Iraq 2008: The wild, wild west

Aug 1, 2008
Bookmark and Share

An old man sits on the street in Erbil, Iraq
Above: An old man sits on the street in Erbil, Iraq

Iraq: the wild, wild west - There are very few rules and a lot of people carry guns.

Arabization: The term Iraqi Kurds use for the influx of Arabs into places like Kirkut, often displacing Kurds and their culture. Similar to westernazation, but on a more micro scale.

Getting In:

The trip to Suli weny relatively smoothly, in large part due to the fixer that we hired in Diyarbakir who got us out of a couple close calls. These "close calls" primarily related to Chris' desire to take photos / video of anything that he is not supposed to... After the third time getting busted for taking photos of the military (this time resulting in us being detained and questioned for twenty minutes) he finally vowed to stop :-)

Refugee Camp Iraq

We made it to Suli on day three of our venture into Iraq after a quick stop at a Syrian Kurd refugee camp near Dohuk and a day in Erbil. Erbil may or may not prove to be useful, as somehow we ended up leaving the city with a 30 day work permit recognizing us as journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan... Not sure how it happened - and the papers actually seem to cause more headaches when we show them - but hey it might come in handy at some point!

Living off the kindness of strangers:

Money in Iraq
In true American fashion, I came to Iraq without enough money to last my stay and with no real exit strategy. None of the banks here are connected with the outside world and - while one of them claims to be a branch of Western Union - my transactions were repeatedly canceled before the funds were able to make it as far as Iraq. When I called to find out the reason I was told that I had to submit my request for the information in writing to the home office in the United States... I have since opened up an account at the newly founded Bank of Michael and Bob, two American friends that I have met here in Suli.

The banks here are absolutely crazy though... Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not well over a million) just sitting in blocks on tables; some being counted, some being stuffed into giant white Santa sacks, some behind a waist high wall, some already on the other side of this wall being signed for by random costumers. Pallets of money are offloaded outside the bank from the back of pickup trucks and the "armored car" has a hand painted Visa logo on it. Wild, wild west.

The Power of Power:

So electricity is still a major problem here with several hours a day being completely dark - so to speak. There are three types of power that comprise your day: City power, neighborhood power, and generator power. Since we dont have our own running generator at the house we are living in, we are forced to rely on only the first two.

So far we have laid out the schedule of power as follows: City (C) vs. Neighborhood (N)

C: 12:30AM - 6:30AM
N: 7:00AM - 8:30AM
C: 8:30AM - 10:30AM OR 10:30AM - 12:30PM
N: 12:30PM - 2:30PM (sometimes)
C: 2:30PM - 4:00PM, 5:30PM, or 6:30PM OR 2:30PM - 4:00PM and 4:30PM - 6:30PM
N: 6:30PM - ?
C: 8:30PM - 9:30PM
N: 9:30PM - 12:30AM

And Friday's the schedule seems to get thrown out the window completely.

Keep in mind also, that neighborhood power is only for the bare essentials. We are able to run a few lights, fans, the fridge, and charge a few electronics... However, the city power is the one that provides us with air conditioning (it is usually around 120+ F here during the day), internet, washing machines, etc.

It is amazing how fast you start to schedule your life around power. I have started taking more naps during the day and going to sleep earlier so that I can wake up at 1am to use some semi-reliable internet, then sleeping until the A/C turns off and the heat sets in, then starting the whole thing over again with the 8:30am burst of internet and A/C followed by the intense heat of the afternoon. It is really hard to motivate yourself to leave the house when - at night - it might cool down to a chilling 100 degrees!

My time in Suli so far:

I spent my Birthday eating "Kantagi" fried chicken and Go Kart Racing at the Sulimany Speed Center... The following night, we visited the Bowling alley in town which is actually a three story complex of bowling, video games, and restaurants! None of which I would ever have imagined doing during my time in Iraq!

Guitar Hero
The Tiziano project work is going really well, we have six students now that are all really excited about learning multimedia and storytelling. They have come up with all sorts of great ideas that we are working with them to produce, including a story on child labor, one on the Chaikhana (a local chai cafe primarily for intellectuals to get together and discuss politics, religion, philosophy, etc.), and one that involves Dave and I trying out a local dish called Serape (sheep brain stew).... I'll let you all know how that last one goes...  We have also managed to throw in a little fun by introducing Guitar Hero III to Suli!

My religious awakening:

I don't consider myself a particularly religious person, due in part to being raised more spiritual than anything else, but over the last month between Turkey and Iraq I have found myself completely immersed and overwhelmed by the generosity and concern for humanity from followers of both Islam and Christianity. During the last three weeks of my stay in Turkey almost everything was made possible by followers of the Gulen Movement. The Gülen Movement was started by a man named Fethullah Gülen who is a forward thinking Muslim that encourages his followers to donate to education rather than to mosques. The core principles of the movement involve education as a means for bettering people's lives, inspiring inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues, and bringing people from all walks of earth together which has inspired many people to help build schools and improve education across the world. While the movement is described as faith-based but not faith-limited, it is primarily made up of devout Muslims.

In Sulaimaniyah, I have again found myself involved with a group of individuals with largely the same goals of promoting education around the world, however these individuals all represent various Christian organizations back in the States. Both groups have welcomed me into their homes, shared their knowledge with me, opened my eyes to their religions, and in general have helped make me a better person.  And I am extremely grateful.

Two last Turkey stories from Mehmet:

1) In Turkey they often do not wear their seat belts, because they believe that wearing them serves as a red flag to police that you are doing something wrong!

2) People prank call 911 (in Turkey 112) from there cellphones and then taking out the SIM card so they cannot be traced. When legislatures tried to pass a law to block problem numbers from calling 911 after completing prank phone calls, the law did not pass because legislatures said that the people then no longer be able to call 911 for an emergency!

Oh an the final broken arm count during the last three weeks in Turkey was an astounding 75!

An old man sits on the street in Erbil, Iraq

Bookmark and Share


Eric Hill | August 1, 2008 11:46 AM | Reply

Hey Jon,

Good to hear things are (at least) moving along...

Anyway, stay awake and aware! We'll see you and the rest of the boys back home soon....

"Smile at everyone, trust nobody"

- Me ;)


Chris | August 2, 2008 1:21 AM | Reply

Sorry for getting caught.

Leave a comment