About the Author: Aaron Snipe is as a Foreign Service Officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq.
Seven years ago, I was working in the financial services industry in New York City. I had recently taken the Foreign Service exam and was pretty pessimistic about my chances of passing. I didn’t like my job very much, but I loved my office. It was in the old Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Clock Tower building at Madison and 23rd. And I loved living in Park Slope. If you had told me back then that, in a few short years, I would be working in rural Iraq, helping farmers vaccinate and "dip" their sheep, I would have found the assertion preposterous.
As fate would have it, I am here in Iraq, dipping sheep, and having a good time doing it.
Muthanna, the southern Iraqi province in which I work, is rural. Muthanna doesn't have many natural resources, and it doesn't have an abundance of water, though the Euphrates River does wind its way through our humble province. What it does have are lots of livestock. This is a province of farmers. Far away from Baghdad, the bigger questions of the Middle East don't really resonate here. While we are assisting the Iraqis here in all sectors, I suspect the greatest impact we will have in Muthanna is on its agricultural sector.
Late last year, I visited a site in rural Khider where veterinary representatives from the provincial government brought medicines for the animals. Joining me on the visit was Dr. Indu Ram, the PRT's Senior Agricultural Advisor and a native of Lucknow, India. The PRT's main contact with the provincial government on agricultural and veterinary issues, Indu has worked tirelessly on agricultural matters in the province and has developed a strong relationship with the Director General of Veterinary Services. Previous veterinary inoculations sponsored by the PRT had been in partnership with the United States Military, but this event was different. While we always enjoy cooperating with the military, Humvees and MRAPs would have changed the atmosphere of this engagement. With Muthanna’s Director General of Veterinary Services and PRT civilians leading the way, Iraqi farmers got to see something we wish more Iraqis would see: Iraqi officials cooperating with civilian representatives of the United States to respond directly to the needs of the people.
During this round of treatment, veterinarians injected livestock with vaccines for common seasonal diseases and administered oral treatments to the animals for internal parasites. A little later in the day we watched sheep being dipped to help prevent against external parasites. Indu's "hands on" approach to the work prompted him to get into the action by helping an unsuspecting sheep into the dip.
Under ideal conditions, sheep would normally receive vaccinations twice a year, but for the farmers of Khider – until now – their livestock had not received vaccinations in over three years. The vaccination partnership between the government and PRT is expected to decrease the sheep mortality rate by 80%.
As the visit came to a close everyone was happy. In this forgotten corner of Iraq, where Muthanna's farmers struggle with so many challenges, the PRT's support of provincial efforts paid large dividends. Before we left, the farmers made one very important demand on the PRT: stay for lunch. "We will slaughter a sheep in your honor! Please stay and eat with us." With other pressing business in the province on that day, we were unable to stay and break bread with our new friends. But, as the Acting Team Leader (my boss was out of town), I promised to return for another vaccination event, and I fully intended to take the farmers up on lunch. Stay tuned for more boiled sheep!
Read more entries about Aaron Snipe's experiences serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq.