“Voices from the Border”

Is there a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border?  If so, what kind? What role does the border wall play and what are its affects on the local people and ecosystem on both sides of the border? What are many ways people and organizations along the border doing to assist migrants and to humanize their immigration experience. What kinds of changes in U.S. immigration system would help deal with the critical problems?

Migrant trail walk

These are questions that Michelle Ajamian and Peggy Gish will consider in their presentation, “Voices from the Border,” scheduled for March 26, 2019, from 6-7:30 PM, at the Christ Lutheran Church basement, 69 Mill St., Athens, OH, followed by a time for discussion. Bring finger food to share if you are able.

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Resisting Walls

Walls take many forms. They may be words, glances, or actions that distance oneself from others, or physical structures that protect from the weather or the vulnerable from further harm.  But the walls we saw at the Arizona/Mexico border, on the Christian Peacemaker Teams borderlands delegation, were  made of concrete, metal, or stone, or even threats, meant to deprive of rights or shut out the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the people we’ve prided ourselves on embracing.

There were walls made of steel slats decked with concertina wire. In some places it ran parallel to a second wall of layered metal mesh.  In areas where water flood through arroyos during monsoon rains, large iron gates let the water flow through. Farther from towns were just the barbed wire fences constructed in 1880, with added razor wire, and sometimes crossed over with old rail road rails, called the “Normandy fences.” All are fortified by heavy technological surveillance.

“Normandy Fence”

Postured as a means of security, they’re actually a form of violence, monuments to fear and racism, and an extension of U.S. history of colonialism as the U.S. claimed half of Mexico’s territory after the 1846-48 war.  They’ve been a tool of control, keeping non-whites in an inferior place and maintaining white supremacy. They cut through the lands of indigenous nations—violating their sovereignty and disrupting communities and ecosystems. Billions of tax dollars go to wealthy, private companies that build walls and run detention centers. Maria Padilla, member of the Mayo indigenous nation, and emergency room worker, reminded us that the nation-state operates as policeman on behalf of the rich—who have no border—while patriotism is expected of poor and working class, who are led to believe it’s for their benefit.

The border wall isn’t intended to keep migrants out, only slow them down to catch and detain them. With its increased militarization, migrants

who feel desperate, but can’t cross legally, need to travel longer and in more dangerous areas to bypass detention. So there are more deaths, trauma, and more people locked up, whose only crime is that they felt desperate about migrating. Lupe Castillo, retired history professor with indigenous Hispanic heritage, termed this criminalization system “the invisible wall.”

These are walls to tear down.

In contrast, are many creative organizations and dedicated people along both sides of the border protesting and resisting the affects of the wall by caring for and assisting migrants in their journey, sometimes risking their own safety. Several cooperative businesses are creating alternatives to the economic deprivation and oppression that cause many to flee their homes.

Also resisting the wall are brightly painted murals on it near ports of entry. They tell the truth about the wall,  “erase” it, minimize its power, and not let its ugliness define what role the border should take. So butterflies depict the freedom of flight migrants should have (as well as the plight of wildlife whose paths are interrupted,) wall slats evolve into piano keys, and a painted open door symbolizes the alternative we must work toward.

We left the border feeling an urgency to tell the truth and find creative alternatives as we  work toward a more just, welcoming, and less brutal society that builds—not more militarized walls—but more doors!

–Peggy Gish, Feb. 2019

My plans for borderlands delegation trip

Dear Friends,

Like so many of you, I have felt a lot of grief about what people at the Mexico border go through as they try to cross into the US.  Besides contacting national officials and protesting locally, I have wanted to do more.  I have now made plans to join a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to the Arizona-Mexico border from February 6-16.

Sasabe, Arizona border wall

Our group will be based in Tucson, Arizona, and will travel along both the U.S. and Mexico side of the border to meet and learn from migrants, local residents, activists, as well as law enforcement personnel. We plan to visit sites such as detention centers, and human resource centers, and cooperatives, and help where we can.  I hope to bring back information and ideas that could help my local community take action concerning immigration issues.

Feel no obligation, but I would like to raise $1200 to help cover the costs of this trip and for  contributions to organizations along the border and to those arranging our activities.  One way to help with this is to send a check to me at 13206 Dutch Creek Rd., Athens, OH 45701.  Or you can send a check to CPT, at P.O. Box 6508, Chicago, IL 6508, and designate it for ”Peggy Gish, delegation.”  Or make an online donation through CPT’s website, www.cpt.org (click on “Give to CPT”).   If you send it to CPT, please let me know, (peggygish@gmail.com) so that I can plan accordingly.

For those who can’t contribute financially, I will appreciate your loving and prayerful support for me as I go.

Thank you all for the love and support you have given me over the years!   Peggy Gish

“Disrupted Lives” Peggy to give presentation 9-25-18

Disrupted Lives:  Walking with People living in the midst of Violence.

Peggy Gish will share about her summer’s work in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq

Tuesday, September 25, 2018, from 7-8:30 PM at the Athens Public Library, community room, 30 Home St., Athens, OH

Hear more about the current situation in Iraq, the work of local people working for justice and peace, and of how civilians are affected by Turkish and Iranian Military bombing of their villages.

Join in the Q&A Conversation time

Coming home

Greetings from Athens, Ohio!

I just arrived home and am thankful for a good and safe trip and for a meaningful summer in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Before leaving, our team re-visited the family of Dunya Rasheed, the 19 year old who had been killed by a Turkish bomb on June 30th while she and other family members were out harvesting nuts near their home.  Our team visited the family in July and now returned to give them a copy of our report.  While there, Dunya’s father asked our team to write a letter, concerning her death, they would send to the Turkish consulate in Erbil, request for reparations.

Looking up from the Rasheed home, toward the areas where Dunya was killed

The pain of the family became very real to us as we sat with and listened to them.  They told us that the Eid was a very sad time for them this year as it was hard not to be thinking about Dunya as the family gathered together.

I come home, carrying in my heart all the people we met who were affected by the border village attacks, and others suffering from other consequences of violence and injustice there.  But I also bring back memories of a beautiful land and its people and the love we received from them.

I’m grateful to be able to be there and a part of this work.  Thank you all for your love and prayers and your support.

With love, Peggy

Celebrating Eid

Celebrating Eid

25 August, 2018

Neighborhood produce stand, but without the bustling crowds

On Monday, the day before Eid, shops in Suleimani, in Iraqi Kurdistan, were crowded with people buying last minute fruits and vegetables, sweets and other special foods. The next morning, streets were mostly empty as families gathered together for their Eid breakfast.

Muslims around the world celebrate the Eid al-Adha starting on the 10th day of the Hajj in Mecca, commemorating God’s intervening to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. Also called, “the feast of sacrifice,” it’s a time when families sacrifice animals, and share the meat with their neighbors and relatives, as well as the poor in their community. Throughout the four-day holiday, family and neighbors called on each other for visits.

On Tuesday, the first day, our CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team was invited to the home of relatives of one of our Kurdish team members for a special lunch.  We played simple games with one of the young girls, watched pet birds, and communicated with our hosts as well as we could with our broken Kurdish and translated English. At one point, there was a knock on the gate and an Arab Iraqi family, who used to live next door, brought a gift of freshly butchered meat.  The next three days, we visited families and friends, and were invited for a special supper with the family of one of our team partners. Walking on the streets of our neighborhood, I enjoyed the friendly Kurdish greetings of “Jezhnit peroz bet.”

As we shared in the celebration, I couldn’t help but think of those who have been protesting in central and southern Iraq, insisting that the government provide basic services, such as clean drinking water, electricity, and jobs for the unemployed. They are calling for the corrupt government systems to be overhauled. I heard that the drinking water for the four million people in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has reached dangerous levels of chemical and bacterial contamination, resulting in 4,000 reported cases of severe diarrhea and vomiting in a week.* Protesters say the government has done nothing to deal with the problems and have responded to them with brutal suppression.

In the Kurdish region, teachers and other government employees had been protesting for three years because of lack of pay.  In December 2017, demonstrations increased and repressions by the government became more intense, with random arrests and one teacher killed in the city of Koya. Then there was a small breakthrough and the government agreed to give them 75% of their salaries.

Change in the many countries around the world, where corruption and injustice persist, usually doesn’t come quickly. Often small gains are sandwiched between times when nothing seems to happen or the movements seem to lose ground. Those working and sacrificing for justice get discouraged, though their longing and determination don’t die.  It may be years until new circumstances and openness allow it to break through.  In many cases, however, such as in Basra, the stakes are high—a matter of life and death and the possible collapse of a city and region.

Eid celebrations don’t resolve or erase the national strife, the government corruption, the beleaguered economy, the water crises, and the personal struggles of the poor. But it’s a time when people seek strength and meaning through one’s faith, and to be generous and enjoy the love of family and friends.  Such celebrations outwardly express and make visible the loving and generous hearts of the people in this region and are evidence of their deeper strength—such strength that is needed for the hard work ahead.

*https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/hospitals-in-basra-flooded-with-cases-of-water-borne-illness-1.763162

by Peggy Faw Gish

 

 

 

Gardens in the Midst of Burned Fields

Gardens in the Midst of Burned Fields

20 August, 2018

Kak Ibrahim picked a bunch of cucumbers and poured them into my hands.  Nearby, green tomatoes hung on rows of plants. A few wild flowers peeked through surrounding grasses and weeds.  Peaches, that would get ripe by October, fill the branches of the trees—all examples of the bounty of these Kurdish villages in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.  But what made it so amazing to our team while visiting the village of Barbazin on 15 August 2018, was that these productive patches were surrounded by burned fields and hillsides.

 

Iranian military rockets, fired a month earlier, from bases just over the mountain east of the village, along the Iran-Iraq border, set the dried grasses on fire. Kak Ibrahim described the three hours of terrifying bombardment as “rockets heavily raining down on us.”   Farmers in the village unsuccessfully tried to put out the fires by beating them with tree branches. The  fires spread and burned vast areas within and around the village.  They burned Ibrahim’s vineyard, but did not burn small patches of his cultivated plots of vegetables and groves of fruit trees with little grass in them.

Our CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team had come to Babazin two years ago, in July 2016, just after the Iranian military started shelling the village, and witnessed how the attacks then also burned the village and surrounding fields. Kak Rashad, Ibrahim’s son, had met us then and had called the team several times since then to report more bombardments.

In the past, 20-25 families farmed the land here, but many have left and are afraid to return.  Now only four families work the land during the growing season.  Kak Ibrahim and his family no longer reside here, but come for days at a time to tend their fields, as this is an important part of their income.He said that there had been no injuries or buildings damaged from the July attacks, but the farmers with cattle depend on the grasses for grazing.  In fact, the owner of the cattle grazing on the little bit of grass left on a nearby hill, told him he will have to sell the animals, since there wasn’t enough grass left. He also doesn’t want to keep putting members of his family in danger, caring for them.

Kak Ibrahim pointed to a hill to the north of the village and said that from there north, Turkey bombs.  From here, south, Iran shells.  Turkey feels threatened by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish armed resistance group, and Iran by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), an Iranian armed resistance group.  But it’s the civilians in the area, the farmers and shepherds, who suffer most of the consequences.  Kak Ibrahim estimated that farmers in Barbazin have lost about $40,000 this year because of the sporadic bombardments. He said the Iranian military does not differentiate between Kurdish civilians and members of Kurdish militias. “They just see us all as Kurds and want to push us out of this area.”

As we left, driving slowly along the bumpy dirt and rocky road out of the village, Kak Ibrahim took his shovel and continued to work around the cucumber patch. The next day family members planned to come out and harvest them and then take them to the city to sell.  They know well the dangers, but choose to take the risks and not be driven off the land and lose their traditional way of life.

Peggy Faw Gish