Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I'm not the only one.....

That thinks it's better security to travel "under the radar" apparently....

Friday, October 21, 2005

As Promised....

I took these as I walked...between the greens of life, the yellows of melancholy, and the reds of passion.....I love autumn and yet it's beauty weighs heavy on winter draws nearer and I'm seeking warmth, and the promises of spring.

Saddam's of conciousness...

It's January of 91, and I'm watching the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. I've no idea what it is like to be in a war other than the Cold War in my lifetime. I will look back 14 years later and wish I'd gone and joined the military. I always thought I'd never be any good at it, as I've got a bit of a rebellious streak. Of course now I'm old enough to know that those usually turn out to be good military types. Someone strong to be broken and still be standing after.

It is late 1990's, almost 2000. My father is dying, and I spend a lot of time reading while I am caring for him. I finally get to read some books written by Freya Stark that I've been wanting to read for years that contain vivid descriptions of early Iraq, when the state is first created. I devour them, and become intrigued by the land and the people described, in a way that feels different from anything that I have read before.

It's early 2003. I know what is coming in Iraq, and I'm waiting for it. I'm listening to every Iraqi expat I can to try and find out what their opinions are.

It's April 9, 2003. And who does not think of Saddam on that day, as the statue is pulled down? We think of him, yes, as defeated and destroyed. The statue is just a symbol, but a powerful one indeed.

It's November of 2003. I'm reading Iraqi blogs as they start popping up, and I'm addicted. It's the only way I want to hear news on Iraq, good or bad, from the people living it.

It's September of 2004. I'm having lunch with Iraqis at a place in DC. They are from all over Iraq; Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, of them knows someone I know in Baghdad. It's a small world, and for me it's getting smaller daily. I hold the hands of a woman I've never met before over the table, as tears roll down our faces, while she tells me of the sufferings of her family from Saddam. I call her a woman, she is only 23 years old, but she has lived lifetimes compared to most women I know. She is an interpreter for the US Army. Her sister shot dead by the terrorists only months before, because they thought it was her, and she is considered an 'infidel', working for the Americans. She went right back to work. She says, "I will not let them win." She speaks with absolute passion about America. When I ask her, "what would help Iraq the most?" she answers without hesitation, "bring them here, especially the young ones, my age, and show them what freedom is like, show them how hard people work here but also what they get for that, and how they live, and show them what is possible, for we can't imagine that which we have never seen." I tell her that there is a very big concern that doing that would only encourage them to leave, because once they have seen an easier life, they will try to get out and not stay to help Iraq. She cries, "No!" and many at the table join in with her and state that Iraqis will not do this, they will not leave their country, and those that do, always return there. I can understand this, as an American if my country needed me I would not leave, and if I were away and she needed me, I would come. The man next to me says, as he sees us talking, "you must understand this...everyone, everyone in Iraq has friends or family that has been killed by this regime." He told me that his extended family (which can be quite large in Iraq) had 12 killed.

At this point, I'm thinking that my country needs me not so much here, as maybe I'm needed in another place.

October 2004....another meeting, this one tells me something certain. Some of us are just taken with a specific culture or people. My brother in law loves Africa and its people. People think he's crazy. So, call me crazy....

March 2005....I land in Iraq, finally. I feel at home. So, call me crazy again.

For so many Iraqis, Saddam causes feelings of pain, hatred, fear, and suffering, I know that too well, as I have seen many tears shed from it, and worse are the ones that are not shed because the pain is past tears. He is, however, made of flesh and bone, and like all humans, can be hurt or killed, though I think that what will kill him the most will be humiliation.

So, really, when I see Saddam, I see what brought me to where I am today.....and though I wish more than anything that Iraq had not to go through what she has been through these past years, especially the past 15 years....I am quite aware Saddam, in some way, changed my life when he changed others...

In even the very worst cases of evil....if something good can come of it, then evil has not won, and justice will be served. I was just trying to be a tiny piece of the good for a few people, which turned out to be nothing when compared to what they've given me.

Aasha Al-Iraq......Lelabad.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Iraq-Word on the Street

Friends from Baghdad to Erbil (Shia, Kurd, and Sunni) today had this to say:

"It's the quietest I've heard it even since January." -(extremely notable in Baghdad)
"The terrorists did not attack today because they wanted the Sunni to come out and vote no, in hopes of it making a divide....but it will not."
"Everyone is happy to vote, even if they are confused on their feelings of the draft."

Either way, this vote was a success. Because, either way, everyone's interests will get served (though I tend to believe that they'll get served sooner with a yes vote than a no, but only since there was agreement to amend the Constitution this week).

Here's what I'm waiting for....from the MSM....ready? I'm telling you, it's coming if it hasn't already. (Keep reading all of the Iraqi blogs for the ground view, the reporting has been amazing!)

"It's widely believed that the reason for the relative quiet (not success-they won't use that word) in Iraq's referendum vote is that the Sunni, who make up a large part of the insurgency in Iraq were out voting today." (-insunating that if the Sunni don't get their way in the vote, you watch, the insurgency will start right up again)

As opposed to the reality, which, as far as I can tell is more like this:

"Today's success in Iraq's referendum vote was in large part because the terrorists hope to divide the country, and were counting on a "no" vote from the Sunni to help them do it, which means that they didn't try to destabilize large areas of Sunni voters. However, if the overall vote is a "no" on the Constitution, another interim government would be elected, which, although it would be a time setback, wouldn't be all that much different than what is going to happen anyhow, which is an inclusion of all interested parties in the process that are willing to work through compromises needed to form a permanent government and Constitution ."

Zarquawi's worst nightmare came true when the Sunni based Islamic Party had the courage to push forward and get themselves involved enough by showing their willingness to compromise and thus his options for causing a descent into civil war by division of the sects in the country were greatly hurt.

One more mile down on the race to liberty and self rule of law for Iraq.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

To Iraq, with Love

To my Iraqi friends:

One hour since polls closed and I'm thinking of you. I hope that you all are safe and most of all I wish for you to savor the freedom you have worked so very hard for, and to thank you for being my friends, my guides, my educators, from Erbil to Kirkuk to Baghdad and beyond, I thank you for allowing me to share your journey. You've opened your homes, your kitchens, shared your children, your lives, your hearts with me, and I will always be grateful.

To our American Soldiers in Iraq:

First, to my brother in law in Ramadi, and to his family for their sacrifices, thank you.
To all of the other soldiers there, especially the Marines and Army guys who I was privledged to work with so much of last year.....thank you. Thank you all for protecting two things dear to my heart, our way of life, (my family here) and the rights of others to enjoy the same freedoms (my family in Iraq).

To Iraqi Soldiers:

Thank you. You are now standing with my brother in law in Ramadi, and your lives depend on each others actions daily. And we've seen the price you pay to choose this work, to be the guardians and warriors for your country. You are filled with a high charge. Iraq's future depends more on you than on the politicians in some ways. First rule to have law and order is "secure the area". You are the first line of defense of the laws that will rule your nation in upcoming years. I thank you, both for your work with my country's soldiers and for your protection of all my loved ones in Iraq.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Iraq Will Shame Us Again.......

By voter turnout for the Constitutional referendum being even higher than it was in January's elections, and thus higher % wise than any vote we've had in recent history here.

Yes, the title for the post is a play on words-wrought from an argument I had with a very strong dissenter of our foreign policy (nice guy, can't hold his own in a debate, fellow school parent, he's a professor in sociology, enough said?) before, during, and after the January elections in Iraq. He didn't believe me when I repeatedly professed my faith that the elections in January would yield a high turnout despite the fact that much of Anbar province wouldn't vote (heck Fallujah was just barely being rebuilt from November's Ops at that point). When he asked me how high, and I said as high as 70%, he scoffed. After the counts were coming in, and it looked like high 60 percentiles, he said "not quite the 70's% you thought, was it?" I, in turn said, "higher than the turnout for our last election, and any one in recent memory, and we don't have to brave death to vote, rather puts it in perspective doesn't it?"

If there ever was an "every person can make a difference" story, Iraq is it. There are people that have been working tirelessly in and out of the political arena to make things work that have made this compromise come to fruition that will never be known.....except by the way that the next generations get to live....

Is this your view of Iraq? Christians and Muslims make music and friendships in a school band. Because before they are either of those, they are kids first.

Whether a shepherd's son, or city kids, they are the future, and they can hold their traditions and customs while allowing for freedom among them, if only their elders continue creating and keeping the balance in the coming years. They are certainly proving to the world right now that they are willing to give their lives to try to make it work. And many of us are grateful and proud to have been witness to this. Count me among them.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Traveling Jordan-1 year later

A year ago today I took my first trip out of Amman to Petra. It was, in many ways, the first day of the rest of my life. It changed me. A friend here had told me that going to Petra was a spiritual experience for him, and that he didn't expect it. He had absolutely forbid me to leave the country without going. I had a meeting to attend to that gave me that chance, leaving me with a day free in between meetings, so I went.

It was the way the light played on the ancient rocks....ethereal. Europe feels historical, it's so old compared to America. But the Middle East feels spiritual, knowing that you are walking on places that others have walked on for thousands of years gives a different context to life.

There are caves everywhere in Petra, and I wanted to explore all of them...

The rock differs in coloration and formation as you walk along. You see more reds in some places, more muted colors of the desert sand in others. But I can not explain the way that I felt, in parts it was almost like being in an outdoor cathedral, and life was simple for moments and my soul was singing.

It was almost as if by being taken so far out of my normal life experience it allowed me to remember who I was, on a very base human level. And for a day I felt free, from the running about, from the grind of working, from my thoughts. For the moment I was just soaking up the wonder of being alive. Of how alike we really all are, more than we are different.

And then you come to this. This is the celebrated Khazneh (meaning treasury). It is by far the most recognizable image of Petra. It truly is so much more impressive in life than can be captured in photos. The detail is amazing, more so when you think of how it actually would have had to have been done.
I was saddened though, by the stands there selling tourist trinkets. There is the requisite camel that is laying in front as well. The camel was fine, but I felt that the feeling of being purely in a place where you felt part of history was ruined a bit by the touristy market stalls down in this area. I wish they'd keep all of those for the beginning/end of where you come in, at the visitors center.

Since then I've been back to Jordan many times. On my most recent trip I went to the Dead Sea between stops. It seems hard for me to believe that the first time I went I was briefed on how to catch the difference between Al-Q operatives and Jordanian Intel. It all seems rather odd to me now, as I have become comfortable in Jordan. And as I looked out over the Dead Sea to Israel, I couldn't help but remember that really, it is quite a small world that we share. I'm grateful to have had a chance to taste both sides, east and west, and to live in the best country in the world, yes I love the Middle East, but I love my America. Some say we are so far apart. I say we are closer than people know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy 8th Birthday!

To my son, Brendan!

The news IS out there...if you dare to find it

This post at Michael Totten's made me nod so hard my neck hurt.

I've heard similar things myself every time I've gone to Iraq. Now I know Iraq isn't Hezbollah HQ. However, like this, it's based on a large information gap that most Americans just aren't in the loop on.

The last time I was in NY (last month), I was having a discussion with some members of the NY Tech Meetup Group. I was the only one that had been to Iraq. We were having a discussion surrounding technology and how it translates to societies that aren't as technologically advanced. There were still people there that were astonished to know that Iraq had net cafes even in the marshes of Basra. There were people that said that people in 3rd world countries didn't rely on technology the way that we do, and because of that there are primitive ways of communicating that are in place that work better. (This was based on a discussion of the communication breakdown during Katrina's wake.) Anyhow, one thing led to another, and someone asked me the first question.

First thing almost everyone says when they hear that I've been to Iraq. "So, you're military then?"

Second, when they find out I'm not: "Aren't you scared?"

Third, when I've told them that more of the country than not is actually secure when broken into provinces....
"Yeah but.........."

Anyhow, the questioning then leads to this, for which I am honestly grateful. "So what's your view of things over there?"

But then, they don't always really want to listen to your view if it doesn't jive with theirs. Because then someone's world would have to spin into grays and not black and whites, which are much more comfortable to deal with. The reality is gray.

In this discussion we ended up somehow getting off on a tangent. As I recall, I re-told the story of when I was there on the second anniversary of OIF. Of how American flags were flown next to Iraqi and Kurdish ones on that day. Of how people said to me "thank you, thank you" all day if they knew I was American. Of how I came back to where I was staying that night to a television blaring reports of anti-war protests in London, in NY, in DC on that date marking the anniversary of the beginning of OIF.

Then people say, "well why don't we hear that here?" "I mean, you are telling me this happened, but I never saw it reported!" To which I always respond, "why do you think?" I, for one, actually do not think that in many cases it is deliberate in regards to Iraq. No, you heard me, I am not blaming it on media bias. Not because I think there is none, but because I think that it isn't the largest contributing factor.

(-Note to both sides-dispense with the blame game-blame the media, blame the corporations, blame the power bases, blame Soros, blame Rove, it doesn't do a damned thing to convince someone that you are able to listen to their viewpoint when you do that, you might as well stop right there....not to speak of the valuable time and energy that could be put to use DOING something about how you feel....but I digress.)

Back to my answer on why I think nobody sees that kind of story.

I think that it is simply that most foreigners in Iraq are in one of two places. They are either in the "zone" (green, international, whatever you want to call it), or they are embedded with the military. Now, if you are in the zone, you DO have the opportunity to talk to Iraqis (plenty of them live and work there), but there are a few issues there. One, most of them won't talk to you if you are press, especially television, for fear of being killed in retaliation. Two, there is an inherent assumption that because they work in the green zone, they don't represent Iraq-(odd, popular elected officials are housed there, but somehow, they don't represent Iraq). Three, the language barrier is a hard one to overcome. Same with the Military, but different problems. The first issue is the same, there is a fear of being seen talking with the Military. It was not like that in the beginning of OIF, but today, many more Iraqis are worried about terrorist spies. The second issue is close as well, inherent assumption that if they are talking to the military, then they are supportive of OIF, so why bother questioning them.

Drill down one more level. Mix with the people directly. Dangerous, yes, it can be, if you don't do your homework, and you don't have trusted people. As an American, I know that I'm a commodity there. I'm worth money to terrorists, who have it in spades in a lot of cases, and as always, the lure of money is powerful. There is also the inherent assumption that every American is "rich" by Middle Eastern middle class standards. And, there's the hope that as an American, possibly you have some pull and can get them into the US, and some people will try to use you for that (can't say I blame them there, I love my country, and I can understand that people who have lived in that stress want a vacation, sometimes a permanent one from it). You have to test relationships. I tend to be a pretty trusting person, and thus have gotten myself burned a few times already in the Middle East, luckily, a few small burns teach you to stay away from fire quite quickly.

I'm also quick to say that the terrorism there is worrisome to me. There was a particular thread of this conversation that came to me first when I was reading Totten's post above. It was when this gentleman said to me, "we have talks with Hezbollah and Iranian and Syrian governments, and we know that they are committing atrocities, so why don't we talk with Zarqawi?"....I couldn't get words out quickly enough. My voice was shaking. "You don't have 'talks' with someone who has absolutely no agenda except to kill you, he doesn't want to have 'talks', he isn't a head of state, or a political body, elected or self appointed....we are dealing with realities here, not hypotheticals, and reality tends to be shades, yes we deal with people that we don't approve of (to put it mildly in some cases), we exhaust diplomatic options first where available, why do you think there were 12 years of UN resolutions regarding Iraq?" "But you do not, and can not 'talk' to someone who has out and out declared to your face that all they want is to kill you." By the end of the conversation, there was one question left from the guy I was talking to, and it wasn't the first time I've heard this question either.

"How come you'll tell me this, but the Administration doesn't?"

To which my first response is always "that's a fair question....but, ask yourself...would you listen if they did?"

I think that our government (note I don't say the Administration, since it isn't just "their policy", last I checked Congress backed OIF legislation) has done a lousy job talking about our foreign policy. DoD blames State, and State blames DoD, and round and round they go. Same with the Administration and Congress.

But, I also think that it's not the government's job to educate you on what's really going on in the world. Educate yourself. The information is right there....literally at your fingertips.

On Iraq's Constitutional Referendum Agreement

Well by now you all have heard the news about Iraq's new agreement. Publius has all the details.

Just goes to show you what I said yesterday about the very complex way that deals are made in Iraq, and the Middle East. There is a mix of pride, money, staging, bravado, desire for one's goals, power plays, and generally a final calculation at the very last moment of how much one has to lose/gain! (My happiness is making me compare this to a marketplace barter...but really I'm more than aware of the importance.)

Really though, I've got to say that on this one, I've had more faith than some of my Iraqi friends. They have been living it, and when seen from the outside, it seemed to me to be pointless on both sides for things to have remained where they were. Kudos to all involved, if they can hold it together for the next few days, and if they can get the word out quickly enough to the entire Sunni population that they want them to er, completely change their vote.....okay, I'm just being flippant! Really, I doubt that most of the Sunni population would have been led like sheep. Some, to be sure, but most? Those who say that, don't know the Sunni so well I think. Now I think the country has a really great chance to go somewhere, I always have. I'll feel better after the next round of elections though. Until then, I have confidence in all of the Iraqi people that worked so hard to make this happen, and even more so in the people every day there that don't get any credit for the behind the scenes work they are doing to make their country move along the path to being not just the place of the birth of civilization, but the birth of a new civilization.....

One that we can welcome into the fold of peaceful yet resolved nations. Iraqis are good and loyal friends to have.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Happiness is not a right.........

Among all of the regular craziness of life with two boys, two dogs, work, and a house to keep running, I've been battling internally.

I feel these days often the desire to be rebellious, I'm angry, I'm alternately depressed and then incredibly motivated in short bursts.

I was talking to one of my close friends in Iraq about this in the past week. Most of it I attribute to trying to do the 'responsible' thing in life at the moment, and in doing that, I have to chain the person I found underneath. I recently wrote this in a journal that I've been keeping:

I want to feel the fear
I want to feel the fight
At least then I would have something to rage against
Instead of this deathly silent wait

I've been working with people involved in life and death situations every moment of every day for the past year plus. I've felt gratified that I was allowed these opportunities more than once. But more than gratified, I realized that I was driven to make those opportunites without even realizing it, just by following my instincts and passions.

"I'm miserable!" I wailed to my friend. (Yes, I know, sounds rather insensitive for someone talking with someone in Iraq, doesn't it? But truly it is a testimony to the closeness of our friendship.) The response was, "well we aren't supposed to be happy all the time are we?"

I remember my system taking this sentence in like a shock wave. "But, but, but" I was thinking, "I want to be happy, I've experienced happiness, and why, why, why do I have to give it up"?

Two years ago I was in a completely different life situation. As a mother, I've always taken my responsibilities very seriously in that area. Maybe a bit too much, which led to my running just the other direction. Then I found myself with another family. One that seemed to understand me in a way that mine did not. I like to think that I'm a "gray" person. Meaning I can think more easily big picture, and medium tones than blacks and whites. And here I was thinking completely black and white. All or nothing. No balance. Keeping balance can be exhausting. I can compartmentalize well when it's work. But when it becomes emotional, that ability goes out the window for me. And when you have emotion of any sort involved in your work, it can do two things. It can skew your ability to do your job well, and it can inspire you to do things above and beyond anything you've ever done before.

But, the larger thing is that it reminded me of a conversation I've had with more than a few people. About America, and our culture. It used to be, that happiness was found in even the most mundane daily tasks. It used to be the pride of keeping your family fed and your kids clothed, and being involved in your community, and you WORKED FOR HAPPINESS. You worked for those fleeting moments, because they reminded you what all the work was for. You had pride because you worked.

What has happened to America that we all think we deserve happiness? The media says it is just there, constantly only just out of our grasp. I have been applauded more in the past year for my accomplishments by society than I can remember since I was in my early twenties. I was NEVER applauded by society for my choice to stay at home with my kids, sacrificing my own intellectual stimulation and drive, sacrificing material goods, financial security. But, leave my kids to go traveling all over the place? "Wow, you are amazing!" Amazing. All I was sacrificing then was what I swore I'd never to do to my kids the way it has been done to me. I sacrificed their well being and happiness every single day for my own. And I grew more and more confused. Why couldn't I have it all? Why couldn't I be happy?

Precisely because I was looking for just that. Having it all. And sometimes, you can't. And sometimes you make decisions at the wrong time in your life. And it sucks. And you pay for those mistakes. Yes, you pay. You have to make uncomfortable choices. And either way the choice hurts like hell. It's not supposed to be that way. It's supposed to be clear and simple. Right and wrong.

That's not real life. Real life is more complex. It's nice to know now that I picked the wrong time in life to do many things, that I knew more who I was and what I wanted to be in HIGH SCHOOL than as a twentysomething. But I did what I did. And I have to lie in that bed. I can make it as comfortable as possible. Or I can whine about it.

The pursuit of happiness is one thing. It is constant. The finding and keeping of it, the balancing your own happiness with that of the others in your life, is quite another.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Missing the Middle East....

It's October today, which hardly seems possible. Where I live is at its most beautiful this time of year, and I'm running tomorrow in the Maine Marathon (doing a relay leg-10K), and it is supposed to be perfect weather. The leaves are turning, the sugar maples getting fiery red, and it's getting colder during the nights, when you enjoy putting a fire in the fireplace, but can still walk in the day dressed in jeans and a shirt and feel perfect in temperature. It's my favorite time of year in New England.

And I'm missing the Middle East. I've been reading Michael Totten's blog, as he's landed safely in Lebanon. October marks a year since I first started traveling to the Middle East, I now have 18 stamps (9 each of entry and exit) on my passports from the area in one year. So, after Sunday's race, I'll be posting more on the "traveling series" from Iraq, but I'll also do one on Jordan, to mark the first time I landed there.

(Let me add here a big thanks to Blackfive for being all too generous to me, he'd do, and has done, more than I, everyone that works for and in Iraq, (and Jordan), quickly becomes a virtual team when a story like Mike Yon posts on Rhma comes up.)

I'm one very blessed person. I've gotten to do and see things that many don't, ever.
And I'm thankful for that. As I get older, I learn a little more about how following your passions lead to better performance, and more contentment. You can see that all around the blogosphere, so many bloggers have landed jobs that they love, and fit, with their committment to writing about what they care for so much.

Here's where I'm at.......

And here's what I'm missing.......

The people and ideals that I love. That's what will continue to lead me to the places I'll go.