24 July 2014

In Ankawa, Iraq

This past Sunday we arrived at the MCC house that will be our home in Ankawa (pronounced ain-ka-wa), the small and predominantly Christian town near Erbil (ar/er/err-biil), which is the capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region.

However, for this week we have been staying at a nearby hotel because, in addition to Jim and Deb Fine (our predecessors who we will be living with for the next month), there are also five North American teachers (and the husband and 2-year-old son of one of them) who have been here for the past four weeks teaching English in an intensive course for adults.

This 4-week intensive English program (IEP) ended today and the teachers will be leaving Saturday, so we will begin a more normal schedule of orientation and training (and move in with Jim and Deb) on Sunday. 

Here are some of the things we have done this week:
  • On Sunday evening we attended the Arabic/Aramaic service at Mar Yusef, one of several Chaldean Catholic churches in Ankawa
  • On Monday, Nathan and I went with Jim (with a hired driver and car) on a day trip out to two villages west of Erbil, where an MCC partner organization ZSVP (Zakho Small Villages Project) was distributing food relief kits to IDPs (internally displaced persons, mostly Yezidis and Turkomen) who have recently fled Mosul
  • On Tuesday, we sat in on IEP classes and got to know the students, who are in fact mostly teachers themselves at Mar Qardakh school (a local Christian school that is in the process of getting International Baccalaureate (IB) certification and therefore must teach in English)
  • On Wednesday, we met with leaders of another MCC partner organization, Iraqi Al-Amal, to get to know the staff and to observe how they and Jim talk about project proposals and make decisions.  They discussed the possibility of continuing aid work in the Ninevah Plain region, around Mosul (yes, it's that Ninevah).  We also got blood drawn for testing, which is the first step toward getting our residency permits.
  • Yesterday and today we officially began to study Iraqi Arabic under the direction of Jim, who is fluent.  Starting in September we will be meeting twice a week with Hanady, a native Arabic speaker who has a masters in teaching Spanish (she is on vacation in Europe during our first month here).
  • Tomorrow we will attend an ordination service for a young man who is becoming a priest in the Chaldean Catholic Church and send off the English teachers over the weekend.

The road to Erbil from the west.  Things to notice: (1) With good reason, St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) is dangling from the rear view mirror; (2) According to Jim Fine, vehicle passing is "the Kurdish national pastime"; (3) the fields are pale yellow with the remainder of the summer's wheat harvest; (4) Erbil is a large and quickly-growing city, marked by the numerous cranes dotting the hazy skyline; (5) it's hazy.

In general, we are getting to know the geography of Ankawa (both on foot and via taxi), meeting lots of people, and absorbing information from Deb (Nathan's future role as English teacher and IEP coordinator) and Jim (my future role as MCC program coordinator).  The food is excellent, the weather is hot but manageable, and we feel tired but good.  

As many of you know, the news out of ISIS-controlled Mosul continues to be very bad. Virtually all Christians have left the city, and most of them have come to the Erbil province, with the final wave arriving last week.  Please pray for them and all people displaced by this conflict.

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