Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 12 2011. Dohuk. Iraq

my very helpful friend, Hassam, in Iraq!!

I said it felt "surreal" to be in Syria…well it feels really incredibly surreal to be sitting on a hot June night in IRAQ, listening to eighties music on my computer, in a little 10 dollar a night hotel room, complete with my own shower/squat toilet, empty mini-fridge and TV that doesn’t work.
I am surely the only traveler for miles around, certainly the only foreign guest at this cheap hotel, and its just... such a strange feeling. I went to an internet café on the main road here earlier and the owner, who did speak English (praise be ALLAH!), said that every single person in the shop was staring at me, not only because they never hardly see foreigners, but also because I was “dressed like a hooker” – which I really beg to differ on, skinny jeans and a t-shirt? Uhhh, okay boys... whatever you say. *shakes head*
Anyways, I met a nice man at the border, named Hassam, who has accompianed me here to Dohuk, and is staying in a room down the hall. He is en route to Baghdad, and I know for a fact that he wasn’t planning on overnight-ing here, but he has, I think just to make sure im okay until I meet with my English teacher friend Emily, in Erbil. It is unbelievably nice of him, (at first i was concerned he was creeping on me, but now he genuinely seems to have taken on the air of over-protective father, which is quite sweet really). I'm grateful for our meeting because i'm a little out of element here, being the only female crossing the border today, and the only non- Iraqi for miles around. He helped me get a much cheaper rate on the shared taxi ride here, and also worked his arabic magic at the hotel, for a cheaper rate. We went for dinner earlier at a kebab shop as well (more kebabs., its really the only choice) and I ate more lamb than I really would ever like to, but it was still nice to eat with someone. I don’t enjoy dining alone, and am thankful for the company.
In the taxi from the border to here, I realized something very strange…as i watched signs return to the familiar Arabic script (from Turkish), and was lulled to sleep by the low muffled voice of Hassam talking with the Taxi driver…I have become really at home in Arabic places. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it in my last blog post, but I felt really alienated in Urfa, Turkey. Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but I have become so used to everything being in Arabic for the past month, I swear…its like some reverse culture shock to see signs in English letters. Even though this is a predominantly Kurdish region, in northern Iraq, Arabic is still used, and im really grateful because it makes me feel at "home". Who ever though I would say that?! Haha. Even if I don’t understand much, its nice to be able to say hello and goodbye and thankyou, comfortably, and things like “yallah!” (lets go!), or read some numbers and hear other words I don’t know, but sound familiar to me at least. Turkish is like a totally alien concept to me right now, and I don’t like it, strangely enough.
Anyways, its very amazing to be here, and there is something so oddly thrilling about visiting these countries that have such a bad rap and are seen as dangerous based only on what the media shows us. The same owner of the internet café who said I was dressed like a hooker said it was cool I was here, and that “its not like the T.V, we aren’t all chopping one another’s heads off around here, hahaha" which made me laugh quite hard and shudder at the same time, because in very nearby Mosul (one of the most dangerous cities on earth), beheadings are all too common against anyone who doesnt abide by the most ridiculous extremist forms of Islamic law. Hassam has been trying to convince me to visit Karbalah, where he is from…but I don’t think I quite have the guts/insanity for that. (Also, it would be next to impossible to get a visa for the more southern portion of Iraq.) I still cant quite get over how amazingly well everything seems to work out for me (meeting strangers so easily, getting help from people), and it really makes me feel grateful.
Anyways, im going to go to bed here, as im getting up early to take the taxi with Hassam to Erbil. tomorrow.
wish me luck?

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