Below is an update from our Disaster Response Manager, Maggie Konstanski, in Iraq. The best way I can think of to describe what it is like being here is whiplash—constantly being thrown back and forth between two extremes you did not know could coexist. The city where I am staying has been a place of refuge for communities fleeing violence and conflict. Within the city limits, there is peace and life has a fragile normality. However, as you drive in and around the city, the hills are dotted with the camps and shelters of the displaced. Dotting the hillsides are ancient structures, beautiful vistas and temporary shelters. The cradle of civilization now caught in chronic conflict. The depth of this place’s history cannot be ignored. Mosul may have not been familiar to many people until recent events, but we all know the name Nineveh, Mosul’s ancient name. So whether it is fortresses of Salahadin, historical places with significance for countless traditions worldwide, or ancient monasteries, the richness and familiarity of this place’s history is not felt in remnants but it in an ever present part of daily life.
In the media, we are given a very narrow and singular narrative of the conflict that is happening here. While that conflict is very real and the stories that come from it are truly horrific, the reality is that much of normal life goes on, even in the midst of very abnormal circumstances. Even in the face of conflict and suffering, much of life goes on as it always did—babies are born, people form new communities, people care for children and try to reestablish routines. It is this contrast that causes the whiplash. One moment, you are all dressed up to attend the opening of a Carrefour at a new mall when only hours earlier you were sitting with people who had experienced unimaginable atrocity—water cut off from their community in an effort to kill them, fleeing with young children while others are left behind, and realizing that the woman who has a two month old baby had fled while in the late stages of pregnancy. The stories of the missing and the dead do not seem to fit within the context of peaceful weekends spent enjoying the many beautiful places in the surrounding mountains, but yet they coexist.
For everyone I have talked to so far, recent events are understood only within the context of the past two decades and the two wars with the USA. No one was left untouched by these wars and the stories of loss, suffering and hope are numerous. These stories are shared with me never with accusation or animosity, but with a desire to have their story understood, fearful that I have only heard an incomplete version. I am reminded that it is such a common part of the human experience to want our stories heard and understood. I find I have no words appropriate to respond to these stories, and in these painful moments my heart longs for peace with a ferocity I didn’t know was possible.
For those of you looking for ways to respond, here are four simple ways: