Archive for the ‘iraqi kurdistan’ Category

holiday in iraq

June 26, 2010


We’re in a tidy, blonde brick housing estate. We’re trying on Levi’s at the mall. We’re drinking beer at a German-themed pub. Um… we’re in Iraq. You’d barely know it except for the signs reminding me that I’m not allowed to bring my firearm into the supermarket.

Not quite what we expected, but bloody brilliant all the same.

A long day’s bus ride took us from northern Iran to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and temporary home of hostess extraordinaire, KDawe. We cruise past road signs pointing to Kirkuk and Baghdad to English Village, where the cab slows to a crawl; soon enough, a flash of pink leaps out onto the road and waves us down. And before long, we’re sipping G&T on the back veranda, admiring the world’s ugliest water feature and reminiscing about Uniswim in the 90s. The following days saw us whizzing down a gully on the Shingelbana, fussing over paddling pools and watching a documentary on LL Cool J while waiting for our visa renewal.*

It’s not all beer and skittles though. A trip to the Amna Suraka (Red Security) museum in Slemani is a chilling reminder of  the horrific treatment Kurds endured at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Our hulking driver was visibly shaken at the graphic exhibitions and after calming raising the alarm when we were briefly and accidentally locked inside the old cell block – mildly amusing in hindsight, but fairly panic-inducing at the time – he later confessed that faced with the prospect of being stuck in there a second longer, he was on the verge of busting the door down with his own hands.

Nevertheless, while much of the ‘stan is surreal in its incongruousness or freakish normalcy, Kurdish pride is on full display. Apart from being the closest thing they’re ever likely to get to a Kurdish homeland, a lot is riding on distinguishing themselves from Arab Iraq as big money is traded off the region’s stability, diversity and reputedly colossal oil reserves. The Kurdish flag flies proudly over a skyline littered with construction cranes; Peshmerga soldiers man scores of checkpoints; Kurdish language takes precedence over Arabic; and traditional baggy pants are favoured – although, as KDawe’s driver pointed out to us, not so practical should Kurdistan ever field a team for the World Cup.

*If that wasn’t weird enough, the guy who dealt with our paperwork was a dead ringer for Tommy Bell, albeit with a Kurdish twist.