there is sentences in life that even in my wildest dreams i would not have thought that i would ever hear. ‘oh look, there’s an iraqi army deserter’ was one of them. but, truth to be told, things get pretty surreal once one crosses the first kurdish military checkpoint on the street to kirkuk.
having the unique opportunity to follow around some social workers from the local rise foundation to one of the syrian refugee camps they are supporting, i took a first step outside of the capital city of erbil, or halwer as it is more commonly referred to by the kurish population. exiting the capital at that was an easy task. some men in military camoflage and an ak on their side just nodded and waved us through without further notice. and while driving itself is one hell if an experience – the emphazis is on hell; italians stand no chance against the kurdish driving style; after all, when even trucks can make u-turns in highways, things get interesting. let me just say, the breaks get a propper testing here. but once you leave the city behind, the roads get straight and the countryside as wide as the eyes can reach. here and there i saw a man herding his sheep, walking them alongside the highway, or a boy on the side of the street, hiding under a big umbrella and selling water to thirsty travelers. the town we are heading to was qushtaba. the unhcr refugee camp is named accordingly. and while i was still soaking in all the impressions around me suddenly a field of white tents spread before me. home of about 7000 people, qushtaba just lay there, gated by a fence and guarded by several asajish, in all its tranquility. when we entered some children were already awaiting our arrival. it was cinema night in the camp. and there i was, stepping into a reality that i have seen a million times and still never been able to fully comprehend. and even now i am not at a point yet where i have emotionally digested the flood of information and impressions. the tents, the women and men in front of it, the children waving, the rug on the stony ground, the guard on their post, and the friendly men who offered us seats and beverages. everytime i wanted to pick something up to help them carry or build, someone came running towards me; i am there guest, it is their shame if they let me work. even the work that is done for them by the many projects of local ngo’s like rise, it is still them who receive us as guests. overwhelmed by everything around me, i stepped outside the tent while the children watched a toy story movie, and lit a cigaret. it was a different kind of camel moment. but it deffinately had something extraordinary to it. and as i was watching the sun slowly sink towards the horizon and the people chat in front of their tents, i sighed and watched into the sky, where my eyes caught on to something irritating. it did not move it’s wings, ao it was obviously not a bird. it was too big as well. but there were two. and they were too close together for them to be planes. i thougt, maybe it is an optical illusion, maybe it just is two planes. but as they were flying further in perfect syncronism, i relized how slow they were. they were too slow to be a plane. and too low as well. i stoped. i gasped. and i relized i had just seen my first drone. i cannot say whether they were american as they were too far for me to read the ‘made in china’ signature of american handicraft, but i am without a doubt certain that those two drones recorded some red head gril on the edge of a refugee camp staring up at them with a dazzled look on her face.
thinking that it could not possibly get any more interesting than that, i joined the group again. after the movie ended we wrapped everything up, stayed for a little arabic-kurdish-english-hand and feet chit chat and started traveling back into the city. it was there that i realized i had not even passed my first military checkpoint yet. it was om the way back into the city that i saw the road block, the leading to a brightly illuminated area and several lines of cars and soldiers in a row. every single car was stopped and checked. enjoying the perks of a european face again our checkpoint did not even require and id. but when we passed the control, we suddenly saw a separated area where they sent cars that were to be inspected. it was easily a hundred cars in that area, with all soldiers taking them apart piece by piece. the drivers and passengers in the meantime were gated in the back. like a flock of sheep they were all waiting for the results of the car search. in the middle of all of it, there were several brightly yellow taxis. different from those that drive in kurdistan, i learned another valuable lesson – those are iraqi taxis. even as a european, don’t take them if you want to get into kurdistan.