Letter from Iraq: 'God Bless the Grass'

 "God bless the grass that grows up through the cracks. They roll the cement over it to try to keep it back." These are the opening lines of a song people in Christian Peacemaker Teams sing. The song points out how grass grows in the cracks of pavements and roads, an example of how life is persistent over things that can suppress. This song reminds me of people I see here in Iraq. With the high levels of violence, unemployment, and growing frustration with the Multinational Forces-Iraq and the new Iraqi government, the Iraqi people have little to make them happy. Gradually, some have found a way to forget these problems. Near us there is a park. It is a wide tract of land with thick green grass and tall trees. During the day it is too hot for anyone to spend time there but at the end of the day when the air cools down the park comes alive. Each evening as the sun wanes in the west, families and groups of children and adults stroll down the street and into the park. Men saunter in pairs along the park's promenades. Women sit in groups on the grass under the trees and children play soccer or play in the playground. Less than a kilometre up river is the heavily guarded Palestine/Sheraton hotel complex. Tall and thick gray cement barriers close the area off from the rest of the city, and soldiers guard the entrances. Across the river from the park is the Green Zone, headquarters for the Multinational Forces-Iraq, and the Iraqi government. It is common for militants to fire mortars at the Palestine/Sheraton and the Green Zone. Often, these mortars go astray. Some land near the park. If the military or the danger of mortars exploding disturbs the people in the park, they do not show it. I once watched while mortars exploded near by and the children and adults continued their evening in the park without any signs of panic or fear. It was as if they refused to let the mortars drive them away. Many of the children playing soccer did not ever turn their heads to see where the mortars landed. In the midst of the difficulties and violence, the presence of these people in the park is a display of their persistence. Like the grass that grows up out of the cement, they have found a crack they can grow through. At the end of each evening, the people look refreshed as they walk home. Their loud voices and laughter fill the streets. It is a nice change from the helicopters that fly low overhead throughout the day, or the mortars that explode sporadically. Whenever I look at the park, the first thing I see is the grass. 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 present in Iraq since October, 2002. For more information visit www.cpt.org.

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