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Easter in Iraq

April 23, 2011

Rainy Days and Sundays Always Get Me UP:

It appeared that summer was just around the corner, as each day brought warmer temperatures pushing the mercury up into the high 80’s. But another rainstorm rolled in during the night, waking me from a restful sleep as lightening cracked and thunder shook my CHU. Rain has blessed us with much needed moisture here in the deserts of Mosul, Iraq and brought with it much cooler temperatures. All of us welcome anything that will prolong the inevitable heat, knowing full well it will be over a hundred before we leave. Fortunately, at least we know we will miss, for the most part, the severe summer heat we experienced when we arrived so many months ago now.

Not wanting to move from my warm bed, I laid awake listening to the pounding of the raindrops, as it sounded like a buckets of water were landing on my CHU, something reminiscent of a monsoon season storm in Korea. I heard water dripping in one corner of my CHU and rose to place a cup to catch the drops. Wrapping up in my blankets again, the dripping lulled me back to sleep. Sand-free crisp fresh air crept into my sleeping quarters, bringing with it a certain peacefulness and causing me to think to myself, “there is nothing quite like sleeping during a rainstorm”.

The rain turned our dustbowl into a mud pot, but at least the rain wasn’t preceded by a sandstorm, like last time, which turned even the rain into mud. Personally I will take the rain and mud over the heat any day.

Flush it Away:

Today I actually get to start eating real food again. For the last 7 days I have been on a cleansing diet of water/lemon juice/ and maple syrup, with a morning saltwater chaser. In an effort to flush my system of all toxins, I have subjected myself to this self-inflicted torture. Going without food for that many days is not fun whatsoever. I actually felt pretty good; you know the whole mind over matter thing, proving to myself that I do have the willpower to conquer my physical needs for that many days.

The constant thoughts of food and the consequential weakness and tiredness has interfered with my productivity level at work; my body just longing for more nourishment and rest. My mind frequently wandered to thoughts of my favorite foods, which strangely enough brought up memories of whole wheat toast, cheese and tomato sandwiches my Mother used to make for me and Iraqi Samoon bread, cheese, walnuts and honey, I recently enjoyed while out on a mission.

All in all it has been a good experience; one I don’t think I will do again for quite a while though. Hopefully my system has been sufficiently flushed; hoping now to refrain from eating “toxic foods”.

A Challenging Contestant:

A few nights ago, during a night mission, in an area we only go to at night (due to the dangerous nature of the surrounding neighborhood), I experienced firsthand the power and effectiveness of doing the Civil Support Events.

Departing the base a little earlier than usual that evening, we arrived at the location for our KLE (Google military terms), in hopes of meeting the police commander. All previous trips to see him had been to no avail, having just missed him on three other occasions. Whether on purpose or not, he always had other more pressing issues at hand, requiring his presence elsewhere, forcing him to be conveniently absent.

The shopkeepers were all closing up for the day and the market all but empty, as we pulled up to the station. It was still light out, perhaps it was too early to be driving through this area, our presence obvious to anyone in the vicinity. Fortunately it was quite, now just before dusk, not much stirring and most of the buildings empty.

With unemployment at over 40%, the situation is bleak to say the least for most of the residents and most businesses have been forced to vacate the premises. Money is tight and jobs are few, forcing men to seek employment elsewhere or to take up other types of work, just to feed their families. Electricity is only on a few hours a day, crime is up, the insurgents grow stronger in certain areas, and people are depressed.

Thus the reasons for the recent demonstrations in the city; people wanting the government to provide them with jobs, electrical power, clean water, stability and law and order. And of course many of them want the US to be gone, even though has improved life for many Iraqis.

As we entered the building, the Commander’s personal security guards escorted us directly into his office, indicating surprisingly that he was in. His office nicely decorated in traditional Iraqi décor; with the usual gaudy furniture hugging the walls in a “U” shape, fake flowers, small tea-serving tables, Iraqi flag, large wooden ornate wooden desk, and don’t forget the plaques and pictures of him with special Iraqi dignitaries.

With him behind his desk and his lower ranking aid to his side, he rose to greet us and stepped to the side of his desk to shake our hands, offering up the customary Iraqi greetings. He seemed cordial and hospitable but not overly friendly or excited to see us. My first thoughts were perhaps we had caught him just in time before he was able to make his escape.

Finding our seats, and properly positioned around him, we proceeded to make an attempt to engage him with our small talk and questioning. With several quiet moments of dead silence in between, we sputtered and stalled in our questioning, but pressed on. Iraqi Chai (Google) was served to each of us, as the discussion continued. It wasn’t until we touched on a few soft spots, asking about his family and women, that he started to show signs of opening up.

Obviously he enjoyed discussing women, his family, where he lives, and other personal things. We saw the light and went like moths to a flame, as the discussion started to flow and gel. I believe we had broken through the ice, now allowing him to relax, to joke with us, and to steer the discussion more towards his interests. The questioning turned towards what he wanted and needed, stressing our desire to assist him in managing a very dangerous area.

A few things were mentioned and offered, as we probed for an opening in his somewhat protective covering. But, it wasn’t until I mentioned assisting him in conducting a Civil Support Event, and the possibility of bringing a thousand School Supply Kits, for impoverished children at a school of his choosing, that his welcoming-light really went on. Not sure exactly of what was going on in his head but sensing a difference I pushed on with my explanation.

At that moment I personally felt a change, a transformation, in his demeanor. The mood, the spirit of the room changed. It is as if he realized first, that we really were there to help him, and secondly, the impact of the event on the children and on his perception in the community. The idea seemed to resonate with him, changing his perception of our motives and us.

After snapping a few photos of him and all of us, he invited us to comeback soon, requesting we call first to make sure he would be there. With a certain degree of joviality and friendliness, he offered up several words in English, and bid us farewell.

I believe we have turned the corner with him and well on our way to developing a good relationship. I am actually looking forward to our next visit, in a week or so, to deliver on our promise to bring the school kits. The dynamics of building a relationship are very interesting, worthy of more discussion and discovery.

It suffices to say that everyone understands the language of giving and sharing. Where verbal language usually fails to deliver, true love and concern are best communicated through actions of giving unselfishly.

Today is Easter Sunday:

As I pause this day to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I have cause to wonder why more is not said and done to celebrate Easter; this day being perhaps the most meaningful and purposeful day for all mankind. We should all joyfully observe Easter as a time to rejoice in the Saviors resurrection and rebirth, enabling all of us the opportunity to live again after death. We should also give thanks for and remember his atonement, allowing each of us to be forgiven of our sins and trespasses.

I am reminded of an Easter message given by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints back in 2009.

“At this Easter season of hope and renewal we testify of the glorious reality of the atonement and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The empty tomb brought comforting assurance and provided the answer to the question of Job, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14).
Because of the Savior’s resurrection we will overcome death and become the beneficiaries of His mercy and grace. In a world of trouble and uncertainty, His peace fills our hearts and eases our minds. Jesus is in very deed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

We give our sure witness that Jesus is the Christ. Though He was crucified, He rose triumphant from the tomb to our everlasting blessing and benefit. To each member of the human family He stands as our Advocate, our Savior, and our Friend.”

And the Easter Message this year 2011 from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Among the most cherished thoughts and writings in this world is the divine statement of truth: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This precious Son, our Lord and Savior, atoned for the sins of all mankind. That memorable night in Gethsemane His suffering was so great, His anguish so consuming that He pleaded, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Later, on the cruel cross, He died that we might live, and live everlastingly. Resurrection morning was preceded by pain, by suffering in accordance with the divine plan of God. Before Easter, there had to be a cross. The world has witnessed no greater gift, nor has it known more lasting love.
The message of Easter is that the Savior lives! And because He lives all shall indeed live again. This knowledge provides the peace for loved ones of those who have passed on, “Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’”

Please take the time to remember the true meaning of Easter

Always Yours

Chief Wiggles
“Doing it the Wiggles Way”

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