About the Author: Aaron Snipe is a Foreign Service Officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Muthanna, Iraq.
Sometimes I find myself muttering five little words: I hate being in Iraq.
The problem with this statement is that it's actually not true. I don't hate being in Iraq. Working in the fast-paced, high-stress environment of a PRT is always a challenge. The seven-day work week can be difficult to manage. But, when I step back from the stress and look at what we are doing, I actually quite like Iraq. I love talking to Iraqis about their country. I like the intellectual challenges inherent in Iraq. I enjoy hearing what Iraqis have to say about things I think I've figured out – and I love it when Iraqis tell me I'm wrong. Though, I have to say, I love it even more when Iraqis tell me I'm wrong, and then I prove to them I am right. But most of all, I don’t hate being in Iraq, because I can call my colleagues – both American and Iraqi – friends.
I was reminded of why I like being in Iraq during a visit to a veterinary research center where we are assisting Iraqi farmers with new techniques in animal husbandry. As I wrote in a previous blog entry, Muthanna is an agrarian society at heart, and some of our most meaningful efforts here are focused in this sector.
The PRT is working with the Director General of Veterinary Services to help farmers replenish their fleeting livestock numbers. The PRT has purchased liquid nitrogen machines that will make it possible for the Iraqis to implement a province-wide bovine artificial insemination (BAI) program. Decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein, years of war, and other economic factors forced many of Muthanna's farmers to slaughter their livestock for food to feed their families, instead of keeping the cattle to produce dairy products. The dwindling numbers of breeding bulls have created an agricultural crisis for provincial farmers. With a vibrant Iraqi-led (and PRT-supported) BAI program in place, the numbers of livestock will certainly increase. This assistance is taking place at the grassroots level, and agricultural officials and farmers can attest to the positive impact it will have on the province.
My visit to the veterinary research center also reminded me of one of my fondest, childhood memories. For many years as a kid, I attended summer camp in Pennsylvania. On a Saturday morning, many summers ago – it must have been when I was about fifteen-years-old – the camp director asked if I would help him fetch hay for the horses.
We drove a truck a few miles away from camp to a large field. Seated in neat rows, evenly placed across the field’s wide expanse, were countless bales of hay. My job: to toss the heavy bales of hay into the truck bed. We drove up and down the lanes of hay for hours. When we finished, I looked up to see the hay stacked five, six, maybe even seven, tiers high. That day was the first time I can recall working hard and loving it. Riding back to camp atop a mountain of hay, baked in the summer heat, drenched in sweat and smelling like the farm, I felt like a king sitting on a throne. It was just a truckload of hay, and I was just a kid, but it was a day I'll never forget.
At age fifteen, I'm sure I'd never even heard of Iraq. Twenty years later, though, I feel a similar pride in the work I am doing here.
Read more entries about Aaron Snipe's experiences serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna, Iraq.