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Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Letter from Baghdad Zoo
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 Greg is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams working in Iraq On principle, I don't like zoos. I find it cruel to lock up animals. Baghdad Zoo was certainly no exception. One of our drivers invited my team mate Max, our translator and I to the zoo for the last day of Eid Al-Fitr, the Ramadan feast. Unfortunately, our driver's car broke down on the way to our house and he could not join us, so Max, Wendell Clark and I took a cab. The park that surrounded the zoo was crowded. Families picnicked, children went on rides and groups of male teenagers walked around with percussion instruments and sang and danced. I wanted to dance with them but decided to keep a low profile instead. The park and zoo were well protected. Outside and in, Iraqi soldiers, police, snipers and Special Forces patrolled the crowds. But they weren't all business. At one point, while a group of teenagers danced, an Iraqi soldier with a Kalashnikov over his shoulder and a Glock handgun at his side walked into the middle of the boys and waved his hands for them to stop dancing. The boys stopped for a moment, but then with big smiles continued to dance and sing just as loud as before. The soldier didn't miss a beat and danced with them. Outside the zoo stood two lines, one for single men, and one for families. Although we didn't have any children with us, we decided to stand in the family line. As we approached the line, our translator saw his brother already waiting in the line. Our translator told us to wait and went to speak with his brother. A moment later he returned with a boy. This is my nephew he told me. I said: "Give us one of your kids so my friends and I can look like a family." He said, "Take this one."' Inside the zoo, with its circa 1970 architecture, many of the cages stood empty, but a few still held creatures of various kinds: several haggard species of birds of prey, a small wild cat of some kind in a cramped and dark cell, two confused pelicans, several rafts of contented water foul, two nervous cheetahs, a pride of bored lions, a depressed, almost comatose porcupine, an eager pony, a sad camel, two disoriented ostriches, some insipid pigs, and a vixen that was so stressed and traumatized that she had chewed off half her tail and would not stop running frantically in a repetitive pattern about her tiny enclosure. By the end of our visit, Max and I began to feel not only for the animals in the cages, but like them. Because I stand out as a foreigner and there are so few in Baghdad who go out in public, people stared at us with as much interest as they did the animals. So we left. Our trip to the zoo wasn't the most hopeful thing I have ever done in Iraq, but it did leave me thinking. At one point we watched a guy throw small rocks at the porcupine that lay amidst pop cans, banana peals and other odds and ends people had thrown at it. I was tempted to ask the guy how he would like it if someone put him in a tiny cage and threw stuff at him all day. Then I realised that the Baghdad Zoo mirrors the state of the country. Most Iraqis are caged in. They can't leave. And other people, whether they are foreign armies, foreign militants or foreign corporations, think of themselves and what they want from this place before they consider the people of Iraq. Even the media and human rights groups are guilty of this at times. This thought depressed me. It made me wanted to climb into the dark cement cage and lay down beside the porcupine. Instead, I walked on to see what was in the next cage. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been in Iraq since October, 2002.
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