Kirkuk started experiencing regular bombings shortly after we left and at one point, the Peshmerga - the Kurdish Army - lined up against Iraqi forces there as well. Thankfully things have calmed down again a bit but, yikes...
We drove through rain and mud and it cleared just in time for us to have the picnic that some of our friends had spent all morning preparing.
After we arrived in Dohuk, we learned we were very close to a large refugee camp for fleeing Syrians (Kurdistan now has over 100,000 refugees that they are taking care of.) Our host inquired about us taking supplies to the camp and we were finally told that the reason we weren't being allowed in is because there had been an "incident" with Americans there recently. The crowd was just too large and too desperate to risk us being overwhelmed by people. And this camp was one of the better organized and well run ones around. It's untelling what kind of conditions Syrians are facing in other camps and in other countries who don't have the resources available that Kstan does.
Then we learned a few of us would be visiting a local family of "orphans" (there, if you have lost the male head of the house, you are considered orphans even if you still live with your mother. Women just don't have much opportunity in society without a male so your lot in life feels very limiting if you lose your husband - which so many did under Saddam.) We would be riding out to a village with friends of our hosts.
Which meant we technically left our hosts. Which was fine, I knew our hosts would never send us off with anyone unless they completely trusted those people and we had hung out with these other people already, they were awesome. However, I have yet to mention our group included --
a 16 year old boy.
Which is funny because - who takes a 16 year old to Iraq for vacation? Even a man we all know who had just entered Syria -- illegally -- on his own the week before showed shock when we told him we brought a kid with us. "You brought a sixteen year old ...to Iraq???"
Eh, he had a relative on the trip.
Yet even that relative wasn't in the car with us as we were whisked out to a village. So as I looked behind me at The Boy who was riding in the back of the car, I'll never forget his huge eyes peering at me and the other two people from our team and him softly informing us that he was "memorizing the route we were taking just in case something went down and we needed to find our way back..."
ha! Can't blame him.
We were fine, of course. And the experience was amazing. The kids we hung out with ranged in ages from a few months old to late teens and they talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up, what they did for fun, etc. At one point we were all asked what we did and one of the girls on my team was about to join the Navy as a pilot. Not wanting to mention the U.S. military, she simply replied that she was going to work with planes.
To which our hosts asked "Oh, and will you be bombing Iraq soon?"
Us: "ha!...ha...heh heh..um....." nervous laughter, embarrassed sideway glances at each other like "well -? I guess you never knooooow....."
And our hosts roared with laughter. Oh good! Phew! They are in on the joke!
Another funny moment came at a dinner days later when someone on my team asked a question like, "where are the drums?" and another host replied "Oh, I thought you said 'where are the drones' ...and I was going to say -- shouldn't you guys know that?...." Ha! Iraq has a good sense of humor....good thing....
Below are some pics of the village. I love how the girl's room we saw was complete with celebrity posters on the wall, just like we do in the U.S.
We walked around with them and had coffee and kissed their cheeks multiple times (I could never decode the kissing regimen in that country. Sometimes it was 4 kisses, sometimes 3, sometimes twice on each cheek, sometimes once on each-- it got embarrassing to the point where I just kind of let my face hang out there for as long as the other person continued to look like they were going in....)
Then we headed back to our group. We did other things in Dohuk, like visit a Christian-run Daycare who actually received funding from the government (proving how progressive that area seems to be getting with regards to different religions) and walked through the ruins of a village bombed by Saddam that was just now starting to be rebuilt. And then we headed back to Erbil to end our trip (and I experienced one of my most exciting car rides on that journey back, which I'll describe next post).
|Adorable kid at Daycare|
|Family we visited in the village|
|Family's donkey who a girl on our trip tried to give medical advice for....don't ask...|
|sunset at village|
|remains of a bombed village|
|So many options....|
|just sittin' alongside the road, having a picnic...in Iraq....|
|pic I took on the sly in the Minister of Tourism's office....right before he ordered an official photo with us anyway. I felt crafty for one minute anyway....|