the toilet which was dark, blocked, and there was no water. The drain was open, sending very bad smell. Dr. Intisar was furious; she gave the men hard words for leaving the drain open, jeopardizing the children lives and every body’s health.
The night was noisy with foxes and wolves howl. We had to leave early in the morning. It was colder and the still raining heavily. We had other kind of refugee camps to visit and write about. Sami had to attend a training course in the Iraqi HRW office, as a facilitator. It is a course suggested by the Christian Peacemakers Team, an organization which has been working in Iraq for more than two years. This training course is about creating an Islamic Peacemakers Team.
I am supposed to write now about the Karbala’a refugee camps, the 200.000 thousands refugees on the outskirts of the city. But this story is already very long, the new one is different and my computer battery is running out in few minutes.
*Aladha Eid is connected to Mecca pilgrimage. God ordered Prophet Abraham in Mecca to slaughter his son, when he was about to do it, God sent him a ram to slaughter instead of his son. In this Eid Moslems slaughter sheep and feed the poor, and to celebrate the Mecca pilgrimage.