Team Two in Iraq
Team Two of the Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project traveled in March 2000 with a delegation of eleven plus our guide Dr. Yarub Al-Shiraida of Life for Relief and Development.
Work on the Water Treatment Plants
After the long drive from Amman and two days in Baghdad, we arrived at our destination in Basrah. On our first day there we drove to the Al-Labbani water treatment plant, the plant begun by Team One. Michael Carley, our team leader, had been there the previous year to set up the project, and his eyes filled with tears to see what had been accomplished. It was a beautiful sight. It was painted in white and blue, hung with large banners that read "We are grateful for all donors." The men who had worked on it were there to welcome us, smiling proudly. A group of children (and their goat) watched shyly. We knew they were now drinking clean water and perhaps their lives would be spared.
Over the next days we were able to work at three smaller plants. At Hamden Jissir we hauled bowlfuls of water from the canal, added some shovel loads of cement powder, and mixed it with our hands. Even Candy Lovett, who suffers from Gulf War Illnesses and is bound to a wheel chair, was able to help. We then carried the cement around to the back of the building. Here other team members were chipping old cement off bricks that we would use again, and a wall was being built. At Hamden Ballad our job was to take apart some old, rusty pipes. At Abu Floos we hauled loads of sand and gravel across a ditch. This plant is next to a school, and we were mobbed by a crowd of children who had probably never seen anything like this group of American men and women, each trying to be the first to get hold of a shovel.
At all three plants the shortage of tools was frustratingly evident. We carried sand by the bowlful or took turns with the one wheel barrow which was full of holes and left a trail of sand behind. Nonetheless it felt good to be doing some physical work in the hot sun. Even if what we did was primarily a symbolic gesture, we were giving something of ourselves in solidarity with the Iraqi people, that would remain after we returned home.
Desert Storm veteran Candy Lovett
An added dimension to the experiences of Team Two was the participation of Desert Storm veteran Candy Lovett. During the war she was assigned to burial detail on the infamous "highway of death." As a result, she suffers from a high level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was therefore an incredible act of courage for her to face her fears and nightmares and return to Iraq.
Candy's arrival into Muslim country-the sand, native dress, and music-quickly triggered her PTSD, and the memories assaulted her without mercy. Now it wasn't only about nightmares while sleeping. Now it was about nightmares if she just closed her eyes. This translated into a near-complete inability to sleep, which translated into irritability, moments of panic, and anger. But gradually, with the support of everyone in the group, she began to get a hold on her fears. Then, three days into Basrah, came the turning point.
We were visiting a woman in the neighborhood of Al-Joumeriyeh, targeted by American bombs in January 1999. This woman described how the house shook and filled with smoke, and she ran outside to look for her children. One child was severely wounded, and another was dead. Candy decided she wanted to ask this woman for forgiveness for being part of the country that had done this to her. The words stuck a bit on the way up, but she got the question out. In response the woman dropped to her knees beside Candy's wheelchair, graciously repeating, "Of course you're forgiven. Of course you are."
From that moment on, Candy evolved into a different person, sleeping better, taking less medication, enjoying the food, talking, and laughing. All who witnessed this change were shaking their heads in disbelief. On her return home she got rid of the gun she had always kept next to her pillow. Perhaps her own words are the best testimony to the healing affect the Iraq Water Project had on her:
"This trip changed my life. I was able to see that the Iraqis are people just like you and me. I was able to see their pain. But I was also able to watch the joy in their faces even though they experience such hardships right now. I was able to hold a baby and wonder what the future held for him. I visited an orphanage and watched the looks on the kids faces when they blew up the beach balls I had brought. I was amazed to see them laugh when there was so much pain around them. I am no longer in the frame of mind where I want to end my life because of all that is wrong with me. Today I have hope in my life that I did not have before. I will live each day and breathe each breath to see that justice is done in Iraq."