28 February 2011
IRAQ REFLECTION: Visit to Zharawa refugee camp
by Bud Courteny
Last month, we traveled to Zharawa to meet with friends who live in the
internally displaced persons camp there.
Originally created for ninety families, it now houses only two; the
others have returned to their villages near the Iranian border. The families
who left felt that despite the episodic bombing of their villages, they preferred
their own land, their own homes. So
Zharawa had very much the feel of a ghost town.
On the bus ride to the camp, I noticed a huge flock of
blackbirds flying. Someone told me
the birds are an omen that snow is coming.
A month ago, a
friend of ours lobbied the mayor of Zharawa to build houses for the remaining families.
One of the families has a developmentally
disabled daughter. The other has a
young boy with serious heart ailment who was in the hospital at the time of our
visit. UNHCR is building the
houses, but when we visited, only the foundation has been set. Cinder blocks were strewn about,
waiting for weather that will allow the workers to build. It has been raining often in Zharawa we learned.
The land, for which each family paid $200, is about a mile from the main road
in a huge field. Cattle amble
nearby; chickens feed off the garbage piled high at the entrance to the camp. When we visited in November, the
families were not happy, because we, adhering to CPT policy, would not give them
material aid. In January, however,
our friends were ecstatic. As we
sat in Mom Baiy’s tent, drinking tea and munching on sugar cubes, he said,
“I feel we are in the White House,” referring to his new home.
The reality is the houses, when they are finished will consist of two rooms,
one to sleep live and sleep in, and a toilet—not much bigger than the tents in
which they currently reside. I
walked around the property and wondered how we could have re-created such a
world where people can exist like this.
And yet, as heartbroken and powerless as I felt, I was excited by their
joy over the home that was currently just a scattered pile of blocks. They had received something promised to
them by a government official who in the past had repeatedly reneged on his
I have my life of possessions, calendar appointments, house shifts, to do
lists, people, events, running running running. Perhaps something in that heap of cinder block was capable of
transforming my soul into taking nothing for granted. Into knowing that some people will one day honor their word.
Into sitting back and looking
through the tent flap, at snow-topped mountains, and seeing a world where we
can all go a little more slowly, a little more peacefully, and find joy in the