Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Now That We're Apart

A few days after I moved to Iraq, my uncle died. It was both expected and it was not. He had been sick since 1989. He’d started to seem invincible. My cousin wrote me about the death on Facebook and then my mother e-mailed me. My uncle was very, very, very good at impressions, and could speak French. Well, you’d swear it was French he was speaking, by tone and inflection, until you pieced together the syllables to form only nonsense words. He was good at all sorts of other impressions, too – any person you mentioned, he could mimic. He probably could have made a living as an actor or a comedian. He was an editor in New York.

This morning my mother e-mailed me again to say my great-aunt only has a week to live. That one was even more surprising to me. Apparently she’d been sick, but I hadn’t known. She forges jewelry out of metal and collects really beautiful pieces of religious iconography. I brought her back a small painting of a biblical scene the first time I was in Ethiopia. She took me to a museum once and we looked at designs made out of Arabic script and then we had the best lunch together.

I have a friend who sends me random SMSs where ever I live. Uganda, Congo, Iraq. She makes me think that the world is small and that I am not so far away. Other times the world is insurmountably huge and I am so far away.

There is not warm sunny news coming out of Goma. Two nights ago there was a (politically motivated) murder in front of the restaurant we all frequent. There were hundreds of women and children mass raped. An airplane carrying aid workers traveling to assist those women and children was shot at. The aid workers are currently hiding in a forest, according to the Associated Press, who is not naming them. Other expat and national aid workers have received death threats just this week. My expatriate friends in Goma have evacuation insurance. My national friends in Goma do not. Rwanda’s government is upset by the OHCHR report. It’s all so frightening.

Erbil is calm, calm, calm. It seems insurmountably far away from every place I know.

Then here in Erbil a colleague rushes in and asks me questions about that comment made by this person at that meeting then, and another colleague asks me to help with translations, and there is the same old hustle and bustle that there is in any aid/development office I have worked in. And then a new colleague/friend, knowing I’m feeling down, sings me a song about Staying on the Sunny Side of Life, right in the middle of the office. Like all friends do, everywhere.


  1. may his soul rest in peace. I know how hard it is! and I hope your aunt gets better soon.