Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A day with a war injured child

I awoke one Saturday morning (August 30, 2008) at the Asheville Friends Meeting House, and then went upstairs to wake up the dozen or so college students who had spent the night there. They were in town for a regional meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society, and were busy planning their trip up to St. Paul to protest the Republican Convention. I then went to pick up Adrianne and her daughter Willa – we had a big day planned for Rusul and her dad.

Rusul, which I have written about in the past, here, and here, was in Greenville getting medical treatment for her war injuries. She and her father, Abu Ali, were staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Just the day before, Rusul had her cast removed from her right leg. Her right foot had been badly damaged in a US missile strike while she was playing hopscotch outside her home in Fallujah. Rusul’s sister, Salee, had lost both of her legs above the knees in the same attack, and Rusul’s brother and a neighborhood child had been killed. Abu Ali has pictures of the body parts of his son, but I have not yet asked to see them. He only shows them to people who ask. All of this happened in November 2006.

The day started out well, but about half way down to Greenville, Adrianne started getting calls about problems in the apartment complexes she is managing. One of the problems was a flea infestation, another was someone was locked out, and Adrianne made dozens of calls to try and resolve these issues. We were well on the way to Greenville at this point, and I did not want to be REALLY late, so we kept going and decided that we would get Adrianne back to her apartment building after we got Rusul and her dad and took them to the Islamic Education Center in Asheville. On the way down to Greenville, Adrianne talked about ‘bombing’ the apartment with fleas, which is a standard way of talking about fumigating for bugs. But on the way back to Asheville, with Rusul and Abu Ali in the car, it started to bother me that she was saying “bomb” so much on the phone….. and that I could not fully explain to Abu Ali what exactly we were talking about. Adrianne also said she would like to “shoot” her husband – which is, of course, just an expression. But it got me thinking about how violent our language is here in the USA, and how little we really think about that. Anyway, I was stressing about that, and stressing about leaving Abu Ali and Rusul at the Nature Center by themselves while I took Adrianne across town, but that turned out to be fine with Abu Ali.

On the drive up, Abu Ali communicated “nice” at all the beautiful vistas we saw. We did manage to communicate that Kurdish areas of Iraq also have beautiful mountains. He also said that Bush-bad, McCain-bad, Obama-hope good. He rather liked Obama. His English is far better than my Arabic.

Anyway, I dropped them at the Islamic Education Center, drove Adrianne to her home and came back. Abu Ali took to this Center like a fish to water, but Rusul seemed bored in the children’s education class. There were 15 children in the class. They told a long story in English, which she did not understand. They also covered a few words in Arabic and did the Arabic alphabet, which I think Rusul found too easy to be interesting. Willa, however, really likes this class – so this child of a Quaker may take up Islamic studies. Rusul, however, does not complain. Abu Ali was in worship, which was part in English and part in Arabic. Someone there made a point of thanking me for bringing him.

We were due to meet a local man who would be an interpreter for our trip to the WNC Nature Center at 2:30, so I got Abu Ali out of worship and into the car. When I got there, I called Wail (interpreter) and he said he would not get there for another 20 minutes. So we went inside, and Rusul discovered that if she stood on the air conditioning vent in the gift shop, it would blow up her dress. This was probably the highlight of her day – she thought it was very funny. There are pictures of her doing this, and other pictures from the day, on my blog.

One thing I had not counted on – I was told that the Islamic Center would serve pizza for lunch. It turns out they didn’t, and that meant all of us were getting hungry. In retrospect, we should have eaten before going to the Nature Center. However, I felt we need to be there on time for the interpreter, who came an hour late!

Anyway, we went ahead into the Nature Center and walked on down to the butterfly exhibit. Willa really was into trying to get the butterflies on her hand, which they use sugar water to attract them. Abu Ali was into this too, but Rusul did not know what to make of the butterflies, so she was leery of them. I have some pictures of her making faces on my blog.

This was when Rusul started getting worn out. It is hard work to hop everywhere you go, using a walker. So we went into the log cabin and waited for the interpreter and his daughter to show up. As we were sitting there, it is easy to see the shrapnel wounds that Rusul has in her arms and legs. At this point, we pretty much decided that we all were starving, and we needed to eat! Abu Ali wanted ‘hamburger’ and Rusul likes potatoes. Neither one seems to like sweets.

As we were leaving the area, Abu Ali kept saying “nice” which was his way of saying the scenery was beautiful. Both the Islamic Center and the Nature Center are close to my condo, and this made me think of the time, about six years ago, when I was camping out on top of Rich Mountain in Madison County (NC). I was asking myself why I was so upset and so concerned about the talk and the plans to invade and occupy Iraq….. I had a history of opposing all prior wars, including Afghanistan, but the injustice and utter stupidity of what our leaders were proposing with an invasion of Iraq really took me by storm. And, on top of that mountain in the middle of the night, all I could come up with was “It is a beautiful world. I don’t want to see it wrecked.” Little did I know that six years later I would be escorting a war-injured child and her father, who had paid a horrible price for this illegal invasion and occupation.

And it ain’t over……

As I drove them back to Greenville, Rusul slept soundly in the back seat. Adrianne and Willa had gone home, so it was a quiet drive. I got back in time to run home, take a shower, and head back to the Asheville Friends Meeting House for my chaperon ‘duties’. While I was waiting for the SDS students to arrive, I took a book off the shelves in the library, and opened it randomly to this:

“Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminates even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survivial, then we must find an alternative to war. …..Our world is threatened by the grim prospect of atomic annihilation because there are still too many who know not what they do.” (Martin Luther King, Jr in “Strength to Love”)

Yes, there are many who “know not what they do”. And little children playing hopscotch outside their homes end up paying the price – with their lives, their body parts, their health, and their future. It is the vastly ignorant ones, sitting in the middle of this land of plenty and astounding beauty, who do not see what they have done and make no effort to even become aware of the cost that innocent children have paid.

And in the middle of this land of plenty and astounding beauty, we spend our time making weapons to visit horror on other people (and in the anthrax attacks, we visited it upon ourselves) and making plans to obtain what is not ours to feed an addition to oil. We seem to know no bounds on our not knowing what we are doing, and no ability to see what we are headed towards.

And this ain’t over……

If you would like to help a war-injured child and their families, please go to No More Victims website. I have a video of how things are in Baghdad in July 2008, and another video about what has happened to Iraqi girls in the first half of 2008. The photos from Iraq (from news sources) are posted on my blog Faces of Grief.

And if you are coming through western North Carolina, check out the WNC Peace Coalition blog for peace and social justice events. Our downtown is very torn up, but the mountains here are NICE.