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December 2005/January 2006
121Contact: Bringing Baghdad and Brooklyn Youth Together: One Email at a Time
By Bruce Wallace

 

On September 11, 2001, my nephew, Mitch Wallace, was murdered by terrorists in the World Trade Center. I chose to respond to this loss by working for more peaceful tomorrows. 121Contact connects high school students and teachers in the U.S. with their peers in Iraq. The goal is simple: encourage children to get to know each other and they will be less inclined to create war with each other.

The results? We are becoming friends. Children in Baghdad now understand that not all Americans hate Iraqis. Children in America now see Iraqi students as human beings, suffering in the chaos of war, but strong of spirit and hope. We are learning a lot about each other and our respective cultures. When we hear about bombs and bullets on the streets of Iraqi cities, we can no longer change the channel. We are now deeply involved because we have friends there.

In March 2004, Ulema, a 13 year-old Baghdad student, asked us, “Why do you hate us so? How can you hate people you never even met?” It was not an easy email for our students to reply to, but they did, admirably.

Much of the email is light in tone, with students asking about each other’s schools, foods and favorite music. They (and we) are, after all, just people. Our lives have been changed forever, we have all moved closer toward more peaceful tomorrows.

Letters
Sometimes, buried in the words of the letters, we get pictures of what everyday life is like, and sometimes it is not what we expect. Sometimes strong opinions flow out of Iraq in these emails. Whether or not we agree with what we read, we now know how some people over there are feeling about our soldiers and the war.

Here are some of the words that flowed between Brooklyn and Baghdad. Though the following correspondence is not in any particular order, you can see that the political opinions vary, but the center has revealed an overall deep concern for people.

As a side note, as of today, November 15th, we have received no email from our Iraqi friends in over 11 days, and we worry.

August, 2005—Baghdad

Last Wednesday I was almost killed. It was an attempt to assassinate the minister of justice on the highway near my house...It was a moment of nothingness...a group of young men were spread on one side of the highway on which I was standing waiting for a taxi at 8:55 a.m...Suddenly shooting was started here and there, at first I did not know what is going on there? Where these shooting came from? Then the American troops started to shoot randomly...a car was burned full of its family, a young man was killed while he was driving...he bent on the steering wheel just like a sleeping baby and died...I did not know what to do and how to think...there was no time to think or at least to move...I saw myself with a man that I don’t know...sitting in his car looking and wondering what is going on just like an idiot, then I noticed that the old man was yelling at me and accusing me of being crazy to stop there and watch just like that...(“Do you want to die? Are you insane? Can’t you see what is going on?”)...then I recognized what is going on later...I don’t believe I am alive!!!

August, 2005—Baghdad
I am not responding to your messages because the bad circumstances here, a daily combat broke out in my district and as a punishment we have an hour of electricity each ten hours (because of the Constitution).

2005—Brooklyn
My name is J D and I’m 17 years old. I’m attending John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, NY. I know things are very difficult over there, sometimes I don’t know how to deal with what I know. Or what I think I know. Everyday my first class of the day begins with the war. Lately we’ve been arguing about what the president should do. To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about this war. First I am opposed to it greatly, yet I know we can’t back out now. How do you feel?

August, 2005—Baghdad
I watched TV yesterday...Mr. Bush was so confused about what had happened…and he talked about ‘the American will’ that no one can twist. Ok...no one wants that, but what about breaking peoples’ will in the name of Democracy? He destroyed every thing in Iraq...tens of children are dying of the poisoned water everyday because they can not afford the money to buy clear water...hundred of houses float in stagnant water.

Since March, 2003 no progress at all...no electricity...homeless kids...idle people...no freedom at all but the freedom in killing.

December, 2004—Baghdad
Yesterday I saw Bush’s speech [in] California, he reminded me of Saddam Hussein when he used to go and visit the soldiers...encouraging them to fight severely...making them believe that they are great warrior of a great nation and the word (heroes) fits them only...yachhhhhhhh lies...lies every where and so many people who believe so!!!

2004—Brooklyn
Hi my name is J. I am writing to you to see how you feel about what is going on in your country. I am terribly sorry to hear on the news “There has been another bomb in Iraq” and things like that. This really upsets me because what if this were America. I remember when we had a terrorist attack in our country and it hurt us very deeply, but these things are happening to your country everyday, I feel that is very wrong and I wish that I could do more than just write emails to you.

November, 2004—Baghdad
I do miss you all. I am so sorry for the delay, It was not my fault believe me...the last days were horrible...no connection...no electricity...no water, curfew was announced here in my district, we were home prisoners. As I told you I live near the highway which leads to Falluja and for this reason my district were surrounded by the [Coalition Forces], daily bombs, soldiers and tanks were every where, daily attacks on the CF make children cry and frightened from any loud voice...poor children, they are the victims after all.

November, 2004—Baghdad
The whole city of Falluja was punished for killing two U.S. contractors...tens of houses were devastated…the children... mothers...old men and women...hundreds of people were killed… Those soldiers are terrorists...they blocked streets with guns everyday aiming at peaceful people going to school...going to their jobs...or supermarkets...or anywhere they want…terrifying every body…children, women even old people...shouting at every body like dogs, never hesitat[ing] shooting people as if they were holding toys not machine guns.

Muslims in my country did not go and cross seas to invade other countries killing people haphazardly like your armies who came here in the name of freedom (till now we did not see anything but killing and devastating and I think nothing gonna change this) so who is killing who?

2004—Brooklyn
I learned from my gifted teacher that as long as there is one candle burning, all is not darkness...it is only when my country goes into war that I experience these things on the larger scale and I mourn for the people whom I have never met...As a very a-political individual, my reactions are solely on a human level, so that when I heard the president of the United States declare war on your country, I was in disbelief and ashamed. I know that many Americans felt the same disbelief and outrage and helplessness...in a small (but significant) way, the candle burned and still burns. I will be writing to you again.

Very Sincerely Yours,
A

November, 2004—Baghdad
Life here is full of fear; I hear thousands of [the] same advice from mom & dad every day. Abduction for ransom is widely spread in my country nowadays in addition to the continuous explosions which make me feel panic.

There is no hatred in my heart towards the American people because I know that most of them are kind, just like my people, but I don’t like those soldiers who never hesitate of killing the Iraqis in the name of Freedom & Terrorism.

I wish you good luck.

2004—Brooklyn
My heart goes out to you and your family. After reading your letter I was struck with such hatred for my government and the people that support it. When I think of your poor family and how terrifying it must be for you and others, I can’t help but wonder when this war will end. I wonder everyday if our troops will come home soon, and if your family and others like you will ever be at peace. I try to believe that the world will not always be like this...I wish you safety and love and hope you and your family will find comfort and peace soon.

Your friend,
C

Bruce Wallace is a high school teacher in Brooklyn and a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (www.peacefultomorrows.org). For more information on 121Contact please visit: 121contact.typepad.com.

 

 


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