31 October 2014

Highs and lows

Our first couple of posts have been carefully crafted reflections.  But we’re realizing that we don’t have the energy for that and if we want to post more often than twice a year it is going to need to be more low-key.  That’s probably what most people are interested in anyway.  So, here are some snapshots of the last month: 

  • As a warm-up conversation activity in the beginner’s English class I teach at St. Peter’s Seminary, I asked students to each say a place they’d like to visit.  A few students said Germany or Brazil or Italy, which was more or less what I expected.  About four of them said, “Someday I want to visit my home in Qaraqosh.”   ....Oh.  Right.  Displaced people are everywhere, and even though their homes are less than 100 miles away, it's possible they will never see them again.

  •  Two weeks ago it rained every day for almost a week.  We were extra busy because of an MCC-sponsored trauma-training course.  One evening we came home and the electricity was off. This happens regularly, but this time it seemed like it was our problem, not the grid’s.  Then the neighbors who just moved in began some minor remodeling late at night.  All of the stress of the last three months poured in over us.  Our inability to do anything that felt significant in the situation was matched by our inability to even manage our own house.  And yet the more we felt bad about our own situation, the guiltier we felt about our privilege, given the people enduring the rain in tents down the road.  There was some crying.    

When my spirits were at their lowest, there was no solace except frozen cookie dough straight from the freezer, an arrangement that shows how good we have it.  Photo credit: Kaitlin trying to be sneaky.
  • In the early morning two weeks ago on my way to an MCC-sponsored trauma training, I saw two kids carrying a wooden pallet down the street.  Half a block behind them I saw a middle-aged man doing the same thing.  They must have been a displaced family living at a camp nearby.  It had been raining heavily, and their condition had undoubtedly gotten even worse in the last few days and nights.  The pallets, I assumed, were intended to lift mattresses or goods off the ground a few inches in their tents. It made me feel terrible.  At the same time, it was also a reminder not to view the displaced entirely as powerless victims.  They look after themselves, something that is surprisingly easy to forget.   

  •  As a part of an MCC learning tour that just passed through Iraq, we visited some MCC-supported projects in rural areas to the east of us, in Suleimaniya Province.  In what felt like one of the most remote and desolate landscapes I’ve seen, we visited a small village where REACH, an MCC partner organization, had helped villagers construct a large dam to retain winter water runoff from the mountains.  The reservoir can last all year long and provide water for agriculture and drinking to surrounding villages, as well as boost the water table for local wells [picture coming soon].             

  • We’ve gotten to know a young man named Ali who sells roasted sunflower seeds by the main road in Ankawa.  Ali is from Kobany, Syria, but he left 7 months ago, which was well before the most recent fighting there.  He has a BA in French, but can’t find a job using his degree. 

  • I sang a solo in Sureth (neo-Aramaic) in choir at Mass!                                                                    


  1. I love your bits-o-real, "relaxed" postings. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Thanks, Nathan and Kaitlin, for your glimpses of life in Iraq. Your prayer card at home and in my office is a reminder of my connection ~ through you ~ of a troubled land and people.

    1. Thanks Nathan and Kaitlin for your honest stories. May God continue to comfort you on your lonely, rainy and overwhelming days.