Christmas in Iraq (Day 5-6): Parade!

CGR

Sun Dec 27 2015 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

KURDISTAN - Today was full of anticipation as we got ready for Christmas Eve. The city’s bazaar included flavourful figs, dates, exotic teas, Turkish delight and more, but importantly the gifts we sought to bring to local refugee camps and distribute in a parade. Santa Claus “Baba Noel” and our local friends assured us there would be a lot of energy and excitement!

KURDISTAN - Today was full of anticipation as we got ready for Christmas Eve. The city’s bazaar included flavourful figs, dates, exotic teas, Turkish delight and more, but importantly the gifts we sought to bring to local refugee camps and distribute in a parade. Santa Claus “Baba Noel” and our local friends assured us there would be a lot of energy and excitement!

Series Introduction: A couple teams of Canadians are visiting the Middle East this Christmas. Their purpose is to bring hope and joy during the holiday season to refugees and internally displaced people living or in transit in Jordan and Northern Iraq. Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as many other minority groups such as the Yazidi have been displaced by the wars that began back in 2011.

Our friends helped coordinate a huge gift-wrapping session, and even taught us one of their Arabic festive dances. Over 300 dolls and remote controlled cars were boxed up in the back of a pickup truck, with Christmas lights flashing, generator humming, and Christmas carols booming into the night.

We’re going to two refugee camps delivering presents, but first we drive there slow like a parade, with cars behind us honking, everyone shouting, and all of us waving at anyone on the street or who comes out of their homes to see what was happening.

The refugee camp was setup in and outside a large warehouse, with hundreds of housing containers lining the inside for warmth. Children and parents huddled around a fire as we unloaded—the camp’s residents needed no invitation as they laughed, sang, shouted and danced! P shares, “My ears are still ringing! It was an amazing, amazing experience because Santa goes to each home and gives each family a gift for one child.” Our team and many Iraqis follow behind Santa, snaking down the narrow alleys dodging clothes lines strung across the alley, shouting and ringing bells. Everyone shakes hands and embraces.

Throughout our journey we’ve learned that receiving is also helpful as it gives dignity to others.

“The families invited us into their humble place, even gifting and insisting we receive candy. They wanted pictures and for us to stay, eat, talk and visit.” X reflects, “Love is found between people here: many families are very caring as they invite us into their small homes. We are here to care for them, but even in their situation they are trying to offer love and take care of us. They are willing to serve us and are very open with their lives.”

An eighteen-year-old who had fled from Mosul offered to help take photos. It’s rare for someone to speak English as well as he does. T and D learned that he had his own studio with a friend before fleeing, and even had the same camera D was using. “We used to be rich, but we ended up leaving with just the clothes on our back,” he shared, his family not knowing how long they would be away.

“Everyone’s happy now, but usually they’re not. It’s pretty depressing around here. Even though we are dancing now, we don’t dance.”

He left high school in grade eleven and wants to complete his education, but he can’t progress because of the quality of the schooling offered to refugees. It’s also hard for him to study as, “The walls here are thin. If one person turns on a television or radio everyone in the camp can hear.”

One of our members shared during the evening: “It really moved me—sometimes to tears, when I realized the plight these families are in. They’re stuffed into small container boxes with extended family, grandparents, parents and children. They have no place to go, nothing to do, beds are on the floor, people constantly stand in lines, and for most there is no work. For the most part they just have just warehoused lives: eat, sit, sleep.”

When we run out of presents, we start dancing by the truck to Iraqi music. They pull us into the line which soon becomes a circle by the fire. And wildest of all, we snake our way back by truck and parade of cars through the neighborhoods, shouting and playing music past midnight. Cars honk “jingle bells” in rhythm, joining us till the traffic comes to a stop and we’re forced to keep dancing on the streets. Slowly, we make our way back home and call it a day.

On the way back home we’re reminded that love can be a language, and whatever the size, we’ve made a difference. One team member recalls Mother Theresa’s famous words, “Small things done with great love will change the world.”

H shares, “When I was packing the gifts yesterday and when we went out, I thought this would be a blessing to them, but as we got to the camps and they were so glad we were there. They invited us into our homes. A boy took my hand and led me to his house, introducing me to his mom. In many ways they were much more of a blessing to us than the other way around. They really taught me how to love and what love is. I’m so glad that came out of this trip.”

“I saw this a lot last night – most of the people who planned what we did are refugees themselves. Whether internally displaced or from another country, they have experienced what these families have experienced,” S reflected.

“Yet they feel privileged, maybe having a part-time job, or their living conditions are slightly better. They want to pour their lives out to these other families regardless of what that might cost them. They themselves are helping with what little they have. It’s not that our local friends are bored and wanting to get out of their apartments, but they want to love.”

Her takeaway was that regardless of situation, “There are always opportunities to love others.”

Thank you for your generosity in partnering with CGR in making a difference in the lives of many Syrian and Iraqi refugees by providing advocacy, basic needs to families, and education to refugee children.