24Jun 2017

Oddny in Mosul: Day 1

I am writing from a house in Mosul. People used to live here. Seems like nobody knows who and where they are now. Right now, it is inhabited by soldiers from the Iraqi army. As are all the other houses in the street. Where cars once were parked, are now tanks. The soldiers are kind and respectful. As far as I have been able to observe, I am the only woman on the street.

After dinner, prepared in soldierly ways, we were talking to a captain in the army. He is tall and intimidating. Been fighting ISIS for years. I understood while listening to him that he is tough and strong, but also soft and kind. “A lady came to us yesterday,” he said. “ISIS had attacked and the civilians ran. During the flight, she got separated from her four children aged 13 and under. She came to us and begged us to help her find her kids. The soldiers went back to her village and found that ISIS had killed all the four kids. She already lost her husband to them. The woman embraced one of the soldiers when she heard what had happened to her kids and asked to die.”

“I admire groups like yours, that come here to actually help,” he continued. “I meet many others who say the right things on camera, but they don’t do anything. You and the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) really care about helping the people.” “Are there other aid organizations in the area who are helping the civilians right now?” I asked. He thought for some seconds and stared into the air. “I can’t remember that I have seen a single one,” was his answer. “You and FBR are the only ones.”

He talked about the army’s efforts to help the civilians. “We prepare food when we can. Sometimes we provide vehicles that will transport them. We also make a pass way for them to escape when they run from ISIS.” “How far would IDPs have to fly to find food and water if they didn’t get it here?” one of our team asked. The captain hardly understood the question. But when he finally did, he said: “So far. There is no other place for them to get help.”

Tomorrow will distribute the water and food we bought today. It was an interesting exercise to go shopping. The whole city looks so desolate. Like there is nothing left. Just a shell. The color brown is everywhere. Garbage and filth line the streets and the sidewalks. There are very few people. Shopping seems impossible. But then, behind a gate that was opened for us we could enter a storage full of food, from floor to ceiling. Our local team member had his shopping list ready, and started at the top. I realized then that in Iraq, every event is worthy of negotiations and discussions. Especially events involving money. So, a circle of seven men discussed for quite some time the price of water bottles. I have no idea what the agreement was, but I am sure it was a good one. Impossible to say what it would have been had they not stood in that circle and shared their opinions.

While the team negotiated prices and amounts, and another took pictures, I did Snapchat. Some of the curious kids who were not afraid of me took selfies with me, and we put silly faces on ourselves, such as a mouse nose, and rabbit ears.

“It has been just three months since we were liberated,” a young man told me. “We were occupied by ISIS for three years here on this street. They were terrible. When the army came and liberated us there was a siege for 12 days. During those 12 days we could not leave our homes. But now we are free. Soon the schools will open again and I can resume my studies.”

After dinner our new Iraqi Army friends apologized for the lack of plan for tomorrow. “There may be no fighting, and therefore less civilians fleeing,” they explained. It was kind of comical. That they would apologize for no war. We told them it was really fine if there was no more fighting. But, as if ordered, the fighting started. After dinner the mortars exploding sounds closer than they ought to be. But we have been assured it is OK, they are not shooting at us. So we keep eating nuts and melon, reading, editing photos and perhaps deciding to go to bed.

Oddny is a lover of children, justice, and writing. She and her husband Steve founded Partners Relief & Development.