Iraq Update: Yek (1)

Coni! (cho-nee)… Hello!

We have now been in Iraq for almost a week.  I think I’m finally over the jetlag! So far, this has been such an incredible experience. The culture here is so different than America.  I guess that’s a given, but the difference is night and day. There is so much to tell!

We arrived in Iraq late Tuesday night. I am amazed at how smoothly the trip went; we easily made all of our connecting flights. Once we arrived in Suly, Iraq there was a good chance that we would have a difficult time getting through security and passport control.  The security in northern Iraq, Kudistan, has become very strict due to the war in southern Iraq. Kurdistan is almost an entirely different nation with a separate military and government. The Kurdish are anti-terrorism. The increase in security is great for us living here in Suly as it offers much protection, but it makes it difficult to enter the country. However, we had no problem entering Kurdistan, and security and passport control asked us very few questions. Thank you, Lord!

Things I have learned my first week in Iraq:

  •        Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet and always carry some extra with you on outings. I have become extremely grateful for the plumbing in the states. Here, I’m not sure you can even call it plumbing. They do not have constantly running water. Usually at night, water runs into a holding tank on the side of the house. Then a pump has to be turned on to pump the water to a tank on the roof and gravity allows it to flow down the pipes into the faucet. The water comes once a day at best and a house has only enough as the tank can hold. Showers equal a faucet, drain and bucket. The plumbing in the toilets works about the same way. Gravity drains the toilet so toilet paper and such become a problem… I will leave it at that. Also, most Kurds do not use toilet paper. So when traveling outside the comfort of our own home, tp doesn’t usually exist. Hopefully you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks on what the Kurds use for an alternative.
  •        Not to drink the water and/or anything that is not cooked. Summer heat makes food poisoning that much worse as bacteria grows more rapidly. Fridges are highly uncommon. Milk, cheese and meat are not usually kept cold. So, I’m told that we will all become sick at least once.
  •      Don’t make eye contact with the opposite sex. It means you are interested in that person and they can start pursuing you. This one is very difficult because there are few Americans here and all eyes are magnets on us as we walk down the street. In some ways I think it might be what it feels like to be famous.
  •           Not to walk out of the house with wet hair. Ask me if you would like to know more about that one.
  •      Temperatures can reach at least 120 degrees in the summer!
  •     There are currently over 4,000 Iraqi children who are in desperate need of heart surgery… I can’t even comprehend that astronomical number.

*      I’m sure this list will continue all summer….

One thing I wasn’t expecting is the bond that has formed between the interns. I have known these people for almost a week and we have all just clicked. I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord carefully orchestrated our being together. We have so easily become friends that I feel as if I’ve known them for months.

I had no idea what to expect when it came to food prior to arriving here. I am pleased to say that the food here is wonderful! Rice and beans are very popular and very good. It’s completely different tasting rice and beans than we have in America. Kabobs are very popular as well. We have eaten out a few times and most fast food places have breaded chicken called kintuqi… which is said Kentucky… as in Kentucky Fried Chicken! Ha!

The other day we went to the Bazaar, which is a gigantic outdoor market. There were several things we had to buy and it was difficult at best to communicate to the Kurds. We are all learning Kurdish and it’s the most confusing language I have ever heard. There are 44 letters in the Kurdish alphabet, most of them I can’t even begin to pronounce. Many Kurds know or understand a little bit of English but I only know how to say ‘yes’  ‘no’ and ‘thank you’ and about 10 other phrases including ‘do you know English?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ in Kurdish. We met this one man named Alan, which is probably not his Kurdish name. He spoke fairly fluent English. We met him in a Klash shop and just said ‘hi’ and he offered to show us around the Bazaar. He bought us Kurdish bread. Then took us to an ice cream shop and bought us pistachio ice cream (much better ice cream than I’ve ever had in the states!) He then decided we were thirsty and got us bottled water. We hung out with us for several hours; we just talked and talked. One of the interns asked Alan if he liked to cook and he thought she said Coke. So, he jumped up and bought us all cokes despite are profuse refusal.  Then, paid a taxi to take us home! The people here are entirely different than I imagined. They are the most hospitable and loving people that I have ever met. There is no such thing as a busy lifestyle here and the people go out of their way to help us. So far, I have been more blessed by them than anything I could have done to bless the Kurds.

I am so excited about this summer. I am going to be stretched to my limits, I’m sure. I am totally and completely out of my comfort zone but the Lord’s continually shown me that this is where I’m supposed to be. I can already see my views about Iraq and love for these people to change. I feel so blessed to be apart of how God is working here. Lives are being changed because of the heart surgeries taking place through PLC.

Tomorrow I am going with two PLC staff to visit a girl who just returned from a trip to Istanbul to have heart surgery and came to find her condition was inoperable. I can’t imagine the devastation she and her family are facing right now. One of the problems with these congenital heart defects is that after a certain time, the damage is irreversible. PLC is aiming to get children in as quickly as possible but every month without surgery they lose a year of life and every year, a decade. The funds are inadequate to get these children in quickly enough. I am sure tomorrow will be emotional as we try to answer the unanswerable questions. I do not think the Lord sent her all the way to Istanbul without reason. Pray that we have the words to give comfort. Pray that in this time the Lord reveals himself to this family. Pray that, Lord willing, she will be healed: physically and spiritually.

Other Prayer Needs:

  •       There are currently 6 children  (Shad, Heran, Roman, Lawen, Necat and Shwan) in Istanbul, Turkey receiving life-saving heart surgeries this week! Four of them have already successfully completed surgery and are doing incredible. Pray as they continue to recover.  The other two surgeries should be completed before Tuesday. Pray for wisdom for Dr. Cicek (chee-check), the heart surgeon with whom PLC has won much favor, with these complicated surgeries and for the children’s families through this stressful time.
  •     The interns are teaching 5 English classes a week starting tomorrow night. PRAY! None of us feel like we have the skills to teach grammar, reading, writing and conversation. We are hoping these classes give opportunities to build friendships with the Kurds.
  •       Pray for boldness, focus and intentionality for the entire staff of PLC. Even in the excitement of being here, I find myself getting easily distracted with meaningless things. I want to spend my time here totally devoted to serving and listening and obeying the Lord.
  •      Pray that we can soak up as much Kurdish as possible. I can’t explain how difficult it is! But, we want to be able to communicate as efficiently as possible

Thank you all for supporting me through prayer and finances! This summer would be IMPOSSIBLE without you. I apologize for the length of the email. Hopefully I will have more time to update as our schedule gets more consistant. Hope things are going well in the states!

Because HE loves them,

Ashley

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