Sunday, February 06, 2005
Mossa Mossa, former Peshmerga, and wife, Jemila Hadi outside election site in Nashville on their way to vote.
(Mossa Mossa is the uncle of Meran)
Despite the drizzling rain and overcast sky, nothing yesterday could dampen the spirit of Mossa Mossa. Mossa, a former Peshmerga (Kurdish Freedom Fighter),has had this day coming for a long time, something he only dreamed of before. He, along with his brothers fought against Saddam's regime in the 1980's. It was during this time that his brother, his sister-in-law, and nephew were all killed by a gas attack on their village in 1988, one of many such attacks during Saddam's Anfal campaigns. This day is bittersweet for him because of all the loved ones lost to get here, yet a source of hope that such atrocities will never have to happen to his people again.
Early yesterday morning his wife, Jemila Hadi, called to wake me up. "Are you coming, hurry up!" She said. I threw on a scarf, woke up my three boys, and hurried them out the door with some juice and snacks. When we arrived a half-hour later, they had already showered, eaten breakfast, and were warming the car up. So I dropped my three off with their six, and we were off to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
On the way we chatted, and I asked them their feelings about this day. They were beyond excited, the opportunity to actually take part in their government, something most of them had never seen in their lifetime, was not something they took for granted. Jemila told me "I didn't vote in the US elections, but this one I have to, it is important to the Kurdish people, every vote counts." Mossa, a loyal member of the Kurdish Democratic Party, on the other hand did vote this past fall. As we neared the entrance to the fairgrounds Mossa reminded us to mark 130, the Kurdish ticket. Just to make sure we understood, he wrote it in Arabic,and looked at us and said "Don't make a mistake!"
At the entrance to the fairgrounds, it was more reminiscent of Duhok, Iraq then Nashville, Tennessee. There were concrete barriers,police on horseback, many security people, and a checkpoint at the entrance. There, everyone in the car had to show an ID, and the truck was opened and searched. As we were ok'd to proceed, we had to make our way through a maze of concrete barriers put in place as a precaution to any violence that might occur. After this we entered a big field of parked cars, half of which was flooded with the rain that kept drizzling down all that day. Mossa moved his way to a spot closest to the entrance tent to the elections so that we could try and not get to muddy, although that day it was rather unavoidable.
At the first of a series of heated tents we went through to get to the polling site, we were asked to show ID's again and were questioned if we possessed cameras, purses, or Cellphones, all of which were not allowed on the premises. Then we had to move through a metal detector. Those the alarm went off on were patted down and had the hand-held metal detectors swiped up and down their bodies. We went through no problem and proceeded through four tents, all of which we were made to show ID's. At the last tent there was a man arguing with the election official. Apparrently, him and another man had traveled all the way from Texas to vote and were denied because they hadn't pre-registered. The man was livid and finally some security had to escort him away.
At this last tent we waited, as they only allowed a certain number to go to the polling site at a time. After about five minutes we were given the ok, and we headed accross an empty field to a fenced in area where two large tents were set up for the voting. There again we showed ID's, but also we had to show registration cards this time. On the registration cards, each person was assigned to one or the other of the tents. Jemila had been assigned to the one on the left. At the entrance to the tent, once more you had to show ID and voter registration card. As I had not registered, I did not have one, but I was allowed in to help Jemila. Inside the tent there were two voting areas set up, each with tables, a ballot box, and booths to cast your vote in. We proceeded to the first area, and as you entered you gave your ID to one of the Election workers, there they checked to see if your name was on the registered voter list and the number on your card matched. Then a check was placed next to their name. Then you had to dip your pointer finger in purple ink, signifying you had voted. At the next table, a ballot, really a rather large sheet of paper listing all 111 parties, was given to the voter and instructions on how to vote were given. The lady working there said "We can help her, you can just leave", but I insisted, I am rather stubborn, I had come to witness the entire process and there weren't nobody who could stand in my way. Another man also told me "This is her husband, he can help her." From his tone, I got what he was inferring, I said "Why?" And he said "Well...Can you even read Arabic." I grabbed a paper from the table and wrote in Arabic the number 130, the Kurdish party number on the ballot, and he just stood their flabergasted.
We went into the booth and opened the ballot, quickly found 130, but were slightly confused because the party's flag was not there. Instead, beside it was a map of Kurdistan in white and black with tiny print that wasn't legible on it. Luckily, the name of the party was listed next to the number, and it clearly said Kurdistan. I told her this is the one, and she asked "Are you sure? We don't want to make mistake". I said I was sure. Then she made an x in the box beside 130 and folded up her ballot. The ballot box was on your way out and she stuffed it through the top, her face beaming.
Mossa had been assigned to the tent nextdoor,but he had chosen to wait on Jemila to make sure everything went ok. He got up as we passed and we all went to the other tent so he could vote. The official inside told us to sit down in some empty seats since we weren't voting as we waited for Mossa. As we sat there, Iraqi's streamed in there, many had chosen to wear their ethnic clothing, the kind saved for special occassions. Finally, Mossa had also "gave his voice" as they call voting literally in Kurdish.
As we headed out, a group of Kurds, traveling all the way from Dallas Texas arrived, full with spirit and joy. Their spirit and joy at a chance for democracy for a country that had known only terror and sorrow for way too long, was enough to bring a smile to anyone's face.