Editor's note: Every year, the Juneau Friends Meeting (Quakers), which believes the effort to understand the life of others is a first step in any effort of peacemaking, awards a $500 scholarship to a 12th-grade student who writes the best essay on a topic related to peace and peacemaking. This year, applicants were asked to pose as a pen pal student in Iraq, responding to an e-mail sent inquiring about how life has changed as a result of the war and subsequent events. This year's winner was Kai Christian:
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"I am sorry I have not been able to write you for so long. It's been hard to get connected to the Internet lately. I've been trying to live a normal life, but the attempt itself brings a painful realization that normal is a fantasy here. Normal is what we remember looking back, and hope that we can one day have again. That life seems so distant. Now we can only try to stay alive. More than 600,000 have been killed. I don't know any family that hasn't lost someone they love. Can you imagine how soon this war would end if every American on your block had lost a mother, father, sister, cousin, brother, grandfather, grandmother or friend?
"I haven't been able to attend university in a month. Most students are too afraid to try to get there in the mornings, and the teachers don't have it any better. As for me, I don't think I would go even if there were classes being held. I am too afraid to go outside and most wear the burqa whenever I do. It's as if the whole world has gone crazy. Everyday there are abductions, revenge killings, car bombs and detentions. Can you imagine how it is to feel lucky when there is actually a body to identify?
"Of course, the Americans are a constant fear, but just as much are the Iraqi "peacekeeping forces." The name is a joke. They do nothing to improve the situation, and take advantage of their status any way they can. I saw on the television, the trial of the men suspected of raping Sabrine Al-Janabi. Of course our politicians say she is lying in order to undermine the peacekeeping forces. I think she is possibly the bravest of us. She has suffered through this atrocity, and is still strong enough to go on and accuse these men, and attempt to see some sort of justice done. She is even letting her real name be known. My heart hurts for her, but just as much, I am glad it wasn't me.
"My family is struggling along as best we can. Father has started carrying a gun wherever he goes, and sometimes he cannot even get to work. It is so dangerous. Even when it is somewhat safe to go out, it is hard to get there. Gas is short and the lines are long. He was waiting in line overnight last week. We didn't know where he had gone. We were afraid that he had been kidnapped or killed. Even though we know he had nothing to do with sectarian violence or with terrorism, the American soldiers don't pay attention to that. They treat everyone the same. Men, women and children; they are dying every day with no questions asked until it is too late. These Americans seem to think corpses can talk, or that it is not too late once the bullet has pierced their hearts.
"My mother cannot work anymore, because of the danger of getting to the hospital. Sometimes she cries to think of all the people who die in that hospital without her to care for them. Its no comfort, but I think they would die anyway. The few that make it long enough to get there won't be around much longer. Mother takes comfort in cooking when she can, which is not very often because of the constant blackouts. We are down to just a few hours of electricity each day and the water pump goes out with the power. So when it is on we must hurry to fill every pail, pot pan, cup and even the bathtub. We cannot use the toilet inside because water is too precious to waste for flushing, so we have dug a latrine outside. I hate squatting in the dirt like an animal, but it is better than giving up bathing, or drinking water and the dust is everywhere because we can't spare water for cleaning.
"We have just received word from my brother, Majed. He used to be a translator for the Americans when they first came, but it became unsafe. He quit when a friend of his, another interpreter, was killed, but even eight months later he was being threatened. He tried to get help from the Americans, maybe even to move to America. He thought that since he had helped them, perhaps they would help him in return. But the American government said he was too much of a threat to let in. He fled to Syria, and we didn't hear from him until now. For many nights I prayed to Allah and thank Allah for his safety.
"My sister, Faiza, who is 10, can no longer go outside to play. She seldom goes to school. Father calls ahead to friends and neighbors to see if the road is clear. Even then they must turn back due to roadblocks. A few days ago my precious little sister watched as a car bomb exploded. The car was covered in pieces of flesh and blood. We do not have the water to clean it. She barely speaks anymore and when she thinks of her friends she cries; she is afraid they might be dead. I tell her not to think such morbid things, but I know there is a chance that they could be gone by now. It is needless to say that I hope they are all right.
"It may be many days before I can write again. Try not to worry about me, and when you can, send me more of your poetry. Your friend,