Here’s a little bread baking spot at dusk a few days ago. . Itn’t it somethin’ to think about that the very best bread is always the fresh bread—yesterday’s ol’ stuff won’t do. And everyday we get a new sunrise, and different sunset. We get to to start over, and then get ready to start over again. . I'm glad it's just one day at a time, one loaf at a time, one step at a time.
The past weeks friends and I have been discussing the subject of suffering—both ours, the world’s, and Kurdistan's. Then the other day I came across especially relevant words that my mama must've read to me as a child in her lap like the little one in the photo, as it was a favorite story of mine: . “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand." -The Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit . That got me thinking’ hard about the bizarre picture in Lewis’ The Great Divorce about folks showin' up in heaven. At first they're like balloons—expanded in size, but empty with air—weightless “ghosts,” he says, who fail but to bend the blades of grass so sharp like needles beneath they’re feet. They’ve ever only thought their world as the real one, while heaven the ethereal—some less substantial place. . Backwards they’ve had it all the while—perhaps I do, too. It is heaven that is reality itself, and earth her shadow. To enjoy the pleasures of that place necessitates becoming not less solid like a floating soul, but more, further substantial…Real. . And it is by way of suffering, the Skin Horse claims, that one becomes Real. Maybe it weans us off that backwards thinking, the one-dimensional notion of this world, and readies us to perhaps one day dance effortlessly the grass that heaven grows. . #learning
Luckily I had my camera with me that night. Tim, Karwan, and I had gone to revisit some families from Aleppo living in shanties around Soran. I wasn't expecting to photograph anyone, really—perhaps an exterior shot or two of their "homes" on the way out, which is exactly what I got. Plus, even if I did photograph them, I'd wind up with startled portraits, or, at best, some uncomfortable look my way—useless deliverables, and an untrue window into their lives. None of us have time for that. . At any rate, Tim or Karwan got a call from someone at the Rawandz refugee village with the news that two Yazidi families were packing up and heading back to Shingal..."now"—as in, "Now, sorry, you're gonna miss 'em." . We, of course, headed to Rwandz anyway. I don't know if the families hung around and waited for us or not, but we didn't miss 'em. It was pretty emotional—for Tim more than for me or Karwan, as he's been friends with them a few years and helped them find a safe haven here. . Anyway, it was sundown; the light turned pink; and luckily I had my camera with me that night. . @therefugeinitiative @timothykbuxton
This morning in Soran we celebrated because friend got hitched. . Forgive me, I know this is shy a pretty bride and a groom—but, oh my word, this is so utterly Kurdistan. . #everydayiraq #everydaymiddleeast
What an honor to have met and photographed the women at this salon. Please take a moment to read My-Ngoc To's important piece in @guardian behind two Vietnamese women who persevered despite loss and war so many years ago, and you’ll immediately understand why. . “Phụng was 17 when she fled Vietnam. She left with her older sister in the middle of the night in a small fishing boat with 70 other people. Once they reached the deep ocean, everyone rejoiced that they were not caught by the communists, or worse, by pirates. . A few hours later, though, the blackness of the sea and the sky weighed on their spirits..." . Link in profile
These ladies in Soran city gather weekly for English class. Man, it was somethin’ else being in that room! . I was all over the place photographing. A hand full of them did look at me and smile momentarily while a recorded British lady articulately explained supermarket shopping over a speaker. But they were too focused jotting notes and repeating words that I’m certain I could have done song and dance and no one of them would have batted an eye. Gratitude was obvious by their eagerness to learn. . I was humbled and honored to be with them—and further humbled and honored that they would allow me to photograph them. . Community Center built by @therefugeinitiaitve
Part II? ha. Another from the river swim at the gorge last week. . It's hot. But so damn pretty. . #everydayiraq #everydaymiddleeast
It’s the holidays here. Eid al-Fitr feasting began this past Saturday night to end the month of Ramadan fasting. The days following, folks were all gussied up for house-hopping as friends and family dropped by for sweets, sodas, and these squatty little peaches I can’t seem to get enough of (AND don’t know why in God’s good name we don’t have ‘em back home…in my Georgia Peach State). . Anyway, most everybody has taken the whole week off from work, as have I—not by choice, but good for the soul. . We spent the 110 degree afternoon a few days ago swimming the chilly waters that split the Rawandiz Gorge. It was mostly fellas, in mostly skivvies, which was mostly funny—because I was mostly in jeans and long sleeves. That, too, was not by choice, but (I’m learning) also good for the soul—for reasons perhaps you and I could discuss another time. . Anyway, Happy Holidays y’all. Jazhntan Piroz Bet! 🕌 . #everydayiraq #everydaymiddleeast #jazhntan #eidmubarak
Yazidi men from Shingal last Monday night at a small refugee village in Kawlokan built by The Refuge Initiative. . #everydayrefugees #everydayiraq #everydaymiddleeast
There were 17 of the them Thursday afternoon—all women. And then that night the men came together in that same room; there were 21 of them. They gathered to celebrate their graduation from @tutapona a’s trauma counseling program. . Together the families live at @a21's small village for refugees in Soran, Iraq. . "We used to look back and think about all the things that we had lost,” one woman explained, "but now we have hope for our futures…” . Heavens, I have much to learn from them. . #communitiesofhope @therefugeinitiative
At the end of 2015, the UN’s refugee agency reported that the number of displaced people, asylum-seekers, and those uprooted within their own country totaled 65.3 million people globally–one out of every 113 people on earth, compared to 59.5 million people only one year prior. Adrian Edwards for UNHCR says, “It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed”–reaching its largest figure since World War II, roughly equal to the population of the United Kingdom. . And although the 20th of June has been marked to commemorate refugees for 66 years, it is perhaps this June more than any before that we ought not only give our attention to refugees or share our public support, but to also act—however much or however little we are able. It may mean countless pots of chai on the floor till a wounded soul is completely heard, never mind the awkwardness; perhaps it is to live small and give much; or perhaps it is to pray your guts out, if you’re the prayin’ kind. . At any rate, the enormity of today's crisis, so unlike any other time in history, makes today a momentous day for the world. . So to those of you who've made your new home back in Georgia—indeed, you all have everything to do with the road I'm on today here in Iraq. I love and miss you dearly. Not a day passes I don't think of you with gratitude for what you taught me about restoration, family, and how to deal with savage rodents and lousy landlords. And to the millions who have, and are, preserving all over the world despite loss and war: I’m only one gal, but know that I am with you, for you, and unreservedly proud of you. . #WithRefugees #WorldRefugeeDay
In thinking about these refugee families from Shingal, G.K. Chesterton knew what he was talking about when he said, "I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.” . Yes, what a difficult thing that is for impatient people (who isn’t impatient?)—we have no time for sagas and mishaps. Long stories don’t suit anyone’s schedule. . But maybe that’s not so with God and us. Yes, our long stories are His—and our burdens are His. And for that reason, perhaps that reason alone, "We men and women are all in the same boat,” as Chesterton remarked elsewhere, “upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty." . *Photos from English class at @therefugeinitiative Rwanduz Village yesterday afternoon.
This little one stands atop some craggy bricks yet to be laid at the new @lovedoes Village for 20 Syrian refugee families. It’s right next to @therefugeinitiative Azadi Village where she and her family moved the day it opened last April. . You see, Azadi Village is home to both Yazidis and Muslim Kurds—groups historically considered to be too different, and far too much at odds, to ever live side-by-side. But after nearly three years sleeping in makeshift dwellings on the outskirts of Soran city, both groups are now quite grateful to band together as a community who escaped the horrors of their homelands. They now live with new hope, new kinship, and a new beginning—as one. . What a sight it will be after the Syrian families settle in next door and join this unimaginable medley of people. My word, could it be that those who meant to destroy them have instead brought to pass what is unfolding today: life? . #communitiesofhope @therefugeinitiative
It’s human. Something within us is moved deeply by accounts and tales of people who choose to die so that others don’t have to. It matters not what part of God’s green earth you find yourself, nor whom you find yourself with—it is so. Because we all know the tension of gratitude, heroism, and heartbreak when one lays down his life for his friends. . This morning was a sure reminder of that tension—and a sure reminder that there is no greater love than this. . Hundreds gathered in Soran for the opening of a memorial dedicated to the Peshmerga military who have died so that others don’t have to. There were photographs of men and women, young and old, pinned to nearly every inch of that four corner room—a sobering indication that the battle in Mosul, and in the region, continues to rage on day after day… . How moving it was. And how right and good it is to be here with these people—learning from them and walking with them in a world that is simply not as it ought to be. . @therefugeinitiative
It’s a difficult thing for us all to feel at home with people different from ourselves—and further unthinkable to bear hug them while sobbing. Perhaps it’s one’s kooky religious persuasion that you could do without, or one’s take on fixin' eggs or even fixin’ the world and all her bloodshed—or maybe it’s just one’s maddening pronunciation of the word “envelope” that makes you come unglued. . But these two gentleman—one Shia Muslim from Mosul, and the other a Yazidi from Shingal—have wrecked my notion of what is possible when it comes to two groups expected to hate one another. . You see, both men are family leaders; both men have lived through the horrors of ISIS ransacking their homes and snatching loved ones out from under them. Surely, it is because of this that they have carried one another, fought for one another, and stood together like brothers who lived side-by-side for nearly two years at @therefugeinitiative Kawlokan Village. . Last week Abu Raeed from Mosul took his family home to rebuild and start anew. Sahdo Alias, the Yazidi man with the red scarf, waited nearby the morning they left until only the two of them remained. . And this...? . This was their goodbye—for now. . Indeed, friends, there is hope for this land. And it is good. . #communitiesofhope . . For more, follow @therefugeinitiative
Frederick Douglass is an American hero of mine on multiple fronts–education being one of them. He was a self-taught runaway slave who secretly taught other slaves to read–making them fit to forge passes into free states, as the illiterate were vulnerable to capture. . Decades after Douglass' 1838 escape, he became one of the most prolific writers, orators, and intellectuals of his day, advising presidents and lecturing thousands both at home and as a diplomat. It was he who held the highest appointed public post in Washington. It was he who became the first African American citizen nominated for Vice Presidency. And it was he who was the most prominent abolitionist and civil rights advocate in American history. . His education was the means to his own freedom–and later, the freedom of 3 million enslaved people through his paramount role in Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. . That being said, I'm glad for this little school in Soran for refugees–the most vulnerable children in the region. . It is worth considering who among the children uprooted today by war are the next national leaders, thinkers, doctors, scientists, and great poets...the Frederick-Douglass-types. Perhaps it is they who are most equipped to lead and influence us all, not in spite of their current circumstance, but because of it. . “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass . . . @therefugeinitiative #comminitesofhope
I so enjoyed shooting this piece for @guardian a few days before I headed to Iraq. Oh, how I love this quirky Georgia town brimming with refugees! And Katy Long absolutely nailed it with the writing--and she was such a pleasure to work with. Read it, folks! #onassignment . *Link on profile* . This small town in America's Deep South welcomes 1,500 refugees a year
It was usually cool and quiet, aside from the hum of the trucks and discussions about tying down the last box, bit, pot, or pan atop piles of pillows, baskets, and blankets ready to flap in the wind as the trucks went west. The little ones—scrubbed down and spruced up—were lively and ready, bunched in backseats beneath boxfuls of baggage with breakfast bread in hand. . Some of them hadn’t seen Mosul since August 2014 when they received a tipoff that ISIS was en route. They'd fled east to Soran—and made it out two hours shy of ISIS’s arrival. . They’re Shabak Kurds of the Shiite faith, and they had no place to go, no friends to fall back on, and certainly no confidence in what lie ahead. . So by September, Mayor Krmanj of Soran gave tents and land to The Refuge Initiative. It took one week to get a small camp up and running where these 20 families were given hope and refuge. They became part of something no one saw coming—not even The Refuge Initiative. . It was chapter one—the first of four small camps built by The Refuge Initiative. For two years, eight months, and 15 days or so, they lived in Soran. But just after 5 am yesterday, they headed back to Mosul. . To leave is to finally be going home and rightfully retrieving that which has been stolen. But it is also to realize utterly all that will never be given back; it is to say goodbye yet again and start anew. Everyone knew that yesterday—you could feel it in your gut and see it in their eyes. It seemed even the wind worried and hoped, worried and hoped. . So most everyone stayed busy. But others—well, they wept. . Yet it was right and good, and actually beautiful. They're finally home…where they ought to be. . . . @therefugeinitiative
She’s still quite a “looker”—every bit as much as I recall last I saw her. Forgive me (some of you) for not dropping a note sooner—you know who you are, and you know you are important to me. . I’ll tell you, yesterday @rescueiraq took a few of us up Bradost Mountain and then down into the Barzan Valley. Thankfully this afternoon the saffron haze of dust hanging cleared into sunny blue skies—but yesterday it made for quite a sight atop the mountain with the glinting river in the valley beneath. Don't ya think? . Anyhow, I'm happy to report that despite leaving ill, I somehow managed to make it across the ocean and a few seas uneventfully and, surprisingly, rather pleasantly. I suppose it was God’s own doing. Yes? . Well, blessings to all "behind me" here and now. Today I am well, and rested, and grateful—for this, and for you. . -J
There is entirely to much to be said about the girl with fringed handlebars; but it’s more than worth your to read to know that those aren’t just any handlebars. . At one point Joanna had no fringes. Truth be told, she also had no bike. For four whole years she and her brother had neither friends nor school. They had no freedom go outside the apartment and play after she and her family fled to Turkey from Aleppo—they weren’t welcome there as Kurds from Syria. . None of that is true since they moved to Clarkston, Georgia a little over a year and a half ago. . All that to say, I have never met anyone more grateful for fringes...and for the way the wind blows through your hair when you peddle real fast or fly down a hill and just let go. . My goodness, isn’t that good?