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The Road to Halabja Part III – Arbil Awaits

This is the next guest post in a series by Kevin Post. If you want to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read more here.

The conversation between the driver and me on the way to Arbil was mainly in Turkish because my Kurdish at the time was very minimal.

We talked about the beautiful scenery and how much this man liked “Mr. George W. Bush”.

I highly disagreed with the man regarding the former president of the United States and expressed that freely in what little Turkish and Kurdish I knew.

But as a Kurd, he saw Bush’s invasion of Iraq as emancipation for the Kurds of the north.

The most exciting part of the drive was being stopped every 20 minutes or so at checkpoints while being questioned.

You have to keep in mind that I was in Iraq without the ability to speak the language adequately and no one back home knew I was there; the adrenalin rush felt so good as I embraced the uncertainty.

At the first checkpoint, the soldier asked me where my gun was as if I were a soldier. My response in English, with my intention to sound Kurdish was, “Turrist.” The soldier looked confused but let me on my way.

A few minutes later we stopped in Dohuk to fill up on gas and I regret not spending some time there.

It is a beautiful town situated on the foothills of the Zagros mountain range, with stunning views in every direction. I greatly look forward to exploring this town the next time I visit.

The geography changed rapidly from mountains to plains, stunning and eerily different than anything I had seen before as we left Dohuk.

To add to the eeriness, the dust had blocked most of the sun. Experiencing a dust storm was far different than I had expected.

Being from Florida, I expected the dust to feel like sand, but it felt like a light soft powder, and managed to get into everything.

Having my scarf on hand was absolutely necessary throughout the trip to cover the mouth and eyes when dust came my way.

After seeing nothing for almost an hour, we saw a truck stop in the middle of nowhere just outside of the city of Mosul and decided to grab a bite to eat, which was very welcomed considering I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours.

I wouldn’t say that I felt hunger because the journey to Iraq occupied every aspect of my mind and there are very few moments like these when I truly put all of my attention in the present.

The food consisted of flat bread, sugary tea and soup that had flavors I have tasted before, but still to this day I have no idea what was in it; the food wasn’t that memorable to be honest.

I really wanted to stop by Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, but due to security reasons at the time I couldn’t visit.

Besides, there was a strong U.S. military presence in the city and at the time of this writing, it was Iraq’s most dangerous city.

I was more afraid of being stopped by the U.S. military than anything else.

I could just imagine the red flags that would have been flown finding a redheaded American boy traveling in Mosul by himself.

Mosul is a city that, when it is more stable and safer to travel to, shouldn’t be missed for its history and mixture of Arab and Kurdish culture.

The best and most intimidating checkpoint was near the outskirts of Arbil. The dust blocking the sun, and tall heavily armed Kurdish soldiers with checkered scarves covering their faces to block the dust was quite intimidating; what I would have done for a picture.

The soldier asked for our identifications with a serious tone, and after glancing over my passport, he and another soldier asked me to step out of the vehicle, which made me nervous.

Roughly seven soldiers stared at me without the slightest grins for what felt like several seconds, and I could hear my heart beat rapidly as the wind blew violently into my ears.

Delightedly, the soldier who asked me to step out of the car, gave me the international signal for ” welcome brother!” (something like, “eyyyyyyyy!”? with a smile). Three of the soldiers hugged me and said in a thick Kurdish accent, “Amerika! Welcome Kurdistan!”?

I laughed as I gave these soldiers bro-hugs while repeating “zorspas” (thank you very much). The one thing the Kurdish soldiers had in common is that they were all confused as to why I was in their country. Surely an American would travel by plane.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Series: The Road to Halabja

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