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Planting a Seed of Hope in the heart of an Iraqi Orphan

May 23rd, 2009 by Yasser Al-Astarabadi


It is 6a.m! Is it a dream or did someone nudge me to wake up? I keep hearing a man’s voice telling me “Yasser wake up! the day has arrived – Goum babaty”. My eyes are still shut but my heart began to beat. As I opened my eyes I see a man standing by my bed dressed in his greyish silver dish-dasha, his hair matching the colour of his gown- It’s my father telling me to wake up.

As I rub my eyes, my father began to draw open the curtains allowing the light of this beautiful day enter my room and shine across my face. I stood up and walked towards my window. Looking out, I see a beautiful cloudless blue sky, towards the left I see the green fields of Barn Hill, with the birds tweeting and flying about. Towards the right and looking down I see the Arch of Wembley Stadium and the town in which I grew up in- Wembley Park.

I opened the window looking up into the sky saying

“Today is the day a group of us will walk/climb miles for the Orphans of Iraq, please give us strength, courage, ability, patience and the will to complete this challenge”.

I turned around and stood in my room alone with so many emotions inside me wanting to burst out. I close my eyes and see a movie of all the days, hard work and long hours it took to organise Walk for Iraq in just a flash, 3 months hard work was summarised in just few seconds! I stood there looking at my gear and what I planned to wear all folded up and placed on a black leather chair and said to myself:

“Today is here, can you believe it, only few hours and I will meet people I have never met before, only few hours left and I will have new friends for life, only few hours and the journey for the Iraqi Orphans will begin”
45 minutes later after getting ready, I went downstairs leaving my bags on the side table by the front door. Walking towards the dining room I hear my brother and sister talking as they eat their breakfast. “Good Morning” I say and sat down looking out into our long garden through the patio door which was half open letting in the fresh breeze of an early sunny day. I look at the table and see all the dairy products, the jams, the fresh honey, cereals and fruits. I smell the toasted bread as it comes into the room, “am not feeling hungry” I said in my mind, yet I hear another voice in my head telling me to reach out for the glass of fresh orange juice, I hear it saying to me drink, and eat your breakfast, you have a long/tiring day ahead of you.

Here we are getting ready to leave home, my father dropped us at the station. The train journey normally takes 30 minutes to Charing Cross underground station; our meeting place, but the journey seemed never ending for me. Finally we arrived on the platform heading to the meeting point, we are walking in this endless corridor trying to pick up the pace, I can see the escalator from a distance, in my heart and mind I am thinking yes we are finally here.

At our meeting place, I began to get the paper work out, and slowly everyone begins to turn up. Wow I love it already! I felt like I was a teacher at a school trip taking the register and getting everyone in line to purchase the train tickets. We all headed to board the train. What a relief first step accomplished getting everyone on the right train without any delays. Everyone is happy singing and clapping, some people are wondering around in the carriage getting to know one another. At this point I have 2 hours of rest till we reach Folkestone.

Here we are at our destination, everyone decided to head to the rest rooms, and take photos at the station, and in my mind I am thinking ok 5 minutes and we better begin. The map is ready in my hand and I am nervous. We started walking towards the point were we are to kick off our journey. After couple of left and right turns we finally arrived at a place like heaven, the fields, the cafes, and the sea glistening. Apparently at this point I had to make a speech ‘What!’ I screamed I didn’t prepare for this just yet, well anyway being put under pressure is nothing new to me. We took couple of photos and we decided to pick up the pace again, walking through the town of Folkestone, we climbed up this steep hill, at this point I said to everyone this is the first point where we begin our walk.

The journey begins; we started to walk through a narrow downhill path that led us to the beautiful sandy beach. It was very busy with people everywhere. Now I can see in the far distance the endless coastal walk, with the sea on our right and the White Cliffs of Dover on our left.
Everyone started to walk at their own pace, it turned from one large group into small little groups. As the participants began to get to know one another, 2 brothers approached me and told me “we just met our cousin that we never met before”, what a moment to know a family re-union on this most blessed day. I felt quite emotional at this point knowing that not only was this was an event for a good cause but that many surprising events were about to unfold.

The Walk is endless, yet I cannot see how far we have to go, but following the map it seemed that we were walking towards the right direction. We come to point where the route was closed and at this point we asked the locals as to how to overcome this unexpected situation that was not mentioned on my map. We were advised to go back approx 1 mile and find the steep steps that go up the cliffs. So we all walked back looking for the steps, here we see the steps and at that point a vision of the movie “Lord of the Rings” came into my mind, it was like climbing the steps into Mordor. Finally we got to the top, everyone at this point were quiet, and were probably thinking please let this be the difficult stage of all.

Not long after we faced another steep hill with steps, and twice the effort of the previous one, I started to hear the complaints. At this point, I am thinking you have not seen anything yet, this is just a teaser of what is expected. I collapsed at this stage and I was the last one climbing up, I don’t know what happened, I felt weak and faint, I urged everyone to carry on climbing. I took a few minutes rest and then continued my journey to catch up with everyone else. When I got to the top, the rest of the walk towards Dover was pretty straightforward. I felt a moment of relief but we were divided into 2 teams. We decided to stop at this point for photos and a small break, we had laughs, we sang and clapped, and we joked about. At this point I hear a rip as I slid down a concrete. All of what I heard was whistling and cheering! I had ripped my tracksuit!!! but most important I was lucky to have been wearing a pair of shorts underneath, otherwise what a scandal that could have been.

After many hours of endless walking, we managed to finally reach the town of Dover. At this point 6 girls decided to call it a day for various reasons. In my mind I was thinking yes!! not long left! Deal is only few miles away from here, I can happily tell you at this stage I was WRONG. Again we started to climb up this steep hill, as we got to the top after 30 minutes, we faced an endless route of concrete steps, I closed my eyes and started climbing up the steps. I can feel the fat burning in my legs and thighs, am sweating, and then it began to rain.

Finally reaching the top of the steps, the time was 5.30pm and we are way behind schedule. We carried on walking around a long and never ending curved road, at this point there was no sign of the sea and all of what we see is landscapes. Never the less, we faced another challenge, 3 people were walking so slow that we lost trace of them, we were so far from civilisation, all that was around us was endless fields of crops and cows. No sign of roads, lights, no public transport. I started to get worried and thought what if it gets dark and we are still here? What are we going to do; I don’t have reception to call 999. We found this old cottage which looked haunted, so a brave warrior from our team decided to pluck up the courage and knock on the door. An old man answered and after explaining the situation to him; he said “Are you mad?”. He guided us to the right path and in which direction we should be heading.

At this point we were walking through the fields between the cows and the bulls thinking I was so glad I never wore red. Now I found my self climbing over wooden gates and fences. However the scenery was so beautiful and breath taking.

Finally we reached a point were we came to a road. We decided to ask someone in a pub the direction to Deal train station. The map was folded and put away, we began to see civilisation again. We started to walk down hill towards the beach, and again witnessed the beautiful scenery and everyone began to be more joyful again.

We finally reached the pebbled beach of Deal, now the sun began to set, I decided to ask a passer by as to how far left until we reach Deal train station, he responded with another 2 hours walk! How is that possible? The town of Deal certainly cannot be that big! An hour and half ago we were told we would reach Deal station within 45 minutes! Ok no problem we began to walk and walk, the flag began to slip off my shoulder, I can’t think straight, some participants were injured, some got sick. We calculated the distance we covered and amazingly we had exceeded the 24KM initial distance. We did approx 32KM due to diversions!!

Some participants decided to carry on walking to the end, even if meant they would miss the last train, while the rest jumped into taxi to the station. Time now is 21:15 and we are all at the station apart from the ones that decided to walk to Deal train station. I began to worry and started to lose my patience. The last train to leave Deal to London was 21:30. They have 15 minutes to get here. As I turned to speak to my brother to check the register they all turned up, what a joy!! they made it 2 minutes before the last train arrived!

WOW we are all on the train heading to London, we were all sun burnt, we had lost approx 11,000 calories each on that day, I certainly lost so much weight. Now we are on the train everyone grabbed their seat, some fell asleep and some were chatting about the excitement of the day and how it went.

Walking through the barriers of Charing Cross Station, I felt a great sense of achievement that I had done something good for our home country and for the Orphans, as the only way we had patience, ability and motivation in completing this challenge was fulfilling an Orphans need and sending them a message that there is hope, love and care, you don’t have to look for it, it will come to you.

That was when I began to write this diary about my experience in participating and organising Walk for Iraq UK 2009 Folkestone to Deal.


Yasser Al-Astarabadi

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