Remains wonderful this moving by bicycle. And so beautiful that people do not dare to visit these countries because of political situations and the like, and that you’re going there anyway, showing that in these countries people simply live their lives and wonderful people, that is! That I find so nice about your trip. Gerry van Lankveld
Iraq formalities: as a Dutch citizen I got a 15 days visa for free at the Ibrahim Khalil border coming from Silopi in Turkey. You enter a large building, hand over your passport and within a few minutes a stamp is issued. To make sure what the Arabic writing is saying, I ask how many days I was issued. Fifteen days are just enough to enjoy a slow pace and a lot of family gatherings. I took the Zakhu, Duhok, Amedy, Barzan, Shanidhar, Kaliapan, Soran, Choman and Haji Omaran route which went via the stunning Hamilton Road. I left the country with an over stay of one day but that didn’t matter for the immigration official. The exit, however, was much more tight. My handlebar bag was thoroughly searched through, as well as myself, though I think it was more of a curious matter than anything else. The military men asked me whether I liked Kurdistan, hence I left the country with ‘I love Kurdistan!’
Kurdistan, what an achievement!
As soon as I enter the country I hear people only be positive about their motherland, Kurdistan. No one calls it Iraq. There’s Salem who’s amazed by the prices of his water- and electricity bills, almost for free. He’d lived for 15 years in the Netherlands and is actually more of a Dutchman. He’s working much and he’s about the only guy I met who’s doing so. Of course, no country can be built by people not working -except Africa- but most people I have stayed at, are not working when I was there. Often I was the one who’d leave while my host would be still in bed. Often, also, I was not able to leave early at all. Life seems to be at a very low pace in Kurdistan, yet the country is flourishing!
I am proud of Kurdistan. Azadi Kurdistan!
It soon occurs to me that the people don’t complain. Not about a thing. All I hear is praise, about the politics, about the system. I do have to pinch my arm to be sure I’m not dreaming? The father of Adnan says he doesn’t have to do a thing, except sleeping and eating. People invite me to stay, to come live here, to start a job. Yes, to marry even, no difference from Africa, that is…
Of course, a few people I do hear complain, but those objections can hardly be taken seriously. One guy lived in the Netherlands for some years, before he was send back to where he’s now, and he says he’s missing marihuana. An adolescent is complaining about the fact he’s feeling bored in Kurdistan: ‘Kurdistan no good,’ he says. He wants to talk to girls, spend time with them, flirt, explore, taste… it can be done, but it must be done secretly.
Kurdistan is like the baby never cut from its mother’s umbilical cord. It is independent but still attached to Iraq. Kurdistan has its riches but, as I hear, can not fully take advantage of its own treasures. Over 20 years back, forgive my incorrect information, the father of Masud Mellah Mustapha Barzani took benefit over the fact that Saddam Hossein found himself in troubled waters. Saddam was under the attack of Kuwait and Iran and Father Kurdistan threatened with yet another war. Mister Barzani got his share: an independent Kurdistan! So it is possible, from an evil president, a dictator, to an honest and fair leader of a country. Usually, see what’s happening in Africa, one bad president will be followed up by an another evil one. Through killing, coups or leaving the country before being murdered. The son of this fairy tale president is now leading the country, unfortunately he’s sick and in German hospital at present, but every one is praising him, and undoubted, praying for a healthy return.
The president’s face is all over. The Kurdistan flags are every where, on cars, on rooftops, on shops, on electricity poles, in every Kurdish heart. And now, I can see why there should be one Kurdistan indeed! Or not, perhaps it will inflict struggles among the Kurdish…
Dressed to kill
Struggles and fights. This country has had a lot. One day I get to meet a guy dressed in a shining suit. He wears an earpiece connected to a phone in his pocket. While his suit is sharply cut, the T-shirt underneath is too short and shows his rather white belly. He steps to me as if he were an officer and I a scoundrel to be taught a lesson. He watches over me and then shoves out a book from underneath his shiny jacket. The book is about dermatology and shows naked body’s covered in skin-diseases. What strikes me most is the nakedness so I quickly close the book and say I can not accept his present as I carry too much already. Is this man, young, broad-shouldered, tall and impressive, a victim of war? Drifting the streets, disturbed in his mind.
One day, Shahram tells me, there will be justice for what Saddam did to his people. His father died in the war, when Shahram was a little boy.
High heel in rubble? I never understood why?
Shahram tells me he owes everything to his mother, the last woman in a row of three his father married. He taught himself English and is very respectful, self-controled and neatly. He says that he thinks he’s living in the stone age, although he doesn’t agree with Kurdistan changing to a western country with malls and Fantasy World’s. He is not happy with this changing as he doesn’t need more than a television and a computer, although wished for faster internet. Shahram is a young man of twenty. He’s the one his two brothers listen to since his father died in the war. I get to meet the two other wives of his father too, the three elderly women seem to get along well. I meet the neighbors as well, they all stumble in just when I want to go to bed. ‘Nine o’clock? So early?’ is Shahram reply when he ask me when I want to go to sleep. He was planning to cruise me through town in his car.
We talk about women too. Finally he laughs spontaneous when I ask him why women wear high heels? Shahram doesn’t understand either. Why do women and young lady’s wear high heels when there’s no decent street to walk on? You see the women struggling to walk straight, you see their ankles having trouble standing upright. Iraqi Kurdistan is a secular society, women don’t always cover their hair, although most do so. I have seen many women smoking, as well as having a rather monotone life style which is mostly inside their house. They cook and they raise their children, often a lot. The more babies they get, the more fat they seem to become. Some sons I met call their mother lazy, ‘that’s why she has become so fat’. I would not call it lazy though: delivering up to 13 babies is not simple!
Most houses I come along are made from concrete. Everything is replaced by this more stable mixture. A few houses on the route are made from stone and mud, and sporadic I do see nomadic camps. I stop and linger. Watch the beautiful dark brown color of the wool stretched across the frame underneath. Oh, how I would love to be one of them. Just for a few days.
Women are not cycling in Kurdistan
When cycling many men stop to see me passing. They park their vehicle on the side of the road or turn around to pass me one more time. Some men stop and want me to stop as well. Some take photo’s and one asks me to do ‘fikie fikie’, an exception as all the men I meet are courteous and respectful. I enjoy the view of men standing along the roadside, they look like mascots in their beautiful and neat attire. It must be weird to see a woman cycling on her own. There are no women in this part of the country doing such thing. Most women stay inside their house and if there’s no need to go outside, they won’t. The women I meet are many, some so very beautiful, some passionless and chubby. And by far all the women who are married and into their fourth child, are fat.
Cycling goes well, although slow. Every time I mount the saddle it feels just perfect. Often I feel so free I get the impression I forget something, like ‘do I not need to put on a helmet, strap on the safety belt?’ I would stop and check things, and find out nothing is needed. I am free, sitting on a perfect shaped saddle and, like on a horse, without attachments. It feels ultimate. Even the dogs of Kurdistan are relaxed and never trying to scare me off. A few men try but do not succeed. Once there’s this man who stops his car, on a stretch where people warned me ‘it is dangerous there, watch out.’ He orders me to stop. I stop, because I think he’s wanting me to tell how special I am. And that is what he does but somehow in a different way. He asks me if I have a sister or a brother, which I find quite strange and I indicate I will cycle on. No, he doesn’t wants me to cycle on so quick, he’s inviting me to somewhere. Then he touches my upper leg and makes clear he wants me to follow him to his house. Roughly I take off and leave him alone with his excessively positive thoughts.
‘You have to go over a mountain, you can’t with the bicycle’
Some days on the road are real hard on me. If I don’t eat the correct food or get too little rest, I just don’t manage to get my mind in the right setting. Often the days involve climbing up and on some days I just feel like an orange which is squeezed out. Each time a little more. And each such time a juicy energy is coming out. The only cooling down of the body is the wind on the downhills. It’s October and still hot.
I try to eat before I get the feeling of hunger but often there’s no food to be found. And sometimes there’s just no food at all. I cross Barzan and haven’t seen an open food-stall nor restaurant. A man, a laborer who sees me in doubt whether to continue or turn back, ask me what he can do for me. He tells me he’s an Arab from Mosul and the family where he built a house for will give me food if I want.
Earlier on I started the day with a given breakfast, albeit too little. It was continued by a bag full of fruit, which I did not have to pay for. And now I enjoy a decent, tasty ánd vegetarian meal of rice and chickpeas. I find it just unbelievable! Why no one reports this on television?
The route up North has bare mountains dotted with dry, bended trees. Little plateaus slowly sliding down, the fields of the farmers. There’s a slight breeze. Full sun. I seek shadow underneath the little trees who remind me of the women of Kurdistan. Old, bended, little women. Most have left their beauty behind. Perhaps still there when carrying their third baby, then lost in wrinkles, pain, sorrow, hormones and caring, attending the child and husband. A hard life, a beautiful one, pure and simple and undoubtedly without too much romance… is how I imagine it.
‘The Kurdish clothes let the body rest’
I like the clothing of the women, at first I thought they were some gifted clothes from Russia. Then I start thinking: Kurdistan doesn’t need charity from Russia, so their clothes, I found out, are original and folklore, and as Tahsin later says ‘the Kurdish clothes let the body rest’. A baggy trouser, pleated from above and tight at the ankles, can be made from all kind of textile. Shiny and light or heavy and firm. The dress over it is made from voile and has very long flaps at the end of the sleeves, used for swirling in the air by traditional dances, otherwise tied together on the back. The women may wear a little bolero over their long dress, usually made from velvet and really very feminine. Their head scarfs are draped over an immense hair clip so it appears the woman has a huge lump at the back of her head.
There’s another dress, called maxi. I got to wear it sometimes when I go to sleep and if the woman I borrow this maxi from is slim, I feel very sexy. I tell the woman I think the maxi is sexy and they’ll giggle. I wonder whether they considered it sexy? What is sexy? I definitely do my best not to be sexy.
Once, a girl of 17 is my appointed host. I meet her when Karwan invited me to his house while I am having dinner in Khalifan. I tried to find a place to sleep but did not succeed. Then I decide to eat first and see what will come my way after the food. Karwan comes my way. I am brought to a dim lighted room where about 5 women prepare paper-thin bread of about a meter wide. Then this girl comes in: I like her, although she reminds me of a character of Lord of the Rings. Her head is wrapped in such a way she even reminds me of E.T. though she’s beautiful! She’s breakable and fragile. She’s very pale and still slim, no wonder, as she has given birth to one baby only. She’s young. And she was forced to marry the brother of Karwan at the age of 14. This wasn’t a marriage out of love, tells Angel me, another girl of 14. Angel speak some English and with her golden hazelnut color she looks like an Indian girl. I could not have made a bigger compliment to her as she loves Indian moviestars. Angel has strong features and black hair. She’s enthusiastic and avid, ‘isn’t he cóól?’ she comment on her grandfather, but quiet when the elderly speaks. Angel shows me a place to sleep: in the bedroom of the 17-year-old wife and 22-year-old husband. I opt this is not too good an idea.
Angel tells me she hates marriages and never ever wants a husband. ‘That’s impossible. At least here,’ I tell her. And the evidence falls in my lap: a huge photo album of the 17-year-old wife. I am so very tired, I want to sleep, but I am the special guest. The album is full with equally young friends, one more ugly than the other. One girl is so caked up with make-up she looks like a geisha, her expression is blank with a hint of sadness. She looks so alarming she must have scared of her husband for at least a whole year. All the friends in this album are children who’re marrying another child. Girls with a naive, fearful expression in their eyes, though appearing to be young adults. The man they’re marrying are boys in their puberty, gripping onto a bold attitude, having no clue what is expected from them.
Karwan, who’s 29 and not married, is shining when he hears I too am not married. A companion! He doesn’t want to get married to a choice made by his family. His mother, as does more mothers in Kurdistan, is asking every day when he is finally getting married. The mother of Karwan has given birth to 13 children, seven of it are boys. And all living in one huge house, each family having their own little apartment, block built onto block. A not so charming structure of living space, though provided with all needs.
‘You know, this is not Europe here, we can’t have girlfriends,’ is Karwan’s reply after he’d ask me if I have a boyfriend. Ten minutes later he tells me he does have a girlfriend. An Iranian one, and he’s refused by his parents to marry her. ‘A love couple with a not so happy ending,’ beams Angel, who’s completely taken by surprise to hear her uncle’s little secret.
To be continued…