I seek the balance between a saturated mind and the challenge of physical force where I come closer to the source of nature whereby I discover cultures, meet people and find openness.
I am very glad that I came to Iraq. It is the beginning of that feeling such as in Pakistan. Roughness. An overwhelming feeling. It might as well be because I am a woman. This feeling is not reclaimed by men their responses, but more in the sense that I am here in a culture where what I do is not done by anyone else. I scare men off simply by appearing, I must be immediately classified as a strong woman, being on the bicycle. Perhaps crazy. In the streets I am addressed quickly. Traveling by bicycle is different: I gain wonder. Admiration.
Another Police Story
Again I am in a police station, this time it is for a peaceful reason. Once allowed inside my eyes are wandering. Over the perfectly cut traditional suit of the head officer. His pusben is wrapped neatly. All is outfitted in a dark brown color with a dark blue blouse underneath. The pusben is made of a brown voile, a very thin see through kind of textile. His salwar has a low crotch and is wide, so wide it doesn’t give away any shape of the man. The jacket over the blue blouse is sharply cut, fitting his body nothing less than perfect. It reminds me of many styles poured into one, becoming the Kurdish. The man himself is a bit older and handsome. I watch him. He looks at me, trying to get an idea of me. He must find it all very strange. As I watch the corner to the officer his right, I see a few machine guns as well as heavy artillery. I feel safe. To me it occurs this is a machine gun to trow granates and I come to the conclusion I am once again deep into the culture of a land unknown to me. I like it. We are surrounded by military men dressed in khaki and faded green, their T-shirts badged with US ARMY. I have to keep myself quiet, would like to make photo’s here. The roughness is touchable, and the reason we are here is plain funny. Rasool and me want permission to share a room.
It’s not that Rasool and I go for the obvious, we just want to be in the room I have taken in this town. But as soon as we wanted to enter, we were halted and before we knew we ended up at the police station. Asking permission. I feel a bit as if taken by a rapid. We could also have said ‘no’, but are as well indignant by the whole. As I hear the words salon and television. I know we don’t get permission. End of the story.
By now it’s after midnight, and the hair saloons are still cutting through thick black hair. Men want to look neat for the next coming days of Eid. There’s no food to be found and both Rasool and me are hungry. Our only option is a banana shake, brought to us by a child still, a chubby eager boy. The streets are full with garbage, it seems that every one has thrown their waste out on the streets but the next morning everything is swept away. Clear streets, ready to sell goods displayed and sold straight from the tarmac.
A sad story
Rasool has driven 6 hours to come here, combining a family visit and a visit to a fellow Dutch citizen whom he hosted a few days back. Once he took the wrong direction, the other time he witnessed a deathly accident. Two persons died in a car accident, a husband and wife were crushed together to death, their two children screaming on the back seat. When he tells me this, I can still feel the pain caused by the puppy who is just hit by a car in front of us. The little golden puppy cries out and drags his broken leg behind him into safety. His mother stands on the other side of the road, observing her baby, crying. ‘He did that,’ Rasool points to the driver in front of us. The road is empty. I say that people here are bad for animals. His answer is that people are bad for people ánd animals: ‘Every day fifty to sixty people are killed in bomb blasts’. And he tells me about his illegal transport in the back of a closed truck from Turkey to the Netherlands, costs about €4000. That he had little choice, that the little planes flew over low. And once in the Netherlands he was refused…
The next day Eid I try to find food. The hotel boy invites me to his room, so we can eat together. What do I have to think about this? He, who’s refused Rasool to visit me in my room. He, who did allow Rasool to enter my room, only if I waited in the saloon. Does he think I am an easy woman in for sex, or is he just helpful?
Continuation towards the border
After having 3.5 days of rest, I continue. I desperately needed rest because that’s something completely lacking in my new role of special guest. I reached the other side of Kurdistan after 8 days cycling and am going to have a last uphill towards the border Haj Omaran, which will be just in time on my visa.
Several people have warned me, ‘be careful on this stretch’. I don’t know exactly why his route would be less safe, but twice I encounter men who want some naughty interaction with me. Obviously and direct. Luckily the route is never quiet so I don’t get worried, and besides, the men are easily encouraged better not to try with me. It’s still Eid and food is not to be found yet. When I stock up for vegetables in Choman, a boy with blond hair invites me to come to his house. ‘Do as it’s your house,’ says the blond haired boy Jegr and as with more hosts, he disappears for almost the entire evening, but not before he has given me a plate full of food. I am together with his family and later on with relatives from the big cities, who praise this simple and peaceful provincial lifestyle where people care for each other.
The big cities of Iraqi Kurdistan are overwhelming. They seem to be little comparison to Dubai, I hear. With big malls and theme parks to entertain and distract the hard working upper class. I don’t choose to go to those big cities, I rather stay in the countryside. Where I get to meet Sahid who lived in the Netherlands too, but was refused later on because of his past actions. He was a freedom fighter against Saddam’s regime, ‘could not see what happened to my own people.’ Sahid might have been a PKK leader. He’s carrying a gun tucked between his tightly wrapped pusben. ‘I don’t like guns but I need it for protection,’ says Sahid, who’s a lieutenant officer now, though without bodyguards on this family gathering. I like Sahid, he’s open and affectionate towards his second wife, a fact his second wife doesn’t like. Nevertheless, this second wife is his favorite. He kisses her on the crown of her hair and says people don’t kiss her in public, but he proudly announce he does. ‘I had a girlfriend when I lived in England, you know,’ and his eyes beams in delight.
The family get to eat a lush Eid dinner and I can eat again, just an hour after my giant meal. The next morning an equally deluxe breakfast awaits me. ‘Please, leave after lunch,’ I get as a reply when I want to leave late in the morning. Ah, why not, and I leave after a sumptuous lunch. To arrive just before sunset in Haj Omaran, only 22 kilometer from Choman. The border is still open but I suddenly get a bright insight that I won’t cross the border now, better is the next day in order to have a full day ahead on my precious Iranian visa. So, me standing there nearly at the gates, surrounded by about 10 men and it seems they all think I am a celebrity. People come watching the center of the group, me, and make photo’s with their iPhones. One of them speak English well and asks what I need. ‘A place to sleep,’ is my answer. It’s getting colder, it’s getting dark and this border crossing is one of the shady ones. It’s rough and unpredictable. I can sense it.
Some of the guys invite me to his house, and after I make sure it’s a family surrounding, I agree. Yet, I enter an empty house. However, my host, Faroq does his job well and soon I am sitting behind a fast food meal which he bought for me: kebab. Again, lovely for a vegetarian. I am delighted by his sense of care but not by his little bit nervous mood: he walks in when I change clothes and when we make photo’s Faroq and his little brother -who’s even more nervous by seeing a woman so very close- can’t hide his excitement. His eyes are all over me and he tries to sit closer and closer to me. He’s unmistakable annoying me. When they want to embrace me for the photo I firmly disagree. ‘No problem here in Kurdistan,’ they say. ‘Problem for me,’ I trow back bothered. I don’t feel comfortable being the only woman in the house, and I try to keep faith that some femaleness will join me before we go to sleep.
The somewhat uncomfortable feeling change when Faroq takes me to his family, housed somewhere else. His wife seems to be in his parental house, but I get to see her only when we leave. I am very relieved by the sight of her, though she looks utterly unhappy, I do encourage her to come with us by the time we’re about to leave and as we get in the car she decides to walk back home. A little distance away.
But before we leave I enter the house and am taken to the guest room and soon into the woman’s room. Sometimes it takes effort to level with the family; you don’t speak each others language and so it can take time to find a balance between their curiosity and your feeling of comfort. Usually, the Iraqi Kurdistan families are very comfortable without being too much of an privacy invader. And here in this Faroq family, soon we are all over each other, laughing, making photo’s and having fun. The somewhat heavy, uncomfortable feeling of threat surrounded by only overeager men is gone. I feel at ease.
Cindy tell me, how do you sleep
A mattress is laid out on the floor, either in the living room or in a separate room. Those mattresses are thin but not less comfortable than my own self inflatable air mattress. I am always sleeping underneath a so called ‘mink’ blanket, a heavy soft and very synthetic blanket made in China. My head rest on a thick, hard pillow which I always have to shove aside and most days my breasts hurt from sleeping on them, the result of a hard surface. Most of the time I am surrounded by flat screen televisions, sometimes laid to sleep between people still watching television although mostly left behind in silence, often a most needed silence after an evening full of noise. Always, always relishing in warmth and good care, thank you Iraqi Kurdistan!