Many associations pop up in our Western minds when we hear “Iraq”. Since many months before we started this journey, we have been warned to go here. For many months we had the feeling that it’s really not going to be that bad.
By all means, Baghdad is not exactly on our list of destinations 2011, but Northern Iraq is different.
We have traveled though an Iraq that most people don’t know about.
That doesn’t exist on the map, but that is more alive than many countries we’ve been to.
Welcome to Kurdistan!
The border from Turkey is one of the least complicated borders we’ve ever crossed. We got picked up by three Kurdish brothers crossing the border to see two more brothers, living in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The visa (which is for free) was issued immediately, and we spent our first night in Zaho, near the border.
And the Kurdish culture shines. Literally. Northern Iraq is so colorful; the houses are painted in pink and green, the trees in Arbil are lightened at night and the typical textiles in the bazaar gives a warm color that is hard to relate to war and poverty. The houses are beautiful, the people are well-dressed. It is very proper, it is well taken care of, it is Kurdistan.
After our first night in Zaho we went to Arbil, considered the capital of Kurdistan. We got a ride for free with a shared taxi, and the other passengers bought us more snacks than we could eat. It was an exciting ride. Many of the roadsigns pointing towards Bagdhad, some to Mosul and Kirkuk. We continued straight to Arbil.
We stayed with an American CouchSurfer in Arbil, Andrew. He is a teacher at Kurdistan University, and we came there to see it. It was indeed a great experience!
We visited a salsa class, something which is still a bit of a tabu in Kurdistan, but things are changing, just like the new buildings popping up around each corner. The student was very out going and we enjoyed meeting them.
Most of our time in Arbil wasn’t spent with Andrew, since he was quite busy. His assistant Joey took us around the city. We saw the citadel founded in the 12:th century, the central parts, the markets, and one of the beautiful parks.
Joey, who is born ‘Amir’, was adopted by an American man after loosing both of his parents and one brother in his former city, Baghdad.
His story is a piece of modern history, and to see him smile and keep living his life is amazing.
He took so well care of us in Arbil. We are very grateful and will come back to see you soon, Joey!
From Arbil we went East towards Iran.
We got invited for chai in a small Kurdish village in the wonderful mountains, and then to a family in the city of Soran, where we spent the night.
It was a great time. Just like we’ve experienced earlier in the Middle East, the whole family gets together at night in the living room, the only room that is heated. We communicate in any way we can, we show pictures from Sweden and some Chicken Dance clips, we play with the kids and they improve their English.
Some people told us “Life is short. Therefore, don’t go to Iraq.”
We feel the opposite way. Life is short. Take the chance.
Find the truth, that people live their lives even in the countries that scare us through media. The North of Iraq is an area well worth to see, currently working on a future independence. Like they say in the Middle East; “Inshalla” – if God wants.
Zor Supas/Thank you very much
- Önder, Nasin and the third brother who’s name we’ve lost (Sorry!), who drove us across the border to Iraq
- Yusuf who fixed our ride to Arbil and provided us with lunch and snacks
- Joey, who took so well care of us in Arbil. You rock!
- Fasu, who drove us from Arbil and invited us to his village
- Mohammed with family in Soran for the ride and the wonderful evening in your home!
See you soon, dear friends!