BootsnAll Travel Network

Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Archive for the Middle East Fellowship (MiddleEastFellowship.org) Category

San Diego Teenager Makes Syrian Seniors’ Days Brighter

July 2nd, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

saviora.jpg “It’s a wonderful experience to see a similar country to the country my parents grew up in,” says 13-year-old Saviora Sanati, whose parents left Iraq soon after Sadaam Hussein’s brutal conquest. Savi was born in San Diego where she will start high school this fall. The Middle East Fellowship’s one-month immersion program in Syria is her first time outside of North America.

“I thought there would be bullets flying and bombs dropping [from Lebanon], but it’s totally cool,” says the precocious teen. “It’s safer than the States.”

Savi and her older sister Sasha are spending their summer perfecting their Arabic and volunteering at a senior center run by the Greek Orthodox Church. Since most Arab families absorb each generation into their homes, it is the rare senior without family. The 25 seniors who live at the St Gregorios Center for Orphans and Aged People are quite socially isolated.

The Middle East Fellowship volunteers organized a day to give the elderly women manicures and are creating a game room to improve the seniors’ opportunities for socialization.
savi2.jpg
“Most of them have no families,” explains Savi. “We’re someone to talk with and laugh with. We make their day!”

[For more information about the Middle East Fellowship’s Damascus Summer Encounter, visit www.MiddleEastFellowship.org. For fun blogs on this year’s Encounter, visit www.SyriaSummer.org/blog.]
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steaming, Syria-Style

July 1st, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments 4 Comments »

Slinking behind the heavy carpet curtaining the doorway between Damascus’ blinding, dusty “old city” and a dark, primordial hall with a drizzling fountain in the middle, Sandy, Sally and I hoped to melt away our travel fatigue in one of Syria’s famous hamams.

The Turkish Bathhouse, open to women only before 5:00 pm (after which it becomes men’s domain), is tucked among shops selling intricately beaded and woven scarves, gracefully curved pewter kettles, fragrant zaatar-sprinkled flatbread soaked in olive oil, and cellphone cards.
hamam.jpg
Blinking, we three women of a certain age crept down the ancient stone stairs into a high-ceilinged, arched room, built in 1027 AD. Carpeted benches on raised platforms lined 3 of the walls. Women in various states of fleshy exposure lounged about, little children in soggy underpants ran amok, and the robust woman who took our money and wore a ratty skirt and a sodden towel that couldn’t even pretend to cover her breasts tried to upsell us to buy the whole spa package, loofah included. Another woman with well-placed tattoos and an unhooked bra cupping just her right breast came over to translate. She turned out to be the massage therapist. (more…)

Wrapping My Head Around Head Wraps

May 28th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments 4 Comments »

Woman in a mosque in Damascus.  photo by Kelly Hayes-RaittI’m sitting in the airport restaurant in Bahrain overlooking the runway. It’s a spectacular view. I have a 6-hour layover here between flights from Damascus to Bangkok.

The women are so interesting to watch. I had a bit of culture shock at the Damascus Airport. The décor in Damascus is shocking – these women would make my hometown bohemian Venetians blush! Head scarves wrapped artfully around their heads and necks, then tight spandex tops stretching down over their derrières, emphasizing every curve and bulge without shame. Other women wear décolleté-baring tops, as if they are making a dry run for the full summer heat. Even the abaya-clad women reveal their full faces and hands. I feel so frumpy in my slacks and untucked white blouses.

(more…)

“We Are Crying for Help”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments 1 Comment »

“All Iraqis in Jordan today are refugees,” Fr. Raymond Moussalli shrugged his shoulders and smiled, resigned, in response to my asking how many of his 12,000 congregants are refugees. His church provides assistance for persecuted Iraqi Christians (www.ChaldeanJordan.org).

“Guests” are what Jordan originally called Iraqis who spilled over the border following the Gulf War and the 12 ensuing years of sanctions and Sadaam’s regime. The host country has resisted creating any temporary services that could lead to permanency, as has occurred with Palestinian refugees.

According to the UNHCR, between 450,000 and 500,000 Iraqis have taken refuge in Jordan. In this country of 6 million people, where fuel and food prices have jumped 300% during the last 3 years, where the country’s finance minister has estimated this year’s inflation rate to be the highest in 18 years, where the official unemployment rate runs 15% (the unofficial rate is a staggering 30%!), that’s proportionately comparable to increasing the United States’ population by 25 million people – another Texas. (more…)

“A Person of Concern”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

The dignified man tries to hide his desperation under congenial smiles and nods while thrusting a paper in my hand.

“I am an engineer, a civil engineer. My wife is also an engineer. She worked for the Ministry of Oil. You know, it stayed open after the Americans came.”

I remember back to my trip to Baghdad, 3 months after the US stormed the ancient city. The only government building that wasn’t bombed, burned or looted was the Ministry of Oil.

“They said you work for the Oil Ministry, and you take money from Americans, so you must be rich,” Mohammad quotes the insurgents who kidnapped him, (more…)

“All the Family is Scattered”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

The old woman starts talking before the others have finished, desperate to tell her story. In fact, her words rush too fast for the translator, who implores her to slow down.

The 75-year-old woman’s husband died during the Gulf War. Her oldest son, an engineer, dodged Sadaam’s draft by escaping to Sweden. Her daughter is a dental assistant in Amman. Her other daughter refused to become a Baathist and was forced to leave Iraq. Her youngest son committed suicide.

“I was in the supermarket and I spoke to a woman American soldier. My neighbors accused me of being a spy. One neighbor was slaughtered for being a Christian. There was no protection; I was scared. They already called me a spy, so I left.” The old woman’s words spilled out in a defiant rush.

“I was living in Baghdad alone. All the family is scattered. I brought nothing (except) the death certificates for my husband and son.”

She hopes to join her nephew in San Diego. “There is no way I can go back to Iraq. I have no house, nothing there. I have nobody. Only God can protect me now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Everything and Nothing”

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

“Everything and nothing,” a resigned Wafaa says of what she left in Baghdad when her family fled a year and a half ago.

“We came to Amman after threats of being kidnapped,” her husband explains. “My cousin was kidnapped. While I was negotiating with the kidnappers, they said they’d kidnap me, too. I was concerned about my young teenage daughters, who were in school. My parents were threatened, too. They told them, ‘Either pay money or we will kill you.’ So they left their house.

“My parents were killed by a road explosion,” the 40-something gentle man says softly.

“I don’t know why I was threatened. Maybe they wanted money. But, I was (just) a construction worker,” he says with a shrug.

“We’re here now. No job, we’re not allowed to work. We have no residency; we are like illegals here, waiting for the UNHCR to help.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A Note about these Blogs

May 27th, 2008 | Username By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | Comments No Comments »

Between May 16 and 25, I traveled with 9 other Americas to Amman, Jordan, and Damascus, Syria, to meet with Iraqi refugees. I expected abject poverty, decrepit camps, broken people. What I encountered were proud Iraqis who had held positions of accomplishment and, sometimes, of wealth, back in Iraq. Both the Jordanian and Syrian governments, which are dealing with runaway inflation and high unemployment, are trying to avoid repeating the specter of permanent Palestinian refugee camps. Consequently, Iraqis are barred from legal employment. They are provided with temporary and sporadic food and medical assistance by the government and by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The stories you will read were told through translators. Although each of the refugees was eager to tell his or her story, and consented to being photographed and interviewed, I have decided to change their names to protect any family members still in Iraq. While each person’s story is unique, the recurring themes of fleeing threats for communicating with Americans, of wishing to join relatives in the US, of knowing that they can never return to their homes or homeland, and of longing for productive lives to provide their children with bright futures were prevalent.

The delegation was organized by the Middle East Fellowship (www.MiddleEastFellowship.org) under the auspices of the Middle East Council of Churches (www.mec-churches.org). However, these blogs reflect solely my own experiences and opinions, not those of any organization or other individual. The Middle East Fellowship is planning future delegations, including one tentatively planned for October 24th to November 1st, which will meet with refugees in Damascus and Beirut. (The UNHCR estimates there are up to 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and 50,000 in Lebanon.) Further information may be found at Middle East Fellowship (www.MiddleEastFellowship.org/refugee_response).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Pages
Categories
Monthly Archives
Travel links
My Links