Originally uploaded by The Toze
I don’t know why, but in Kuwait before you can turn something on you have to flip a switch. When I first arrived, Mercy Corps put me up in an apartment and gave me a week to decide where I wanted to live. The air conditioning in the apartment wasn’t working, nor was the hot water, so it was perfect. I would wake up hot and sweaty and take a cold shower. But then they fixed the air conditioning and the hot water still wasn’t working. After about 4 days of this I was talking about my dilemma in the office and how I was tired of taking cold showers.
R from Iraq looked at me and said did you turn it on. I looked at him and said, “Yes, I turned the hot and the cold on and I even turned the cold water all the way off.” Alex from Serbia overheard and clarified, “He’s asking if you turned on the hot water switch outside the bathroom, the one with the red light.”
“Oh,” I replied. “No, I did not.”
“Well, you have to turn on the switch in order to get hot water,” he informed me.
“Good to know.”
So much for a six-day work week I’m on my 13th straight day of work. The weekend here is Friday and Saturday and last Friday, my focal points, the people I manage in Iraq came into town so I had meetings with them on Friday. On Saturday the Country Director of Iraq, Paul Butler, and the Regional Director of the Middle East David Holdridge came into town, so I had an all day meeting with them on Saturday to discuss strategy and vision.
Karen the woman who I am taking over the PWD (People with Disabilities) Program from left on Sunday and Drakoulis, the Greek man I’m taking over the Women’s Literacy Program from arrived. So, I have spent most of the week in meetings with him, trying to get my arms around the Literacy Program which has a lot of moving parts. We had the strategy meeting for Women’s Literacy on the 4th and then I had to go to Conflict Management Conference to meet with the my PWDs who were attending. On Wednesday night, the CEO of Mercy Corps, Neal Keny-Guyer, flew into town and we had a meeting with him on Thursday morning and that evening we attended the banquet for the Conflict Management Training.
My focal point for women’s literacy, who is a woman, I will call her Z came into town on Thursday, so I spent Thursday afternoon meeting with her and then Friday afternoon, what was supposed to be my weekend preparing for my meeting with her on Saturday. After our meeting she went shopping with me. I moved apartments on Sunday, September 2, now I live in Miami and I still haven’t had a chance to unpack. I needed to buy coat hangers and some extension cords. I still need more extension cords. I also took Z out to dinner, she is getting a cold because of the air conditioning. She is 28 years old and very smart. She graduated from the University with a degree in English and she speaks it and writes it well. She dresses in an Abaya, covering her hair with her scarf. She has a round face and beautiful, intelligent big eyes. She lives with her mother, a brother and several sisters. Her brother who was married at age 20 and has a daughter escorted her to Kuwait. Unmarried women cannot travel without an escort. After we went shopping she came back to my apartment and I asked her questions about Iraq and she asked me questions about the States. The only place she has traveled to has been Kuwait. She couldn’t believe it when I told her about the Amish in America and she also couldn’t believe that there are men in America who think that women belong in the home and shouldn’t work. She asked how marriage worked in the U.S. and I said, “Not very well, we have a 50% divorce rate.” She asked why and I’m not sure I know why. I think maybe it’s because women and men haven’t revised their idea of marriage to fit the new roles we play or what. If anyone has any insight I would love to hear it.
What she was really asking is how the courting system works. The irony is that she is asking me! I told her that a man and woman meet and they go out on dates and get to know each other (I gave her the edited version) and then decide they want to get married. They tell their families and they plan a wedding celebration. Z loves children and she said when she was younger she didn’t really have dreams of anything other than growing up and getting married. She never thought she would be working for Mercy Corps. I asked her if she wanted to get married and she said, “Not yet. Right now I’m involved in my work.”
She didn’t start out working with the literacy program she started out doing administrative work, but she became very interested in the literacy program. The literacy program takes place in three stages. The first stage, the foundation stage, they learn to read and write in Arabic, Math, Culture and History. In the second stage they continue with Arabic, Math, Culture and History, but at the end of the second stage they can earn their certificate for the fourth grade. In the third stage the Preparatory stage, they continue with Arabic, Math, Culture and History, but they also get some Science. Right now we are working to allow them to sit for an examination after the third stage so they can earn their certificate for the sixth grade. So, then the question is what next. It’s funny there are men in the office who don’t understand why the women should learn how to read and write, we tell them that it will make them better wives and mothers. We also do extra-circular activities to teach them about nutrition and health, they get involved in health campaigns, going door-to-door to give people information in Arabic about different health issues.
Each participant has a story. One woman said she couldn’t read and write and her husband brought home a paper for her to sign, she signed it not realizing she was giving him permission to take a second wife. She said she wanted to learn to read and write so she couldn’t be taken advantage of again and she would know what she was signing.
Another young girl, who has a facial deformity, it’s not bad at all, dropped out of school because the other kids made fun of her face. But she loves learning and said she was really glad to have the chance to learn to read and write.
People with disabilities are viewed in general by the Arab world as cursed by God. We must have done something horrible in our lives, otherwise we wouldn’t be in wheelchairs or disabled. Can you see my eyes rolling? We helped a man who had lost both his legs in the Iran/Iraq war learn computer skills and he got a job, but his job told him he needed to wear trousers. He had always worn a dishdashah before to hide his stumps. He went out and bought trousers and everyone including his wife made fun of him. But he told them he didn’t care that if needed to wear trousers to work he would and I guess the teasing and rude comments have stopped.
As I was leaving the restaurant, from the Conflict Management Dinner, I rolled behind a woman who walks with crutches because of Polio, she is young and very pretty, but it is unlikely that she will ever get married. This young girl looked at us with a horrified expression, I turned directly to her and gave her a big smile and a wink. I just want them to wonder how someone who is cursed by God can be so happy.
At least I’m not Kuwaiti.
Check out my silverware lazy susan!