first impressions of traveling to iraq

as i landed in erbil, the first thing i saw was a militia fighter holding a weapon up in a posture of triumph. it was a television news coverage. ‘so far, so normal’ i thought. after all, it is a similar picture one has grown so accustomed to that there is no level of shock left anymore. only the fact that this time what i see on tv is not thousands of miles away but a two hour car drive instead. in erbil itself however there are no signs of any tension or unrest, at least from the little i have seen so far. so instead of starting to cover the political-military happenings right now, i will start with some light reading: some thoughts, impressions and anecdotes from my travels.

feeling european.

right before going to iraq, i talked to a friend of mine who also travels quite a bit in the not particularly touristically well known but rather internationally avoided places on earth. she travels in sub-saharan africa. i asked her for some impressions on how it feels when going to a radically different culture. the first thing she said was that she had never felt so white before. coming to iraq and seeing people’s reactions towards me, i do not feel white. but i sure as hell feel european. and just like my friend told me about her experience, i also cannot help but feel how they see me coming two miles down the road.

the golden ticket – part two

once, traveling by bus from copenhagen to brussels, i made the experience in a midnight search and passport control on the dutch border of how golden the ticket of an european citizenship actually is. today, i found my ultimate proof. as i wanted to get onto the plane in ankara, the boarding pass i had printed before flamed up red. i was not clear. something was not working. already seeing myself going home, i handed the controlleur my passport as requested and was immediately cleared and waved through. and the special bonus continued on the way. as i entered the hotel, two guards where blocking the entrance for several man standing before the doors. two metal detectors shielded the entrance doors. i could not even react as fast as i was led welcomed with a smile, led around the men and metal detectors and found myself in the lobby. it was there that i realized that i had come to a country where my face alone is enough of a golden ticket. no need for the passport proof of having the right citizenship.

don’t be a fool, worry!

depending on who i talk to and on how much i feel that they can take the concern before it swaps into panic and fear, i tend to talk more or less about the political situation on the ground. so far, from the little i have seen yet, kurdistan is safe. we passed several security stations exitig the airport and found forces patroling on the streets. i was not able to see if the men walking up and down in the middle of the streets belonged to the police, the army or the airport patrol. it was too dark to see the uniform. but not too dark to see the weapons around their shoulder. it is stable and safe. and it looks like they are doing their best to keep it just like that.
however, of course i worry. i am not a fool. and naivite is not what led me to travel to the country even in times of turmoil. it was the choice not to be an armchair scientist that led me on my journey. and with every choice come consequences, all of which i am constantly trying to consider and have a plan-b and -c option for, just in case.

the irony. or the german integration process pays off.

it is ironic. i found myself on a domestic flight within turkey. from istanbul to ankara. we are still in the boarding process when two women, elderly and wearing a hijab, step onto the plane. an elderly man accompanies them. they stop at my row and suddenly start gesturing wiledly, talking in this strained kind of voice that only hectic and overwhelmed women are able to produce and all i hear is allalla allalla allalla. she is trying to talk to me about something and to the stewardess at the same time, while i apologize in english that i do not speak turkish. the stewardess reacts, because the woman does not speak english. suddenly however the elder women apparently sees my passport as she suddenly claps her hands together ‘oh you are from austria!’ in perfect cologne accent the woman starts talking to me in german and i find myself more than stunned at the coincidence. and now that she explains the situation to me in german, how they had a death in the family and how her brother had also such high blood pressure that she wanted to sit next to him but they messed something up in germany, she did not at all seem like that woman who, just minutes before i was so close to roll my eyes about, not understanding the drama. instead she was calm and caring. a loving sister. i felt a bit ashamed of myself having judged her so wrongly and it was right then that i recalled how once a polish friend of mine thought i was quarreling with my austrian friend, even though we were only discussing what plans to make for the weekend. sometimes foreign languages sound like more than they are.

the stupidity.

having encountered this turkish lady who ended up speaking flawless german, another man in front of me turned around and started talking to me in german as well, of what i was doing traveling to ankara and what not. he was obviously turkish by his looks and i am not sure whether it was that or just my being surprised that someone else would speak german this well as well, but i ended up hearing myself congratulate him to his excellent german language skills. he answered with a laughter ‘of course, i am bavarian’. what a stupidity, i have to blame myself for! i would never congratulate a german for their languge skills, would i? but just because that german looked turkish i suddenly feel subconsciously the right to do so? but that situation led me to think- how we always end up defining who we are by looks and language, by the behavior or the values, and by the place we are born or the parents we are born to. but at the end not one of these factors actually says anything about who we actually are.

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