madly in love with Iraq

12.8.07

Republic of Kurdistan

Rubbing shoulders with Iraq… the every summer urge that consumes all my savings and completely drains me emotionally and physically; took me inside Iraq this year rather than around it….it was not easy for my family but in the end it was much worth it.

When I arrived to Erbil airport I smelled the air of home and the scorching heat stung me immediately but I was happy and willing to get stung and stung again.

The surprise was how primitive the airport is and yet still acceptable for an international airline to land in. But when I remembered the money I paid for the ticket, it became clear. Let’s drain Iraq while it is possible.

My family required a Kurdish guarantor who drove over to the borders of Kurdistan in order to let them in. They also had a letter with their names including the children so we could move around.
The highlights of the trip were the check points; considering there is one every 10-15 minutes drive. Each represented a government of its own. The secret word was “ARABS”, the minute the police hear this magical word we had to leave the car and had our IDs checked and then grilled with questions and told off for not speaking Kurdish!

The worst was when we tried to enter Duhuk (a prosperous city up north) coming from Erbil. We were refused entry by two check points and we had to change our way and enter the city through the route coming from Mosul! Why? I don’t know. And the officer had the cheek to tell us that without my British passport he wouldn’t let us in.

When people heard we came from Baghdad, a mixture of panic and sympathy overwhelms them. “How are you coping? How do you live? How did they allow you to enter Kurdistan?”
They all looked at as with sorrow as if we were carrying a deadly disease, and would start to eulogise Baghdad and how great it used to be.
I used to boil hearing them speaking about my city in the past tense as if it was dead.

Can we blame them? I could, but my family wouldn’t, my mother would say “They are right, not even animals can survive in Baghdad”.

You cannot help feeling that everyone in Kurdistan let alone the whole neighbouring countries had learned their lesson from what had happened to us, and has become very vigilant and is trying hard not to let the tide of terror flow inside their borders.

Kurdistan is closed for tourism from all over Iraq this year, and it really hit them hard, but they are happy with the safety and the security they are enjoying.
I did not hear one shot! No helicopters roamed the skies, not a single American in uniform in there and on top you don’t see one worrying eye.
It is amazing how only in a three hour drive from Baghdad you find yourself in a safe haven.

The impression that stayed with me all the way through the trip was that I am in a place without history, as if nothing has happened in there before. No traces of the past whatsoever. No crafts of any kind; not even the simplest things like wooden spoons, urns or hand made carpets, and when you ask; the reply would be a laugh and a mocking smile about a past no one seems to want to recall.

What you cannot miss noticing is the Turkish invasion! Everything is imported from there, ice cream, dairy products, all food and vegetables, clothing, fuel, most of the engineering works contractors and there are even private Turkish schools!

The threat of a Turkish military action is probably a joke, considering the money visibly involved, and I am sure there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

There is nothing wrong with importing if you have the money, but I always thought of it as a comfort and a luxury. Not being able to produce the basic necessities or at least maintain and recover what you had before raises a big question mark. What about creating jobs? Or support the agriculture?
Saddam burned a lot of fields and he really damaged the land as he did to the people alike, but I cannot say that I saw any sign of something is being done about it, and I hope I am wrong.

When you ask where to go inside the cities, you are immediately directed to the shopping malls; not surprisingly owned by the new rulers! “The Barazanis”. The prices in one of them in Duhuk were marked in dollars, and believe it or not it was much more expensive than what we have in London.
Most of our money went on fuel and transport, one jerry can of petrol costs around $22. No one bought from petrol stations though as they are private and the prices in them vary dramatically. They all depend on road vendors who smuggle the fuel or buy it cheaper from other places.

On the personal level, I found my brother and his family really tired and confused, and what hurt me the most is they have completely given up. The children speak of death even when they joke with each other.
At one time my 10years old niece sat in the roof at 3:00pm reading a book in the sun when the electricity went off. I cried when I saw how those children have become so adaptable to not having the basic in their lives like water and electricity.
The electricity is much better than Baghdad, and there were industrial generators all over to provide the people during cut-offs.
It is embarrasing to say; but I am used to easy life now, although I did not show it, and acted bravely all the way, but I did spend my afternoons in the bath pouring the freezing stream water from the mains all over me.
It is degrading and humiliating that at this time and age people have to live in this way, running after what we take for granted.

The best fun for all was going out at night to have a meal in one of the traditional restaurants in the resort where we were staying. The children sang and danced walking back and took photos to show their friends.

We skipped the so called modern cities and hit the mountains and the beautiful nature; my mother remembering her honeymoon, me and my brother our childhood and the children discovering the Iraq they don’t know anything about.

I did not leave any opportunity to remind them that Iraq has a beautiful side to it and here are the proofs!



Below used to be an observatory built in the early eighties, it has two holes from being bombed during the Iraq-Iran war. I am not sure of Saddam's intentions (millions were spent ) in building it! but it is abandoned and yet it was impossible to get nearer


A village on the way
My favorite groccer Nourridine; he promised all his products are local!


Duhuk



A funfair in Rawandouz




Jundian




Beakhal water falls









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