Broken-down Poetry: June 2010


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hospitals, sick babies & a remedy

A few weeks ago I got to visit a children's hospital in Sulaimaniah. We went to meet Dr. Aso Faiq Salih, the only pediatric cardiologist in Kurdistan, who's also a dear friend of Preemptive Love Coalition.

Dr. Aso's office was crowded with parents holding crying kids. Instead of having a waiting room outside of an office, Dr. Aso has a couch in the same room as his desk and the table he examines patients.

Dr. Aso is the friendliest doctor I've ever met. He's definitely a pediatric doctor. He's smiley and goofy. When we ask him about his children, he pulls out his cell phone and dotes on his sons.

Alex, Claire and I stood next to Dr. Aso's desk as he did an echo cardiogram of each kid's heart. He talks to us between patients, and sometimes during. Worried mothers look at us suspiciously, as we borrow Dr. Aso's attention. He will look at somewhere around 20 patients a morning. He tells us that he needs an hour with each patient, but time is precious. If he spends 10 minutes with a patient instead, he can see more in a day.

After each echo, Dr. Aso will diagnose his patients. If their problem is minor, he can give the child a prescription or schedule an in-country surgery. But since most heart problems are serious heart problems, he will send them to an organization - like Preemptive Love Coalition - to get help outside Iraq.

The day we visited Dr. Aso, we saw him examine baby Abdul. The 9 month old has a heart problem that will kill him if he doesn't get help. When Alex, Claire and I got back to the office, Abdul and his father had just met with Jeremy (see photo to the left).

We're now raising money to get Abdul to surgery with Remedy Missions in the fall!


It would be 100 times easier and quicker to get kids like Abdul into surgery in Iraq, if those treatments were available. But their not. Iraqi doctors just do not have the skills to treat major heart defects like Abdul's.

Doctors like Aso cannot leave the country for training either. Even as a member of the Association of European Pediatric Cardiology, he cannot get training in Europe because he's an Iraqi. This is why it's such an incredible opportunity for us to get Remedy Missions to come in and train Iraqi doctors.

We still need a lot of money to get the doctors here in the fall! PLEASE donate!

Consider donating a week's tithe or giving up a week's worth of lattes.

Do it for cute little Abdul.


* photos by Lydia Bullock

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I Do 40 Hours a Week

Most of you have been asking about what I've been up to, other than learning about what it means to be a Kurd in northern Iraq. ...

I am an intern. I work 40 hours a week - did you know that? I walk to the office every morning at 9, and walk back at 5. I have a lunch break from noon to 1:30.

We work in an office space on the third floor of a mall. In our office there's a lobby with couches, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two rooms. We have a split (A/C) in both rooms, but our power often goes out, which renders them useless. Also, the Internet hasn't been working.

So, most of us leave the office and go to 1. Assos Hotel across the street 2. Melody Cafe, where all the Amerikim hang out 3. Blue Cafe with delicious milkshakes or 4. home.

On every morning except Monday (our work week is Sunday-Thursday) we have a staff meeting at 9. We talk about what we did the previous day, what we will do that day, and what might stop us from accomplishing our tasks.

On Mondays we, the interns, spend our mornings having Interlocutions a.k.a. "Fireside Chats" with Jeremy. We typically discuss blog posts or news articles as a group. (Last week we talked about starting an NGO, why you should travel to countries outside Europe, and about something called voluntourism.)

After our meetings, we get to work! Everyone has a different task, according to their interests. I am in charge of Preemptive Love's year-end review, which is developing into a "Who We Are" coffee table book. It's coming along rather nicely. (A quick shout-out to Dr. Karnehm. Working on the School of Nursing magazine has helped me out a lot since I've been here!)

Besides the year-end review, I help others out with their tasks (such as updating the PLC blog or doing audio for the Honya video).

Soon I'm going to blog about the other interns - they're so awesome. I want you all to virtually meet them!


Friday, June 25, 2010

She's Always Smiling

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet Honya Mahdi, a 15 month-old who had surgery last November.

I remember reading about her on the PLC blog months ago, when I was first learning about Preemptive Love Coalition. I fell in love with this baby's Dumbo ears and big brown eyes.

Seeing her seven months later, healthy and laughing - it reminded me why I'm here. I'm in Iraq for my professional career, yes. I'm here for my IWU internship, yes. But I'm here because babies are dying in northern Iraq - and I want to help save them.

"She's Always Smiling" The Story of Honya Mahdi from Preemptive Love on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mohammad Star's Follow-Up

If you all haven't had a chance to read my post about Mohammad Star on the Preemptive Love blog, check it out now: click!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Last Friday I met an girl named Shahoda who's a university student in our city. She's one of the first Arabs I've met since being here, which immediately piqued my curiosity. I got lunch with her, Claire, Elise and Sarah Monday, before taking Shahoda back to the office to meet Jeremy and the interns.

I learned that Shahoda was born in Baghdad and lived in Lebanon and Jordan for a few years before moving to Kurdistan. She lives with her parents, but when she graduates college - she's completed two years - she's going to move back to Lebanon, the "Europe" of the Middle East.

For the past week or so I've been interested in the culture of Baghdad, before 2003. From Shahoda, and ESL students, I was reminded of what Baghdad's like now:
  • It's dangerous. It's a war-zone. Shahoda couldn't go to school without a guard.
  • Professionals are leaving. No one with a Ph.D wants to stick around that city - they're all emigrating.
  • Americans are not your next door neighbors - they're soldiers. They've come not to play soccer or drink tea; they're not CEOs of an NGO. 
  • It's hot - much hotter than northern Iraq. (If I've learned nothing else this internship, it's that Kurdistan's summer is nothing compared to Baghdad's!)
But what's most fascinating to me is what Baghdad used to be. At ESL last week I made a list of what used to populate this infamous city:
  • parks
  • museums
  • libraries - once the biggest in the Middle East
  • malls
  • amusement parks
  • entertainment
  • roller coasters
  • buses/trains (efficient ones at that)
I talked to my stepdad Russ about it a little to, since he's so well-versed in ... everything.
The only thing I know is that I remember Baghdad being considered a very cosmopolitan and wealthy during the 70's. When the OPEC cartel formed and pushed itself out strong after the 73 Arab-Israeli war, oil prices skyrocketed.
Iraq was a major producer, on a par with Saudi Arabia. Lots of money. I remember a TV show about it. Lots of construction, parks and running water. Jobs like crazy.
Then Saddam took over completely and decided he wanted to be an emperor also, started the war with Iran which destroyed a lot of the oil fields. War went badly and things got worse because the money dried up slowly. That’s why he started the Kuwait war in 91 thinking he could get away with taking over theirs. We threw him out of course and the rest is history.
I wish I could visit Baghdad. I know there are a million reasons why that'd be a bad idea - see list above. But I don't want to judge a culture without experiencing it myself. Maybe I'd be a target because I'm a little white girl with red hair - clearly Amerikim - but that doesn't stop my curiosity.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hi, I'm a narcissist

I am a narcissist.

After my Media and Society paper about narcissism on Facebook, I realized that I have all the tell-tale signs of a narcissist. I talk about myself. I am frustrated when people don't honor me the way I think they should. And in the midst of my self-loving is self-loathing - I want to be more than I already am.

It's a big mess.
It's also something I've been praying against since the spring.

My goal for this internship was to rid myself of narcissism. I wanted, and still want, a character arc. I want my character - me, Lauren Deidra Sawyer - to change during this internship, and for the better.

I wanted to magically become more others-focused and compassionate.
I wanted to overcome my insecurities and view myself soberly.

It's about four weeks into my internship, and I think it's finally happening, just not in the way I had imagined. I thought that I'd start stripping myself of narcissism when I met a bunch of sick kids or toughed the 115 degree heat. But honestly, I'm being challenged the same way I am in the States.

Note that I'm glad I'm going through this. I don't want my dear PLC family to think that they're doing anything wrong. Everything that's going on is for the best - I believe it. I won't be able to shake this narcissism without fire.

- I am most comfortable in a leadership position ... so I find myself in a country where women aren't meant to lead. I'm forced to be okay with that.
- I'm not the best. Esther's the journalist. Lydia's the artsy one. Claire's the funny one. Sophie's Wonder Woman. I'm just me. A me that isn't "winning" at the moment.
- The task I chose for the summer does not bring me instant gratification. I am one of the few interns that took a long-term project. I am making headway on my assignment - PLC's year-end review, kind of like a magazine - but it's not as though what I'm writing is posted on the blog. It's hard. That's the one thing I love about working at a newspaper - I can see results by the end of the week.
- To somehow make this vague and mysterious: it's hard talking (I mean "talking") to a boy when you're a narcissist. It's easy for me to talk about myself all the time, but that's not how you attract the opposite sex.

Oh God, break me down.

I read this prayer in Elise and Sarah's copy of "The Pursuit of God" by A.W. Tozer:

Oh God, I have tasted Thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further Grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.

Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, "Rise up, my Love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me Grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life in Iraq: education

Yesterday afternoon, Claire and I visited Zeba and Amir in their office, two floors below the Preemptive Love office. One of Zeba's friends was at their shop and we conversed with him about womanhood in Iraq, life in Texas, PLC, autism and education.

He told us that when he was a student, back in the 1980s, the schools were very good and his teachers very knowledgeable. Coincidentally, this was during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Claire and I were confused: why would Saddam invest in education - especially for Kurds - when he was such a tyrant? We thought that most dictators liked to keep their people uneducated so they can't revolt.

We went back upstairs to an empty office - it was past five and the interns had gone home. Jeremy, our boss/friend/PLC visionary, was still around so we asked him if what our Kurdish friend said was true. After a quick Google search, we had our answer.


In the early 1970s during the oil crisis, when Americans were lining cars outside gas stations, handing over exponentially more money for gas than they had the previous year, Iraq was getting rich. Off of our money. This isn't a political statement, it's a fact. Because of the oil crisis of 1973, Iraq got wealthy.

Saddam Hussein, who was the vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, used this newly gained money to fund domestic projects. A big part of this was the education system. He established a campaign for "Compulsory Free Education" which made all education - primary through higher ed - free. This is still true for Iraqi public schools today.

The school systems were so good that he won an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


Today, public schooling is still free for Iraqis. It's free to go to college if your grades are good enough.

Classes are large with 25-40 students. Primary and secondary teachers aren't trained for their jobs. Teachers, like Media, whom I wrote about last week, aren't allowed to teach outside their assigned curriculum. If they are, they're punished. Students aren't punished for bad behavior like cheating, but teachers are punished for their ambition.

When we asked our ESL students if they wanted their kids to attend public schools, all but one emphatically answered, "No!"


So what happened? We learned from our ESL students that the public schools in Iraq are not good. How did we get from point A to point B?

Jeremy had some ideas. The Iran-Iraq War started in the early 80s. Since so much money was put into the war, not as much was put into education. The focus shifted.

Or maybe Saddam got scared, like many tyrants do, that his people would out smart him and revolt.

I'm sure there have been books written about this, or at least lengthy essays.


When discussing education in our ESL class, one student noted that people don't value what they don't pay for. I read an essay about this, regarding the environment. I see it as the same.

Who's going to invest time and energy into something that has no money invested into it?


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Meeting Honya and Mohammad

After Preemptive Love sends kids into heart surgery, they continue to check up on them through a program called FollowThrough. This program allows PLC to make sure the kids are adjusting to life, are healthy, and so on.

Thursday Claire, Lydia and I went on our first home visit with Jessica and Awara.


This is baby Honya. She had heart surgery last November. She's now 15 months old and healthy. She had a parasite a little bit ago, so she's still thin from that, but she's giggling and playing like any little one her age.

Honya's dad calls her "grandma," because she doesn't have any teeth. Toddlers her age should have teeth by now, but the heart surgery delayed her development a little.


Mohammad Star, whom I call the Kurdish version of my 10-year-old nephew Austin, had surgery in November. As we eat the cucumbers, fruit and pastries his mom sets out for us, Mohammad sits close next to his younger siblings, looking up at us timidly. Awara somehow gets Mohammad to talk, showing our Kurdish coworker his toy car.

Awara asks about the chickens running around outside their home. Mohammad raised 14 chickens from a hen and a rooster - all on his own!

Mohammad takes Claire, Lydia and I out to see the chickens. He and his little siblings pose for pictures - and so do we, actually - with the village and Kurdish flag waving in the background.

To get to Mohammad's house, we drove through the mountains. For someone who has lived her whole life in the flattest part of the country, seeing mountains on all sides of me, winding up a huge hill just to get to a village, seems unreal. And euphoric. It felt like I was watching a movie, not really there. Lydia compared it to being in a Bible story, us on an old felt board, a caravan through ancient Babylon.


For all that I've done with PLC so far, this has been my favorite. Seeing the kids we've helped in the past reminds me why I spend 40 hours a week in the office. It reminds me why I try to capture the kids' stories through writing.


* photos by Lydia Bullock

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Life in Iraq: careers

I've been sitting in on Preston and Claire's English class on Monday and Wednesday evenings, just to listen to English-speaking Kurds talk about life. It's an advanced class; everyone can converse in English quite well. (Every once in a while they'll ramble on in Kurdish, and the three of us Americans look at each other awkwardly.)

Every class has a new discussion topic. Yesterday we talked about professions and education.

I know we talk in America about being underpaid and under-appreciated as workers, but I don't think we know what we're talking about. In America we have minimum wage and unions and employee evaluations. Before we apply for jobs, we read job descriptions.

Those things are non-existent in Iraq. Some of them are starting to show up - like job descriptions and evaluations - but are for the most part obsolete.

One woman in Claire and Preston's class, Media, is a high school science teacher. She hates her job, but unlike so many of us in the States, she really can't quit her job. Not because of money, but because she's limited to certain jobs. She has to fill out paperwork before she can switch professions. 

Media has to teach from a 20-year-old textbook and cannot stray from it without getting in trouble. She can't punish her students for cheating or acting up without getting in trouble herself.

All the men and women in the Life Center's class are professionals. The students are geologists and government workers and interior designers and techies. They are just like the geologists and government workers and interior designers and techies in the States. They're college educated. They talk to each other with respect. They dress similarly to us. 

I'm afraid that we equate rough working conditions, like in Iraq, to lazy or uneducated people.

The problem isn't the people; the problem's with the system. As Westerners we tend to make assumptions without understanding the problem. I don't think I totally understand the problem, but I know women like Media and men like Aso and Bryar are hard workers and can't get promoted because the system doesn't allow for it.

Another woman told a story about her aunt who's an ear-nose-throat doctor. This aunt won awards for her work in overseas in countries like Switzerland, but she won't come back to Kurdistan to practice because she's under-appreciated.

Maybe America really is the land of opportunity.

* photo by Lydia Bullock

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To be human

people are just people
they shouldn't make you nervous
the world is everlasting, it's coming and it's going


People are just people.

I read in George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius" that people are not just people, that people in England aren't the same people in America or in Germany or in South Africa. But I don't believe George Orwell - and I wonder if at the end of the essay he doesn't refute his own opinion.

I joined Preston and Claire who taught English last night at the Life Center. I had met a few students last week at the party, including Van's brother Ahmed, Zeba and her husband Amir.

The two-hour class is organized into two parts. It's an upper-level class centered on conversation, so each half of each class has a different discussion topic. The first topic was marriage.

What surprised me about our conversation about marriage with Kurds, primarily Muslim Kurds, was that nothing they said surprised me. Every answer sounded American. Everything sounded Christian, and not even ultra-conservative Christian. It sounded like something I've said about marriage or I've heard said about marriage.

Several of the students talked about respect: the husband respecting the wife, and vise versa; the wife respecting her husband's friends, etc. They talked about what they look for in a spouse: education, values, looks, honesty.


I'm writing this to expose my ignorance. I assumed a lot about this culture because of the books I read (A Thousand Splendid Suns) or movies (I'll be honest: Aladdin), but I've been wrong.

It's hard to know a culture without being immersed in that culture. I can read all I want, and still not grasp what a people group is all about. I can talk to Jessica and Jeremy about life in Kurdistan, without understanding what life in Kurdistan is really like.

I can't stop thinking of the Incarnation, and what it meant for God to step into our world in order to empathize with us.

He didn't just read about the world or watch movies about it.
He lived in our houses; he "moved into the neighborhood" as Eugene Peterson says.
He put on our skin; he put on our culture (he wore Klash!).
He died a death that we die: political, religious.

So when God says to me, "Girl, I get it. I know what you're going through."

He means it.

I'm beginning to understand that now.


[* photo by Lydia Bullock]