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'Our traditional dress', Kurdish youth tell me.
Last night I had a live video conference with my daughters, Erica and Jenny. Iraq to Seattle, my bedroom to theirs, easier than a phone call, and it’s free. This is the new world of today. Electricity goes off from time to time each day here, there are worries of terrorist attacks in the markets and there are virtually no Americans in the two small towns we visit. One hundred percent Kurds. American, or any other non-Arab/Kurdish face is hard to find anywhere around here. (Military personnel are farther south). But every Kurdish /Iraqi teen worth his salt has a cell phone, peppering each meeting I attend with cell phones going off, and texting going on non-stop. And if you have a computer and internet (common) and a $50 webcam, you’ve got some potentially serious global legs.
The most disconcerting part of being here is the tight security leash we must be on.
‘When you leave here at the MercyCorps offices you must text message the Director to let him know you are leaving”, I tell my daughters on our call. “And then you have to text message him again when you arrive at your destination just a few minutes away to let him know you have arrived safely”.
“Wow, it sounds just like when we lived at home in high school”, Erica exclaims.
Despite the heavy security that can be a real downer, I leave tomorrow with an enormous dose of optimism. The young people I have met in Gaza and Iraq, two of the most war-torn areas of the world in recent years, are filled not with hopelessness and grinding despair, but with hope and enormous energy. They are painting and repairing schools neglected by their governments, doing teach-in’s on democracy, and educating children and teachers about how to dispose of unexploded bombs that still lay about the community. They want to really connect with Americans, and see it as a beacon of hope, of freedom and potential allies to discuss problems they face that are similar. Sometimes it is an unrealistic picture (no poverty, no garbage, no political corruption in America), and sometimes they think “why should Americans even care about them?” I will give you one reason, we could all learn a thing or two from them about hope.
“When we open our eyes, we first smell catastrophe”, Nazim, a local teacher tells me at the end of our training session today. He is twenty five years old and has lived through three wars/invasions. “Our last escape involved my family piling into one car with five other families and racing to the border. I still don’t understand how we all fit.” Yet, despite this, Nazim is daily teaching students the critical importance of talking directly with people from other cultures so they are exposed to new ideas and to take positive, effective local action. “It’s the only way we are going to make this world better for all of us”. And now, for the first time in his history, his students are doing just that.
The internet is a great thing. It can connect families like mine when some member is half-way around the world in a war-zone, to ease any fears and joke about being held hostage as a teen in high school. And it can connect Kurds with Americans with Palestinians with Jews to get to know one another as human beings. That alone won’t solve the nasty problems we now face. But it’s a heck of a start.
Greg Tuke teaches and travels internationally, working with university faculty in India, Indonesia and the MIddle East, sharing strategies for implementing international collaborations within course work. This blog chronicles key experiences and insights about those experiences. All opinions expressed are mine, and represent no other institutional affiliation.