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Krav Maga Kurdistan - Day 1!

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Today, Saturday, was our first full day in Kurdistan. We had been briefed that plans are loose at best, but even then we had nothing on our schedle. Today was only about recovering from the long trip over and getting organized for the "work week." As we were having lunch in the hotel Jeremy told us a very unexpected opportunity came up, and we were headed over to a refugee camp shortly. We then met our Yazidi translator Adam, whom Jeremy had worked with several times before. Adam is one of those people who has remained so strong and positive in the face of incredible hardship that once I get home I will never again complain about traffic for at least a week.

Adam had managed to contact a few people that we wanted to meet, and so we left to a refugee camp about 40 minutes outside Dohuk. There are 19 camps just in this region, with hundreds of thousands of people between them, and although things are tough at all of the camps, some of them are just five or ten minutes from a major city, and thus receive a lot more attention. This camp was neglected even by the standards of refugee camps.


We drove to the center of the small town adjoining the camp, and asked a security guard where to find the entrance. He actually was one of the guards for the camp, so he climbed in the truck with us and we all went over. On the ride he told us we wouldn't get in. We'd heard that several times before, but the Yazidi have seen people give up on them for years, so we didn't want to take "no," for an answer. One of the reasons we were hearing "no," is because too many people have come just to take pictures, or worse just to be in pictures; to tell themselves, "Ok I've seen refugees and it was sad and now I'm a hero."


Jeremy is not that person. We got to the camp and over a few minutes a series of phone calls and handshakes opened the doors for us. I can't tell you the details because A) I don't know them, and B) I really don't know what happened, but at the end of the day Adam said, "What just happened was impossible."



After a brief meeting with the camp director and an older gentleman refugee, we went to one tent to meet with a family. There were several dozen young kids to old grandparents and everyone in between. I believe they were all in the same family; I don't know if every single person was related but that was the impression I got. They asked a few questions about what we did and what we wanted to do, but mostly we listened to their stories. There is a cottage industry of repeating other people's sad stories so I'll avoid that, but this family had suffered even by the standards of refugees.


After listening for a long time, we told them that we would like to teach the girls to defend themselves. They have a very real need for self-defense, not just the techniques but as part of their recovery. In America it's almost a cliche to say, "Learn Krav Maga and build your confidence, take control of your life, and don't be afraid." These girls have been through it all. If one of their stories happened to someone in America, it would be news for weeks. They agreed they were interested in learning self-defense, but it was the end of a long conversation. The refugee camps only have power for a couple hours a day at best, so it's not like they're running air conditioning, or even fans. We had been reliving tragic stories for an hour and everyone looked - understandably - like they were on the verge of tears. Right as we all stood up, we said, "Would you like to see a demonstration?"



Before I continue, I have to backtrack and say that when we were at the hotel preparing to leave, I asked, "Hey, should I bring my groin cup?" Of course the answer is always, "Are you in the same room as Cassie? Then yes, you should be wearing a groin cup." But at the moment we were saying no, we are just having meetings, if we DO do any demonstrating it will be slow speed, etc.



Well demonstrating Krav slowly is like flying a plane slowly, so as we were in the camp, clearing a meager space to show some moves, I was very glad I'd decided to armor up. I attacked Cassie and she gave a vigorous sales pitch for Krav Maga. We did a few chokes, bear hugs, and hair grabs; when we finished, the expression on the girls' faces was like Christmas morning. They lit up! It was such a transformation. And once they've hit a pad for the first time, or defended a choke, I can't imagine what that could do for them.



We made arrangements to come back and teach tomorrow morning. The camp director also wanted some help with losing a few pounds, so I might be putting him through some pushups while Cassie, Jeremy, and Joshua change lives. The most important thing is that we are doing it now. These people have had a caravan of groups and parties coming through offering to help, and they have received almost nothing. People show up and they promise to help, and they don't go back. Teaching hammerfists won't eradicate ISIS, or find homes for the Yazidi, but we can start today and go back tomorrow, and that will mean a lot to them.

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