We are all trying to get there

 I was weaving through the tents of the Ashti camp in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, looking for more people to photograph when a woman approached me. She seemed very eager to have her picture taken, which was unusual for a woman in that part of the world, especially an unaccompanied mother. Most all of the women were very timid and not outwardly voluntary until we expressed the desire to use the photos as a way to promote more aide and knowledge of their circumstances. This woman seemed to be fully aware of this fact, and that her photo would be seen by a large number people. She began speaking and I called the translator over.  She stood regally in the gravel laneway between the rows of tents. She held her child of maybe two-years-old on her hip, a proud smile on her face. I took a picture and the translator shared her message to the future viewers of her image. “I don’t know what has happened to humanity. We are all trying to get there. How does is matter which route we take?”

I was unsure what she meant about, “there.” Did she mean heaven? Happiness? Life? But it didn’t really matter what, “there” was, I understood the point.

ISIS has been destroying the lives of peaceful people in the name of God. What should it matter how other people prayed? Don’t we all just want the same thing? Don’t we all just want to live without suffering?  Don’t we all want to cultivate a sense of heaven in our lives?

At the beginning my trip to Iraq was just another assignment. But while there, I witnessed first hand the undying spirit in people who have been plagued with torment. From all the people I photographed, some were captive, some had lost their loved ones, some had travels hundreds of miles from their homes, and some were there just to help.  What I used to think were noble motivations for being a photographer, now seem petty. This trip was only a small effort to shed light on these amazing human beings and their enduring faith in humanity. And my hope is that the photos I took are able to speak the volumes of courage, strength and resilience I encountered.