IRAQ REFLECTION: What is this thing called fun?

5 May 2008
IRAQ REFLECTION: What is this thing called fun?

by Beth Pyles

This weekend, the Team went to Azadi Park, a spot of beauty in the heart of the city, all the more remarkable because it has been reclaimed (can land/space be resurrected? Redeemed, certainly) by the Kurds. It was previously a Ba'athist-only holding adjacent to one of Saddam Hussein's prisons where Kurds were routinely tortured. The prison is now a museum.

The park was full of people, thousands of people—walking, sitting, picnicking, listening to speeches, rollerblading, dancing. Most amazing of all, children and their parents filled the park's playground.

The ordinary scene stunned me. I stopped and stared for what seemed like a very long time, drinking it all in, absorbing this reality, this evidence of peace and wellbeing.

All is not well here, but when people ask me about signs of hope, I will tell them about the playground in the park.

But I will also tell them about video footage our team saw taken by Kurdish youth at IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. Our friend Ayoub teaches Kurdish young people media skills. He gave them video cameras and sent them to the camps to interview the Iraqi Arab youth of southern Iraq (how people of the Kurdish north refer to the rest of Iraq) living here now.

I will tell how the children of the north asked the children of the south the questions young people want to know about each other: What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun? And how the Arab children of the war-torn south stared blankly back—for they have no hobbies and do not know what fun is.

The length of this war is as nothing in the history of time, only five years, but five years is an eternity in the life of a child.

How long does it take to wipe out the language of free time, hobbies, laughter, and fun for a generation? Less, it seems, than five years.

In the north, the Kurdish children of Suleimaniya are playing in the park while many of their southern Arab cousins are sitting outside the city in tents wondering, "What is this thing called fun?"