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The Road to Halabja Part VI – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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.

I went back to what I called the “compound” incredibly stressed about my situation: I couldn’t leave or stay in Iraq.

I was so incredibly hungry, but I wanted to prove to my gracious hosts that I was independent and low-maintenance.

Whenever they asked me if I needed anything, I said to them rather embarrassingly, as if I were hiding something dear to them, that I was fine. The last thing I wanted to do was be an inconvenience to my hosts.

I walked into the living room and watched Al-Jazeera with a group of engineers whom had disgusted looks on their faces because of the horrific incident that took place in Austria.

At first I didn’t understand the Arabic, but the images spoke clearer than words as the pictures explained that a father kept his daughter as a prisoner in the basement, raped, and raised six of her incest children.

I don’t need to go into detail because I believe that all of us remember where we were that day when we heard that disturbing story.

Within a few minutes the topic changed from disturbing news to politics because of the opportunity to speak with the American in the room.

We discussed Sunni-Shi’a tensions, Arab-Kurdish tensions, U.S.-Iraqi tensions, why the U.S. supports Zionism and so on.

This is the first time I have ever had a political discussion with Turks, Kurds, and Iraqi-Arabs all in the same room and it was rather passionate to say the least.

I learned more in that 30-minute conversation than I ever learned inside of a classroom back home. I should have written a thesis.

An Arab civil engineer who participated with the political discussions seemed impressed by my points of view and invited me to his home in Baghdad, which was so tempting that to this day I ask myself if I made the right decision by not going with him.

Traveling to Baghdad by invitation would have been significant but I painfully declined.

He traveled back and forth from Arbil to Baghdad only once a week, and I only had a 10-day visa.

Even if I extended the visa, Baghdad was extremely dangerous for me considering I didn’t have permission to be there, no one back home would have known I was there, and my travel insurance wouldn’t have covered me if something happened.

Out of all the reasons not to go, the primary reason for not venturing into a hot zone was my fear of encountering my country’s military; to be completely honest, it is what I feared the most.

I had recurring thoughts of interrogation and weeks being detained without the ability to communicate with my parents.

Besides all of the reasons above, what could I have done while in Baghdad?

Spend the entire week indoors because of the dangers presented outside?

The man who most interested me was Mahmed, not only because he owned the engineering firm, had interesting political viewpoints and spoke fluent Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and English, but because he was incredibly kind to me and seemed to know exactly how I felt just by looking at me.

He asked me if I wasokay, as if he knew something was bothering me, so I decided to be honest with him.

I paraphrased everything that the Turkish employee had told me about Iraqi-Kurdistan and told him that I hadn’t eaten very well in several days.

Everyone in the room laughed enthusiastically. ” Why would you listen to a crazy old man like Faruk!?”

They said as the laughs grew in volume. “He’s paranoid! Why didn’t you tell us you haven’t eaten?”

In an instant I felt my stress evaporate. I still didn’t have a penny on me, but I knew that the universe was going to help me achieve what I came to achieve in this part of the world.


Series: The Road to Halabja

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