Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Asinine Thoughts

Enough for shedding blood ~ let us all live like donkeys.

In spite of the fact that my moniker is that of a cat, I have a rather soft spot for donkeys. I have no doubt that the root of this affection is my none-worse-for-the-wear hand-knitted Phentex donkey Donna (a.k.a Donna the Donkey - left) whom I received on my 4th birthday (or possibly 5th - my mother will undoubtedly
correct me on this). She has been with me ever since, and has uncomplainingly travelled with me everywhere - from Canada to Morocco to Spain to Slovakia to Italy to Turkey to Iraq. Among donkeys, she is a queen and is deserving of all praise and honour.

Needless to say, Donna has had a pretty good life - apart from losing her powder blue sun hat and saddle many many years ago (which wasn't my fault. At all.). This pretty good
life of hers also sets her apart from other donkeys. For whatever reason(s) you care to suggest, donkeys - and I suspect that this has been the case since Christ wore knee-pants (or even before) - are generally and woefully mistreated in all four corners of the world. Our (and everyone else's) idioms bear this out rather colourfully, if not sadly.

Consequently, when we were living in the south of Spain, we became involved with the Nerja Donkey Sanctuary, a small but hardworking rescue centre whose mission was to offer refuge and medical treatment for abandoned, mistreated, or unwanted donkeys. For many donkeys, this sanctuary will prove to be their last earthly abode and as such, it's probably the closest they'll ever be to heaven before they enter that Celestial Stable in the Sky. It's no coincidence that my friends and family generally find themselves having adopted a Spanish burro as their Christmas present. (You're welcome.)

So imagine my surprise when Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad advised me yesterday that there is - in Kurdistan - a Kurdistan Donkeys Association. In a country which seems to offer animals little respect or decency (correction: songbirds are well treated notwithstanding their teeny-weeny cages), one man, Omer Klol, has made it his life's work ensuring that donkeys receive the respect they oh-so deserve.

"People don't understand because they have learned wrong about donkeys ... Because a donkey is unfortunate and obedient, people have no respect for it. But I say the donkey is clever and better than a human being."

Rock on Mr. Klol, who is, by the way, leader of the Donkey Party (I am having flashbacks to Canada's Rhinoceros Party one of whose lofty objectives was to count the Thousand Islands to ensure that the U.S. hadn't stolen any). The Donkey Party chose their namesake for good reason: donkeys don't kill one each other for power, money or politics, and they don't lie. Donna has never lied. At least that I know of.

Mr. Klol has been trying to whip up interest in his project for the past 5 years, but for the past
20 years, he has worked tirelessly to teach Iraqis that donkeys deserve our respect. His still non-existent sanctuary, (which he refers to as a "Donkey Utopia") will go a long way to offer a heartfelt bray of thanks to those donkeys leading an undoubtedly shitty life in Iraq (apart from our veggie man's donkey - below, right - which looks very well cared for), and their numbers are decreasing.

"They [donkeys] were all killed in car accidents or by children offensively. And a large number of them have been taken away to southern cities."

Southern cities? That sounds ominous. I wonder if it's like that mythical farm that most of our childhood pets emigrated to while we were all tucked into our beds or still at school.

But a utopia it is. Mr. Klol feels that the best way to tip your hat to a donkey's long years of service is to allow it access to green fields with flowers, food, water, and plenty of room to have sex. The latter is no joking matter. Not only is unbridled donkey love important for the donkey but for the country's seniors as well. The sanctuary-cum-donkey brothel will also be an

".. entertaining place for people, especially for the elderly people who have turned powerless to practice sex ... Instead of watching pornography, they can come to see the big brothers and big sisters while doing sex and enjoy it. It is not
haram for them."

Iraqi seniors watching porn? Seriously - they do that here? W
hy do I find that more disturbing than them watching two donkeys getting it on? How will I ever look at the half-dozen octogenarians who live in my neighbourhood again? Oh the shame of it all!

In any case, the sod hasn't been turned yet on Mr. Klol's donkey brothel. Although approved by the Kurdistan Regional Government, the cheques (or rather trunkfuls of cash) have not been forthcoming. Until then, he has sent a letter to US President Barak Obama asking for his support. Why?

"His Democratic Party has a donkey as a symbol, and because Africa is where his father is from, which is the main homeland of donkeys."

Well here's hoping that he won't have to wait donkey's years for a response. In the meantime, I'm going to try very hard not to look at our rather aged veggie man (and his donkey), and wonder if he watches porn in his spare time, or will, in the future, be experiencing his love life vicariously through his faithful little humar.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gunning for Iraq

The other night as I was walking home from my Place of Gainful Employment, I couldn't help but notice on the corner patch of grass outside a pretty pink villa, a wee little boy labouring under the weight of a massive assault rifle. Now, this being a wee little boy, I immediately dismissed the rather alarming notion that the rifle might actually be real. But then, this being Iraq, I immediately accepted the (still) rather alarming notion that the rifle might actually be real. As I drew near, several thoughts rifled through my brain:

Both the wee little boy's sheer inability to raise - let alone carry - the rifle properly (he was partly scraping and dragging it along the pavement) and my now well-practised and somewhat expert assessment of the rifle - even from afar - indicated that this was no toy.
There were no adults in sight. At all. Not that that would make much of a difference if the rifle were loaded.
3) His slightly older sister of (maybe) 8 years was doing an admirable job ignoring him from another part of the yard. Not that that would make much of a difference if the rifle were loaded.
4) The rifle was probably loaded.

Yes, it probably
was loaded because to an Iraqi, an unloaded gun is like a zebra without its stripes - something completely incomprehensible and utterly useless when it comes to shooting other people (or themselves). Even those guns fired off into the air to signal something even questionably joyous are loaded with live ammo. I have heard that in Kurdistan, more people are killed these days by earthbound bullets (who knew that bullets are wont to follow Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation?) ... which is why I stay indoors during all elections, census polls, all national and religious holidays (Muslim Syrian and Chaldean Christian), or whenever one of our pregnant neighbours approaches full-term.

But no fear: until very recently - and this is from my students - every Iraqi house had at least one firearm in it. Now that relative peace has embraced Kurdistan, homes still have guns, but in fewer numbers. Are they loaded? I ask my students. And then I go
on to explain that we can't keep a weapon loaded in our homes back in the Land of the Round Doorknobs.

They look at me like I'm feeble-minded - or at the very least, like my government's policies on gun control are. How can you defend yourself? they ask. As I begin to explain how firearm safety truly begins at home, I am quickly interrupted.

Look, Saeed says (again, in a tone which suggests that I am mentally feeble). What if I am a businessman in Canada? I have to conduct a business transaction with someone in a different town. Do you think I'm really going to drive with a million US dollars in my trunk without a gun or a rifle beside me on the front seat? (Rolls his eyes.)

Well, usually we transfer money electronically and in the past used bank draughts or cheques, I offer, knowing full well that these concepts are totally lost on what is by and large a bankless society. Everything is a cash transaction here, and I have no doubt that when Saeed needs to buy something in Kirkuk, he speeds out of town with a trunkful of cash and a clutch of guns on his lap.

I am marginally consoled by the fact that fewer people are buying fire sticks these days, but they are still everywhere. Everywhere. (Well, apart from the mall where no-guns-allowed signs [see right] greet customers from every door.) I have walked into my Place of Gainful Employment on many occasions and seen AK-47's lying on the waiting room chairs or leaning against the water cooler left, presumably, by one of our guards. The degree of indifference or insouciance they exhibit waving those things about - or, better yet, abandoning them while they tap a kidney - is a little unnerving.

I can only imagine then that the cautionary tale of our less fortunate guards (in the Cairo branch of My Place of Gainful Employment) hasn't reached the ears of their Kurdish brethren. The guards, nodding off on the job, their sleepy heads jerking, jerking, jerking finally made contact with
the muzzle-side-up (!) rifles held fast between their knees and kaboom! They - note my use of the plural pronoun, for this happened on separate occasions - blew their damn fool heads right off.

Although there is something intrinsically Darwinian in this (and yes, I admit that I laughed when I heard this. Out loud.), a loaded rifle in the hands of a child is indeed chilling. Not only could that wee little boy have blown his fool head off, but the way he was flailing about with that thing, he could've taken out any one of his neighbours. Or the rather snarky flip-flop-wearing Mister (I am greeted as Mister by the neighbourhood guards and the donkey man who sells vegetables on our street) hellbent on arriving home without assorted holes in my person.

... and did I stop like any sentient decent human being, chide him thoroughly for waving about a firearm, take the rifle away from him, ring the door of his house, and berate his mother for allowing her unattended four-year old to play with live weapons on the street? Did I do the right thing?

Hell no. I ran home as fast as my jaunty red flip-flops could carry me and didn't look back. Besides, what if the rifle hadn't been loaded? I wouldn't have wanted to jump the gun, after all.