Friday, December 30, 2011

Collateral damage has a face

 We were just outside the NATO camp last week when a local family came up to us and asked us for help getting medical care from the hospital within the camp.  We honestly have no contacts with that hospital, so there was nothing we could do.  The woman showed my wife her bandaged arm, and said she had been shot during a joint-military operation 5 nights ago.  The woman appeared about 20 years old and had a 3-year-old child beside her, and the man must have been at least 60 years old.  We understood them when they spoke in the language we know, but they would also drift into their village dialect that we don’t understand.  What we did understand, from looking at their eyes, was that they were exhausted, scared, and just plain sad that they were going through this.  The woman had been wounded in her home village, 2 districts away.  Since she was wounded by soldiers, she was entitled to medical care at one of the army camps. 

I hate war.  The longer I am here, the more I hate it.  I hate what it does to humans. 
I hate when life is reduced to a tolerable proportion of loss, in the achievement of a stated mission.  I hate that people like this 20-year-old woman are nothing more than a statistic.  Where was she supposed to go, when soldiers descended on her house in the middle of the night?  How is she to know who the “good guys” are, when they storm into her house and she is accidently shot?  How should she feel when she has to accept medical care from the very men that shot her, even though it brings great social shame on her to be touched by these strangers.  They tell her to come and get follow-up medical care at the army camp.  Is she supposed to be relieved by that?  Now she has to choose: does she risk infection in the wound if it goes untreated, or does she risk her family’s safety traveling a full day, outside of her tribe’s land, to reach the army camp?  If she can reach the camp, does she really want to face the foreign soldiers again, remembering their faces when they burst through the door of her house?  Would her family even let her get this medical care at the camp, knowing that the insurgents are hunting and killing anyone that associates with the army? 

Next time you hear about civilian casualties in this country, think of this girl, and think of the amount of courage it takes for any of the common, neutral people of this country to just live here.


My barber stole my bird.  No that’s too harsh.  I lost it, and he found it.  I bought “Perry” in the bird bazaar in the capital city in Dec 2010 when we returned.  The bird bazaar is a story of it’s own, that I won’t go into now.  T’s mom was with us, and actually gave Perry to us as a gift.  Then we traveled through the capital city airport, with a bird, in a cage.  Not a big deal really, we did this in 2008 as well with “Firni”.  Actually carrying a bird through this airport is one of the easiest ways to get through security checks.  The guards melt when they see the little song bird, and just wave us through.  Perry the canary was a great pet, we enjoyed his songs so much, and little t loved to sit next to the cage and watch.  On nice days, we hung Perry’s cage from a tree outside so he could enjoy the sun.  Then one day we came home and the bottom of the cage had fallen out, and Perry was gone.  End of story?  We thought so…

Yesterday I was getting my hair cut by the usual fellow I go to in the bazaar, and he was telling me about his birds.   I had noticed his birds before, but they were hung in a place where I could not get a good look while I was in the barber chair.  This time he told me that one of his customers had wanted to buy one of his birds, and had said to him, “name your price, I’ll pay anything for that bird!”  My barber replied to this customer that this bird had been given to him by God, and he would not sell it.  The barber then went on to tell me about the day last spring when he heard a great song, and went to the street to see a beautiful canary there.  It took him a while, but he managed to carefully catch the bird, and has kept it in his cage since then.  He then said to me again that after God had given him such a nice bird, there was no way he could sell it, not even for a high price.  This is remarkable since this guy is really poor.

So, Perry lives on, and his songs are a blessing to my barber and his customers.  I didn’t accuse him of stealing my bird, and I didn’t ask for it back, it just didn’t seem right.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

...even to ends of the earth

A short time ago the women’s team of our community development project started a new hygiene health and sanitation course.  The course started after the team made some visits to the 8th and final community in the large village on the east side of the river.  They have been offering hygiene health and sanitation courses for women in this major village for over a year.  They started in a community they assigned the number 1, and have gradually progressed.  Now they have finally reached the last community in the village, and they have realized that this is the poorest community (17 families) in the whole village (over 1000 families, big village huh?) 

Last week our women reported some interesting stories about the 17 families in this community.  It seems that about 9 years ago, this group of families made a decision that they could no longer sustain life in their remote mountain village in another district.  They lived way out in the boonies, in a place where there is no arable land, so they depended on their flocks of animals to survive.  This also was not easy, because the mountains were made up mostly of a red sandy stone that was brittle.  All too often an animal would slip on the mountainsides because of this brittle rock, and fall to its death.  One drought year the whole village nearly starved because they had lost so many animals to the climate and the land.  So they decided to do the impossible and try to move close to a town.  They didn’t have any relatives near a town that could help them, so that first move of 4 of the families was an extremely vulnerable time.  In this culture people don’t stray far from their tribe, especially to become renters among another tribe, but that’s exactly what these families did, having no other choice.  Somehow they found permission to tenant some land on the far edge of the village, far from the irrigation canals and roads.  That is where they have been for the past 9 years, and every year they scrimp and save and struggle to bring another family or two from the red stone mountains, to their new promised land. 

Our staff have remarked over and over about how interesting it was to find that this village, by far the poorest, has been the most content and most grateful for anything we could do for them.  When the community was facilitated in selecting who would take part in the hygiene health sanitation course, there was no fighting at all (there’s almost always fighting at this stage).  When the course started, no one held it up with complaints about why we would not give a bag of flour or pay the course participants to come (this is also a common occurrence).  The course started smoothly, and after 6 meetings together, the experience continues to be positive.  Our female facilitators excitedly told stories this morning about how eager this community has been to learn.  The only problem in the course had been that older children were showing up at the lessons, and these kids can’t be turned away!  One kid spied on the course the first day, and told her friends what she heard, and they all applied it.  The next time our team came to the village, the girls all had washed their hands and feet (that were previously filthy), and were waiting with smiles.  One of our facilitators challenged he kids about how they would sustain the new practice, and an 8-year-old boy answered quickly saying, “it’s simple, when this first bar of soap runs out, we just need to sell 3 eggs, and we can buy another one.  We can do that any time we need more soap.”

I’m not sure about you, but this story makes me sad and happy at the same time.  Happy that such positive results have come from this community, but sad that it took so much time and effort to reach them.  It took us a year to deal with the more powerful people of the village, before they would permit us to help the really really poor people as well.  They hide their poor, rather than really advocating for them, because they’d rather pocket what we intend to share with the neediest.  It makes me sad to know for a fact that most if not all the other NGOs here miss communities like #8, because they don’t have the time to work at the depth we go to.  “The big boys” as I call multi-million dollar NGO programs, are geared to cover whole districts, provinces, regions.  This ends up to be just a sprinkling of aid here and there.  It’s like one story in a book I read often: crippled people gathered around a pool of water, waiting for healing if they can be the first in the water after an angelic stirring.  One man waits there for years, because there is always someone stronger and quicker than him, who takes his privilege, his turn to be healed.  Then a special healer came one day, and noticed that man, and met his need. 

Oh God help us notice the ones that you would notice if you walked through this land.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Zip's advice

 One of our community development facilitators (I’ll call him Zip) was recently doing some shopping in the bazaar when he heard some men conversing, and the topic of taking a second wife came up.  Zip tuned in and heard one of the men say that he was tired of his first wife, and if he could find the money he would take a second. 

“I heard you want to take a second wife if you can find the money,” said Zip, “and I have good news for you.  I will give you the money you need for your second marriage.”

The man straightened up and asked Zip what he would have to do for this favor.

Zip replied, “I will give you the money you need for your second marriage, but first you have to do some things, exactly as I tell you.  Are you paying attention? Okay here is the first thing you have to do: you must to select and buy and use birth control for the next 2 years.”

“HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT!  You can’t challenge my right to have children!” screamed the man in return. 

“How many children do you have?” asked Zip.

The man thought for a moment, “Well I don’t know, they’re children, they’re hard to keep track of.”

“Exactly!” said Zip, “and have you ever noticed that your wife gets more tired with each pregnancy and birth and new child?  Now pay attention and listen to what else you have to do if you want the money I have promised you:

You must buy your wife a piece of fruit to eat every night.  DON’T let your children eat it, save that piece of fruit especially for her.

You want a beautiful wife right?  You must give her something beautiful so that she can be!  Buy her a new dress, perfume, jewelry.   

Lastly, you must give her a break.  Every day, you need to be at home and take care of the children for 2 hours so that she can take a break. 

You do these things, and then in 2 years come and tell me you still want a second wife.”