Thursday, October 1, 2009

My lunch with the Iraqi delegation

Twenty minutes ago, I finished having lunch with two men who were part of a delegation from Iraq.
Whoa, right?
I know.

So here's the story. Like I mentioned in yesterday's entry, Minneapolis is now a Sister City with Najaf, Iraq. Somehow, Augsburg played host to a delegation from Najaf, who came here to speak about a project called "Water for Peace," and to foster cultural respect. My class, History of U.S. Foreign Relations, was allowed to have lunch with the delegation. Most of the students in my class sat against the wall, or at tables with other classmates. I, on the other hand, ended up sitting at a table and holding a conversation with two of the Iraqi men.

This is a great story so far, no?

Our conversation began with small talk about school, and what I'm studying. I don't know how we got on the subject, but I told him (I spoke mainly with one of the men; the other seemed less comfortable using English) that I studied in Japan two summers ago, and suddenly the mood of the conversation did a 180. His smile faded, and he said something to the extent of: "I admire the Japanese. After [World War II], they managed to accept democracy, and other things, but still retained their culture. I hope [Iraq] can do the same." He also said something like "The war has badly affected us. Our water is in very poor quality, undrinkable..."

It was only after we said our goodbyes and our thank yous that I realized I was soaked in sweat. I was also shaking. Since the lunch ended a half hour ago, I've been trying to figure out why I was so nervous--and I think I've got it: I'm not ignorant to the devastation of war--to buildings, people, or culture. I read about it, hear about it on the news...But I've never had someone whose life, city, and culture has been threatened, devastated by a war my country started, tell me how it feels. The reason I was sweating, the reason I was nervous, was because I was embarrassed.

This is why I love Augsburg. It's the type of stuff I learn outside the classroom that affects me, as a human being, the most. And Augsburg makes that kind of stuff, like having lunch with Iraqi politicians, activists, and professors, possible.

1 comment:

Wendi Wheeler said...

Wow, thanks for sharing this Ali. I am glad you had this opportunity and were able to write about it.