Letters from Amman, Jordan
by Cathy Breen

September 28, 2007
Iraqi refugees from the city of Fallujah. There are now over 4 million Iraqis displaced due to the war and occupation. Photo: Christian Peacemaker Team, www.cpt.org

It is Friday morning and there is a hushed atmosphere in the city as people observe this welcomed day of rest. Businesses are closed and the streets are silent. Two weeks into the holy month of Ramadan, I continue to enjoy the slower pace. It challenges me to try and live more intentionally.

While Voices is not a relief organization, some friends in the States have taken the opportunity to send donations with me for Iraqi families in need. A couple of the gifts have already been used for life saving medications. They have been given in their names.

The other day an Iraqi woman contacted me to tell me that food packages were being prepared during Ramadan to distribute to needy families, and this morning I selected a few of the donations to contribute to this effort. However “small” some of the gifts may be, they are all sent with heartfelt concern, and the brief messages accompanying some of the gifts have been translated into Arabic.

“Please accept this as a small token towards helping you and your family.”
“I hope that someday you and your family will live in peace and serenity. I’m sending good thoughts to you in your struggle to survive until that time.”

“Please use this $20 as you wish. My heart aches for you. I am so sorry for what my country has done.”

“Blackwater killed my best friend.”
A few days ago I had the rare opportunity to visit with Mohammed Ghani, a renowned Iraqi artist from Baghdad, at an exhibition of his sculptures here in Amman. I had seen some of these beautiful bronze pieces about a year ago in his studio. I find his art powerfully expressive, as are the titles he has given each piece:  “A Family Without a Man”, “They Don’t Know Where They’re Going”, “A Lost Family”, “Panic”, and “Waiting and Wondering”.

Each work represents the people of Iraq. “I am not political,” he said. “My art is not abstract…I  always have something in my mind…I cry when I make a piece...I know the Fallujah they destroyed…I saw women crying with their hands in the air reaching for help.” 

I had called beforehand, so he was expecting me. As we walked together from one sculpture to another, we paused at one done in 2006 called “What’s in the Box.” The piece depicts some dozen or so people gathered around a type of treasure chest. Mr. Mohammed said that he had had the idea for this piece for three years. “We told them [the US] take everything, take the oil…but don’t kill people.”  

“The box symbolizes the many questions that Iraqis have: Why is it closed? Who closed it? What is inside? When will it be opened? Who has the key? Why did it happen like this? When will it be finished?”

His next words were unexpected and caught me by surprise. “Blackwater killed my best friend, an architect, last year…for nothing…he was walking to get a haircut.” With an urgency in his voice and penetrating eyes he continued, “Our next door neighbors in Baghdad, Christians, were gunned down going to church…the whole family!”  

Women and children have always been central in Mohammed Ghani’s work. In one piece a lone woman sits atop a massive rock. She is playing a flute. It is entitled “She’s Singing O Long Night”. It is exquisite. Two others show a woman on the ground in a crescent position. In each a little child is on the woman’s raised legs frolicking or posed to jump into her arms. “Let’s Play Together” is the title of the sculptures.

For me Mohammed’s art is an expression of his dreams, dreams for his beloved country. Dreams that have been crushed and dreams yet to be realized…

Makeshift clothesline set up in an Iraqi refugee camp. There are now over four million Iraqis displaced due to the war and occupation. Photo: Christian Peacemaker Team, www.cpt.org

November 21, 2007
Kathy Kelly will be joining me for the last stretch of my stay in Jordan, and I have been puttering around trying to ready the apartment for her coming. This morning, in an attempt to straighten up the piles of papers and files that have accumulated over the last three months, I’ve been going through newspaper clippings. I am also awaiting a telephone call today to give an interview, so the task serves as a helpful review of events deemed newsworthy here in the Middle East. What are the recurring themes and opinions coming out in their news? What messages and words from the region would we do well to heed in the US? 

  “Solutions for the region can be found without the West’s intervention. As long as the Iranians keep to themselves, do not meddle with Arab issues or interfere in internal affairs of the neighbors, the region does not have a problem with them. The unmistakable conclusion is that the US was and is directly and indirectly responsible for the emergence of Iran as a strong force seeking regional domination. Therefore it is ironic to hear the US president talk about the need for US military to stay on in Iraq if only to check the Iranians.” (Jordan Times, September 7, 2007, M. Keilani)

“The neo-conservative camp in Washington is clamoring for military action against Iran…The region should be alert since any uncalculated adventure would trigger a chain reaction of repercussions in Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf and throughout the rest of the region.” (Jordan Times, September 20, 2007, M. Keilani)…

“Israel kills 12 Palestinians in less than 24 hours.” (Jordan Times, September 28-29, 2007)

“It seems clear that Israel bombed a target in Syria. As such where is the international censure? Has international law become obsolete?” (Jordan Times, September 30, 2007)

“Israel declares Gaza Strip as hostile enemy.” (Jordan Times, October 24, 2007)

“Israel begins cuts in fuel supplies to Gaza strip.”  (Jordan Times, October 29, 2007)

“The [Annapolis] conference will likely be a media spectacle in which participants will reaffirm their commitment to peace, Israel’s security, condemnation of Palestinian terrorism and so forth. Truly dangerous is the fact that a peace conference which delivers nothing but empty promises is likely to actually precipitate violence. Palestinians, humiliated and besieged might exhibit their anger in a myriad of ways for which they will only receive further condemnation.” (Jordan Times, November 14, 2007, R. Baroud)

“US military said it has brought a new weapon into the fight in Iraq, announcing Army’s first ever use of a drone aircraft to kill enemy fighters in the country.” (Jordan Times, September 9, 2007)

“UN recent Human Rights report: at least 88 civilians killed in US air strikes from April 1st to June 30th.” (Jordan Times, October 24, 2007)

“Eight million Iraqis are in absolute poverty and in need of emergency assistance…. According to UN 69% of displaced since Feb. 2006 are from Baghdad.” (Jordan Times, October 2007)

“Wars had specific beginnings and specific ends. This catastrophe had a beginning indeed, but there are no signs of its end. It set in motion a chain of events which continue to spread turmoil, instability and violence worldwide, with more innocent victims falling every day.” (Jordan Times, September 12, 2007, H. Abu Nimah)

With more innocent victims falling every day..

In recent years Cathy Breen has been living off and on in Amman. She writes, studies Arabic and advocates for Iraqi refugees there. In 2003 she worked with Voices in the Wilderness in Baghdad before, during and after “shock and awe.” When Cathy is in the states, she lives and works at Mary House, a Catholic Worker shelter in NYC. To contact her, write newsfromcathy@hotmail.com.