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Krav Maga Kurdistan - Day 2!

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I didn't know anything about Kurdistan before we came here. Doing some research (reading Wikipedia) gave me some background, but I had no idea what to expect from the region or the people. And I especially had no way to be prepared for a refugee camp. A little bit of exposure counts for weeks of reading, and if I've learned one thing, it's that the culture here runs on t-shirts.


Need to get into camp where you don't have an appointment? Security guards love t-shirts. Need to meet with a camp director? What size shirt does he wear? Want to get dozens of kids to show up to learn self-defense? Hand out a few t-shirts to their friends and pretty soon they'll be lined up around the block. Of course it's not that different in America. People will pay money to run a half marathon just to get a t-shirt. And we aren't suffering from resource scarcity at home.



The concept of time is a lot looser over here, especially in the camps where there's no reason to keep a tight schedule. We showed up at about 9:15, and over the next hour, a large group of girls accumulated. They were mostly between the ages of 11-13. Once we reached critical mass we took them into this room, which had a good floor, and privacy, but was quite literally an oven. It was so hot that when we walked outside, into the 105 degree heat, it was like air condoning. Despite that, and despite the language barrier, Cassie taught them palm strikes and groin kicks. The girls were awesome! They hit hard, listened well, smiled and laughed. They were totally fearless, even with "big" guys like Jeremy and me coming around.



I'd like to think everyone on this trip is essential, but it's hard to put anyone above our translator Adam. So many of our goals depend on not just what we can offer, but the nuances of how to present it. It doesn't matter what we say if Adam doesn't translate it in an appealing way. Adam is also a refugee who has been living in a camp for two years. He speaks English, Kurdish, and Arabic (all very hard languages to learn), and has an incredible insight into the region. He's way more than just a translator to us, he's an essential part of the team.



After Cassie taught the girls, we had about another hour long break while a group of boys and young men wandered over to start a new session. It was almost noon by this point, so anything longer than a couple minutes of work was too much at a time, but they were very game. I taught this section, but there isn't any cultural thing about, "Men have to teach men," it was just my turn to come off the bench. We did have Cassie continue to beat me up in front of everyone, to show that women are strong as well. It may not have been necessary: There is a Kurdish militia called the YPG in Syria, and about 1/3 their fighters are Yazidi women. No shrinking violets there. Again it was a very focused, very game group.



We then went to the tent of a man we'd talked to yesterday, who had many family members taken by ISIS. He showed us pictures of his missing family. Some of them he had idea about where they are, others nothing. Currently the only way to get people back from ISIS is to buy them. The going rate seems to average about $13,000, assuming the person can be located.


After a lot of talking and a lot of tea, we left the camp. We'll be back there at 9am tomorrow morning to teach again, and more importantly, hand out more t-shirts!



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