As we played around on the mat with the severely handicapped children, Saturday morning at the orphanage, Amil and Quar-Quar began a game of rolling over and over away from me, calling “Bye, bye, Peggy!” and then “Hi, Peggy!” as they roll back. Repeating this over and over did not seem to make it any less fun.

From the orphanage, Tom Reiber-Martinez, one of the members of the current CPT delegation, and I hurried out to Karrada St. to hail a taxi to take across town in time for the Seventh Day Adventist worship service. A beat up old car stopped for us, and we got in. A simple, “shlonik?” (“How are you?”) started the conversation.

We learned that our driver spoke fairly good English, as we shared that we were from America, that we wanted peace, not war, and that we wanted to be friends with the Iraqi people. With his eyes glistening, he welcomed us warmly.

He started telling us very passionately about the poverty here, that many people have very little to eat. “The ones that are too ashamed to beg, die.” We asked him about his family, and found out that he had been married three years and did not have any children. He and his wife were too afraid to have children now because of possible war and because of the problems caused by depleted uranium (birth defects and malignancies).

“What about Bush?” he asked. “Isn’t he a Christian?” How can a Christian do this?” We had to agree that Bush is not acting as a Christian. We can only be ashamed of what he, on behalf of our country, is doing here and around the world. After the taxi stopped at our destination, we sat still talking. I started to pay him. “It is enough to hear your voice,” he said as he at first refused our money. “It means so much to the Iraqi people for you to be here!”

At the worship service, the pastor preached on following God’s call to you to go wherever God called you and boldly do the work given to you, giving examples of Jeremiah and Moses. With the congregation we knelt for prayer. We stood around for at least a half hour afterward talking to various members of the congregation, feeling very little difference between us, sharing the same humanity, the same God, the same hope. Later, in the home of Si’ham and Abbas, and their four boys, Samir patiently taught me Arabic words and phrases. In the past months, I have been welcomed in their home as one of their family. Si’ham asked me about the news, and we shared our fears and hopes about what the Bush administration may do in spite of world-wide opposition.

My heart was full at the end of the day, from the gift of these times of sharing. With so much heaviness weighing on the people here and the society, it takes a vision beyond the dark realism that surrounds us to keep us from getting swallowed up in it. For me, the human contacts help me to keep a vision of God’s kingdom here in the midst of us. These are the daily reminders for me of why I am here.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3/17/03

I write this from Baghdad, a city of 5 million people, as it braces itself to be leveled by massive carpet-bombing. Again I hear President Bush say that he intends to go ahead with war no matter what the UN, or people of the world think or do. I have not lost faith in the American people, who, if they had the same opportunity to experience this situation first hand, walk the streets of Baghdad and personally meet the people, as I have had the privilege to do, would be repulsed by and not tolerate this war. So what do I have to say on the eve of a possible massacre? My first call continues to be to do all we can to prevent this disaster from happening. But there is more.

I want the American people to not give in to the propaganda war that Bush as been waging, and to realize that there is no actual evidence, at this point, that Iraq even has weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Even if they were discovered tomorrow, there has been no evidence that Iraq is capable of using them or has any intention to use them. Since the summer of 1990, Iraq has not threatened or demonstrated any threat toward its immediate neighbors, Israel or other Middle Eastern countries, or the United States. We are talking about the most powerful country in the world, with huge stocks of WMD, who have not only threatened to use it, but has in the past, now bullying and threatening a country that is almost defenseless.

Bush talks about “liberating” the people of Iraq. There is no debate about the repression or lack of freedom here. But there is no way that killing and maiming thousands of people, destroying the infrastructure and the very society they live in, polluting the land with tons of depleted uranium, as in the last war, which will last for millions of years and continue to produce epidemics of malignancies and birth defects in the generations to come, provoking civil unrest and chaos, will bring liberation. All the destruction we have caused in Afghanistan, have not increased the freedom of the Afghani people. We liberate by building up, not tearing down, giving people the opportunity to live normal healthy lives, treating them with dignity, not humiliation, offering them opportunities for education, meaningful employment. We must give them hope, not a legacy of despair and reason for revenge.

Preventing this war is also crucial for the whole world. This is just the first step for the Bush administration’s plan for military intervention and economic control in other countries, which do not give in to its demands. This means not only more suffering and oppression for these peoples, but also damage to the soul of our great nation. I am grateful that so many people have courageously spoken and acted for peace. The time has come now for more than ordinary action, but for all caring Americans to block the way of this war effort. It is time to stop “business as usual” to make our voice heard. The lives and future of billions of people around the world depend on it.

Peggy Gish is a farmer from Athens, Ohio participating in Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq for four and a half months. CPT is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world.

Contact CPT, POB 6508
Chicago, IL 60680;
Telephone: 773-277-0253
Fax: 773-277-0291.