I guess you know that you’ve been away from blogging too long when friends begin to email you and ask if you’re alive or not. I sometimes forget that people check this website to see how I’m doing on a number of levels. It’s been an insane month and I’m finally catching up this week. It all started a month ago when my friend Sahar came to visit me from Kabul for a week. As soon as she arrived from the airport we went to a demonstration for a new group that wanted to create a human chain along the Green Line as a statement against the stalemate between the opposition forces and the government. The group, Solve It Resolve It, didn’t get a huge showing, as seen in the above photograph, but it demonstrated a positive sentiment. There have been other groups and coalitions of such groups over the past couple of months that popped up, but unfortunately none of them has had a large enough following. We also went to the tail end of the rally on February 14th.
While everyone in the US was busy celebrating Valentine’s Day, here people were honoring the death of slain leader Rafiq Hariri. It was more like a parade of people following a series of speeches, which we watched on television before heading downtown. Aside from these political activities it was just great having a good friend in town to catch up with. But while she was here I found out that my grandmother was in the hospital in Los Angeles and had died three times on the operating table so I flew home to LA to be with her for a week. She’s finally coming home from the hospital on Monday, insha’allah.
As soon as I returned home from LA I had to begin finishing up my big lecture at AUB. It’s the first chapter of my new book and I’ve been working day and night on it for months. It went pretty well, although I don’t think the US Embassy thinks so as they’re bugging my office for a copy of my talk, even though it’s on our department’s website. It got written up in the local Daily Star as well.
As soon as the talk was over my photojournalist friend and I were off to Amman to try to meet with the Iranian Kurdish refugees living in No Man’s Land between the Iraqi and Jordanian border. Since I had had so many difficulties last spring getting back inside we decided that we would get Iraqi visas and try to get in that way. As we were driving up to the border we started seeing black smoke coming from inside the Al Karama border (see photograph); fortunately, it turned out to be nothing of consequence. We made it as far as Jordanian customs when the Jordanian major who works there recognized me and called us into his office. Apparently there is a new law that asks anyone crossing the Iraqi border to have permission from the embassy before crossing. They said it is because they are trying to protect the human trafficking of Bangladeshi and Filipino workers across the border but they want to be even handed in the way they handle this. If this is true, it’s great. But it seemed a bit as if they were making this up as they went along. The US Embassy in Amman knew nothing of this law and seemed like they didn’t know how to handle our request for such a permission letter. I did get to speak with the refugees on the phone and we had some great meetings with the folks from UNHCR Jordan and UNHCR Iraq, but I had really hoped that we could meet with them and help to resolve the situation for these people who have lived in this border for two years and two months now. And so we wait to hear back about various permission requests from various government agencies to see if we can return.