Ethan is always concerned about and aware of our political standing with other countries. One of his popular questions is, “Are we friends with ‘so-and-so’?” As we were visiting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul earlier this month, an older man came up and was being sweet to Abby. We said our introductory courtesies and then I asked him where he was from. He told us he and his family were visiting from Iraq. He was a cheery gentleman who told us goodbye and left with his family. I told Dano and then our kids that he was the first person I’ve ever met from Iraq. Ethan, of course, asked us if we are friends with Iraq. We told him we hope so. We told him we removed a terrible dictator from Iraq and that we hope the people were happy we helped. We saw him a little later taking photos outside the mosque. Upon making eye contact I approached him and shook his hand telling him he was the first person I’d ever met from Iraq. He asked where we were from. We told him America. I told him our son had just asked us if we were friends with Iraq and asked him what he would say. He looked at Ethan and responded, “Oh yes! We love America. America helped make us free! We are friends.” He very kindly shook Ethan’s hand and I was grateful for that moment and hope Ethan remembers it for years to come.
The recent struggles in our part of the world have drawn comments and frequent discussions in our family as well as messages from concerned friends. Thank you for your concern. We are watchful, careful, hopeful and prayerful. If you were a fly on the wall in our home, here is a sampling of what you may have heard over the past month regarding the strife in the Middle East:
“Is Lebanon our friend?”
“Will we still have our games in Cairo?” (referring to the British Schools of the Middle East Games)
“I guess we should plan on cancelling our trip to Lebanon.”
“Let’s look at participating in some sort of service project in Jordan.”
“I guess we should cancel our trip to Amman.”
“I hope our tickets were refundable.”
“Is this going to happen in Saudi Arabia?”
“When is the King coming home?” (referring to Saudi’s King Abdullah who has been away for medical treatment)
“What is making the people in Egypt angry?”
“Are we friends with Egypt?”
“Why doesn’t he just leave?” (referring to Mubarak)
“It’s kind of sad for his family but happy for everybody else because he was a bad leader.”
“I hope they don’t cancel the games in Cairo.”
“I hope my friend Judy is okay.” (referring to a friend who moved from Jeddah back to Cairo last summer)
“Can we turn on the news and see what happened in Libya while we were sleeping?”
“Isn’t a martyr someone who dies for a good cause? How can Qaddafi think he’s a martyr?”
“I wish we could just send in our Air Force and Marines and troops and bomb the bad guys and help the protesters get their cities. Don’t we have the best military? We have to do something. At some point people need help.”
“We have to let them try to solve their own problems first.”
“Is our stake center going to be okay?” (referring to one of our church buildings in Bahrain)
“Oh my goodness! They’re showing dead people on our television!” (the Al Jazeera channel doesn’t filter much violence…that was me being appalled, by the way…the kids didn’t see that, thank goodness)
“I had a bad day. They canceled the BSME games.”
I read an article recently and appreciated the statement, "People don't revolt because they are hungry. People revolt because they want their dignity, because they want to govern themselves. Money won't solve our issues. We need true political and social reform. We need freedom, justice and dignity."
This has been such a great opportunity to have several discussions with our children about the wonderful blessings we have as Americans to be free! Freedom is one of the most treasured gifts we have. How often we take it for granted. I was reminded of that when we moved here. I was reminded of that again when Tunisians began revolting. We thought about our friend from Tunisia with whom we walked around Petra last year.
Then uprisings began in Egypt. We thought of friends’ families. Dano called our Arabic coach whose wife and children are there; with whom I’d had a lengthy conversation last year about the oppressive government of Egypt. He told Dano his family was safe but was quite anxious that he could not be there for the revolt, to take part with his friends and family in making history. We watched for days with anticipation. We prayed for a safe and quick resolution. We reminded ourselves that our own freedom came with great cost and sacrifice but we, like Egypt, were willing to fight for it. Then on February 11 Egypt’s Berlin Wall fell…as we’ve heard it equated to. I think it will be one of those days where I’ll always remember where I was when we heard the news that it was finally over. Dano and I were walking the streets of Amsterdam looking for a place to eat. We went with our third choice and ended up in a small Italian restaurant. We were in the middle of our salads when a man hastily rode up on his bicycle (everyone rides bikes) and came in nearly running, trying not to shout, “He quit! He quit!” There was a small cheering commotion with hugging amongst the staff and mention made of breaking out the wine. When the owner came over we asked him if he was from Egypt. He replied that his mother was from Italy and his father was from Egypt. We congratulated him for their victory and talked with him a little more. All of our Egyptian friends have been very friendly people. I thought it was funny that during the weeks of rioting we felt close to it through friends and location. Then at the triumphant conclusion we were thousands of miles away and yet had found our way right back in the middle of its influence. Oddly, I felt it was a blessing. Here we are with our Egyptian-Italian friend.
I have to admit their success in Egypt unleashed a sense of elation. We are hoping they can identify their Thomas Jeffersons, Benjamin Franklins, and others to write a fair and equal constitution. We’re hoping their quest for freedom here on out is as unified as they were in their initial quest for freedom.
We have watched the domino effect play out in the region, again with a quiet sense of anticipation -the people of Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran. I can’t help but feel excited for them, though sad for the turmoil and life loss they must endure. I can’t help but want them to have one of the things I value most – freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, right to vote, right to assemble… all this written from a country where our e-mails, blogs, and phone conversations are monitored; where I am careful in what I write. But, we are grateful to not have censoring to the extent of China.
As far as it spreading here…we don’t know. Time will tell. The king is a good king who is trying hard to make the people happy. The call for change and freedom has rung, though, and is noticeably heard.
So, each day we watch the news. Each day we hope dictators and oppressive leaders are removed and freedom attained. Each day we make sure we are aware of any action in our area. And each day we pray for peace and thank our Heavenly Father for the many freedoms we enjoy and for those who serve to protect those freedoms.