Broken-down Poetry: Life in Iraq: careers


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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

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