The day before Iraq

Aside from the contents of my gear bag, the only other object that will be as important to me over the next month will be my shoes. I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you why.

I’ve spent the better part of my life getting lost or wandering around, and I’ve become somewhat at home in doing so. There are pros and cons to this, some that I’ve talked about openly and some that I haven’t yet had the courage to.

In following my natural curiosity and sense of adventure, and a longing for human connection and love, it could be argued that my approach has sometimes been foolish, brave or even selfish. That seems about right to me, though along the way I unexpectedly discovered the potential for affecting or inspiring others at the same time.

It was a road trip during the Arab Spring and hike along the Pacific Crest Trail that led me here. Tomorrow I will board a plane to a place I’ve known only through the lens of the news media, from an insulated bubble on the other side of the planet. Most of what I know about Iraq seems scary and bloody, but I also think I’m wrong about that. Many of us are. I think it will be very hot too.

What does it mean to be human, and what does real suffering and resilience look and feel like? Who are the real victims of ISIS and war, and what are their personal stories? How are people coping (functionally, emotionally and spiritually)? What is the need and how (and why) do people care to help? What is being retained or lost of Iraqi culture? And why do the warm and generous people of this region of the world, also seem so casually willing to kill each other? Those are some of the questions I have.

I will spend three weeks visiting camps and homes in northern Iraq, around places like Erbil, Kirkuk, Sinjar and Mosul. I will learn new stuff, meet strange new people, and make lots of recordings and photographs. Though I may have cobbled together something vaguely resembling a good idea and a little money to do it, without Sue O’Connor and her Medair team, this doesn’t happen. (I mean that in a good way.) We will collaborate closely on areas of shared interest, and I will work to tell a few good stories that people may enjoy and benefit from.

Since leaving Austin in March, the last few months living here in Budapest have been at times melancholy, frustrating and restful, all for very different reasons. What I’m feeling today though is mostly nervous, but not for the reasons you might think. I just want to do a good job at something that’s kinda new. I expect getting there will provide some relief.

I’ll do my best and I hope you’ll come along with me.

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