Friday, August 27, 2010
How did I get from Istanbul to Iraq--081710-Istanbul, Turkey & Erbil, Iraq
It is the first time I make such a trip by bus. I am used to travel but the longest I've been in a bus is 10 hours. Well, actually, I made a long trip from Turkey to Romania, that took 22 hours, but it was by train and I had a bed. We got to the bus station like 10 minutes before the bus was supposed to depart to Iraq(10:00). I think this is the Middle East, so is acceptable and also I think Turkish time is like Puertorican time, when you specify a time, it means one hour later, so I was able to catch the bus. The trip from Turkey to Iraq takes approximately 30 hours. We departed from Istanbul at about 11:00. I was really nervous because I didn't know how to expect and because I have no knowledge of Turkish or Kurdish. I was assigned a travel partner, Merivan, a Kurdish guy that was traveling also to Erbil, so he took care of me all the trip. There is always people that take care of me wherever I go!
Getting out of Turkey on the way to Iraq, we made a number of stops. I lost the count! Ones for eating, smoking, WC. Being on the road, you can notice the transition when we move to the Kurdish part of Turkey, the infrastructure is less, and more countryside, less developed. A little bit similar to what you see in Israel when you move from West to East Jerusalem. You can tell where the government is spending the money and where it doesn't.
We got to the Turkey-Iraq frontier, almost 24 hours later at 09:00 and it took us 1 hour and 40 minute to pass the Turkish customs. There was a long line of trucks full of cement and other materials. We were on a different line, cars, taxis and buses only. You could see the drivers running from one side to the other, passport in hand. The Turkish people in the bus got off to buy a stamp. I was scared because I didn't check if I needed a visa to enter Iraq, I started to become anxious but after all they stamped my passport with no problem. I always do it at some point (mess it!), like in Egypt last week.
Once stamped in Turkey, it was the Iraqi customs. The Iraqis took all of our passports and we entered a big waiting room, with very comfy leather seats, TV and air conditioning. I started to like Iraq. The room was full of people, mostly men. They were calling names of people from different counters. The customs officer looked at my passport and then looked at me, then he showed it to another officer and then said something and looked at me again. I didn't know what that meant. Another officer called me, he had beautiful olive green eyes and he asks me where I am going, I tell him to Erbil, and he asks me what was my job and I tell him I'm a student. What is my address, I don't know, I'm visiting my Kurdish friends, he smiles and he stamped my passport. They only gave me a visa for 10 days. All together like half an hour. I love Iraq.
In Turkey the temperature is very hot but is humid. You feel sweaty all the time, like Puerto Rico. Iraq is dry, the air feels dry (very uncomfortable for me). On top of that the AC broke in our bus. We still have 2 or 3 hours to get to Erbil, and if we keep stopping we will never get there. This people smoke and eat a lot, so they stop everytime. Can we please stop stopping!
Eventually, we made it around 16:00. My friend came to pick me up and gave me a tour of Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan. According to wikipedia a city of little more than a million people, with a large majority being Kurds and a small minority of Assyrians. My friend Alan is one of them. Actually he lives in Ankawa, a suburb od Erbil with a predominantly Assyrian/Chaldean population. Legend says Ankawa was founded in the second century by Saint Thomas the Apostle. It is one of the oldest Christian settlements in Iraq, a land that has deep roots for several Christian denominations, including Chaldeans and Assyrians.
The citadel that was built about 7000 years and now is nominated for the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. He explained that there are two main roads that circle the citadel, one is the 60 meter street and the other is the 100 meter road, while the city kept growing it kept expanding around the citadel. We passed by the bazaar or market and because we were in Ramadan, the restaurants have a curtain, to not show the food to be respectful of the Muslim fating for the holy month of Ramadan. That way through respect, tolerance is promoted and coexistence emerges. I think that this is the key to the successful coexistence here in the Iraqi Kurdistan.