Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Hardest Day (Part 2)

          The day continued after lunch by visiting a local museum in Suli. This was not a normal museum, but an old prison where Saddam Hussein had dissenters tortured and raped. The prison opened in 1986 and closed in 1991. I have never been to the Holocaust museum or visited a concentration camp, but I think the experience would have been similar. As we walked around the different rooms of the prison, our tour guide explained a little of how the prisoners were treated. What was even more powerful was a man who came up and had the tour guide translate how he had been held in the prison. It was really hard to be in that space. It was hard to see the holes in the wall where prisoners had their hands nailed. It was hard seeing the blood stains. It was hard seeing the man show others of how crowded the prison was. It was hard hearing the stories of women being raped.
          At the end of the tour we entered an exhibit of a long room covered with small pieces of mirror and tiny white lights. Each piece of mirror represented one Kurd killed during Saddam Hussein's reign. Each light represented one Kurdish village destroyed. I don't remember the exact numbers, but the room seemed to go on forever. There were hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass and at least four thousand lights. After the official tour we went as a group to a basement room where there was a separate exhibit showing pictures from Halabja, the city in Eastern Iraq where Saddam had used a chemical attack to kill 4000-5000 civilians, most women and children. For more information on the Kurdish genocide visit http://wn.com/the_anfal_museum/biography.
          We met as a group to try to process what we had just witnessed at a nearby park. I am struggling to find the words to describe how I was affected. After experiencing something like that, words are hard to come by. I kept just replaying the line to my favorite Mumford and Sons song in my head... "Give me hope in the darkness that we will see a light. Because oh they gave me such a fright. But I will hold on as long as you like, just promise me we'll be alright."
          The day was long from being over, though. We next spent hour at the downtown Baazar before getting in taxis to meet go to the homes of the families of those killed in the demonstrations. The following is my journal excerpt about the experience.
          "One family (mother, father and two young girls) drove almost an hour to be with us. They met us at the house of another family's (father). Those two killed had been ages 11 and 6 months and thirteen. Hearing their stories and seeing their tears was really hard. I began to tear up and it was all I could do not to break down crying. And they were so glad that we wanted to hear their story and be willing to tell others. They even invited us to dinner. I felt so humble and unworthy. The mom of the youngest son told us of her desire to leave Kurdistan because the government does not care about her son's death and trying them to be quiet. The government has been trying to work out a private negotiation instead of acknowledging their part in his death. The families are refusing these private negotiations and working towards legal justice even though they might need the money and it is dangerous to speak out against the government. The mother was scared that they would kidnap their daughter in exchange for their silence.  The second house we visited, the victim had been 28 and working to build a home for himself and his fiance. After his death his mother went crazy for three months. Their house is full of pictures of him and they live in mourning everyday. I felt so bad for the other sons (one of which looked around my age).; not only did they have to deal with their brother's death and their own grief, but it seemed they now permanently live in their parent's grief. The parents told us that they can't move on and think about their son all the time.  In the car afterward, I prayed, truly prayed for the son around my age. I prayed that he would be able to find life after his brother's death and find joy in life despite all that has happened."

I have not lost someone close to me and I have no idea what it is like to lose a child. But just remembering the parent's tears brings me to tears. It also brings questions... Where was God? Where was God when that eleven year old boy ended up at the demonstration? Where was God when Saddam Hussein began his genocide against the Kurdish people? 

Where, oh where was God?

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