Day 51 – Life in Iraqi Kurdistan
25th of November 2014
Two weeks ago the weather was still warm and that Saturday also was sunny, this was lucky for us as we had decided to make a road trip to Shaqlawa, 50 km north from Erbil. Campbell, the New-Zealand dude joined me with his bike, and we started hitting the road towards the north. Astonishing views, beautiful landscapes on the way. A real great time! We met with the other guys who went by taxi, and then started hiking. Hiking in the mountain is usually nice, but it is even better when at the top there is a very old Christian monastery from the 4th Century!
« Only » 4 check points on the way. It’s kind of curious the way you can get used to seeing weapons and guns surrounding you constantly. When you first arrive into Middle-Eastern countries and especially in those countries with internal conflicts or war zones, you’re always impressed by seeing soldiers, militias and people with weapons in their hands, and that’s probably normal because we don’t have those conflicts in Western Europe. Well here, Police and Peshmergas (soldiers) carry guns, that’s kind of obvious and normal though. But that day on my way to the mountain, I caught myself not feeling any special emotion or interest when I saw that even the shepherds have Kalashnikovs with them all the time. You’re simply getting used to that permanent conflict atmosphere between people here.
So when the bomb attack happened last week, of course I was horrified for the people who died that day, but at the bottom of my mind, I think I wasn’t feeling any special emotion. It’s like « oh, ok, one more, still it’s a normal day ». So, when people are asking me if I’m not constantly scared simply by my presence here, with the ongoing atmosphere of war and shit, I think that I am not scared anymore. There are many people living here, locals but also foreigners. Some have been here for years, some have just arrived. But there is life happening, and life will continue every time there is such a dramatic incident. Obviously it sounds dramatic when I mention Iraq, Islamic State and Bombings, but after some time you simply get use to all that stuff, and it’s easier for adaptation and integration in the society.
There is genuinely a lot of racism between Kurds & Arabs here, and when the bombing happened, all the check-points had the order to block any Arabs getting in Erbil or in Kurdistan. Even if they live here, there was absolutely no chance that the Peshmerga would let them in. Not at least for a few days until the situation returns to normality.
Last Friday we made an Art Exhibition with paintings and drawings from refugees. Kids but also adults, and it was a great success! It took us a whole day to install the whole of it, but it was definitely worth it, because a lot of people came to see, and many bought the artworks! The initial price of a painting went directly to the refugee artist who painted it, and all the money raised above that price at the auction went to Rise Foundation so that we can continue our activities to help those same refugees. A really enjoyable day!
Also, since last week, a project that Rise Foundation was doing last winter has been started up again, and I’m in charge of it. Twice a week we’re going to refugee campsites and are showing movies and cartoons to the children. Last Tuesday we showed Tom & Jerry for an hour to 70 kids. Their smiles and laughs were priceless!! Just through seeing us coming with all the cinema project material, they were all screaming of happiness : « CINEMA, CINEMA!! » A small detail must be mentioned here though, we have currently got electricity breakdowns everyday, when we’re lucky there are no more than 5 powercuts a day, but usually we are spending half of the day without electricity at all. And the first day, when we got to the refugee campsite, there was no electricity, and all the children were very sad about it because the project was cancelled. Five minutes before we were due to leave, the power came back, and I think I will keep that image stuck in my mind for many years, all the kids suddenly raised their arms in the hair, got a huge smile and there was a huge « HOURRAH » which I’m sure could have been heard in Baghdad as well as it was so loud! So, on a regular basis, we are going every Tuesday to show those movies to Yezidis, and every Wednesday to Assyrian Christians refugee kids.
I have been very interested in ancient Mesopotamian and generally in the pre-Islamic civilisations of the Middle-East for a while already, and I remember how powerful it was when I got to see Persepolis in Iran two years ago. So I was looking for another place around here for more personal interest. A city called Namrud (or Nimrud) is only a 100 kilometres from here, and is the old Assyrian capital of the ancient civilisation, on the west bank of the Tigris river south of Mosul. According to a journalist friend living here and who has many fixers and contacts, it is under control of Da‘esh (Islamic State) at present so it is unfortunately not possible to go there at the moment… I am very disappointed about this as it really seemed to be a very interesting place to visit. I am scared that those bastards will destroy it all, as the Taliban destroyed the Buddha statues in Afghanistan when they were at power. The frontline from is only 8 kilometres from Nimrud, I have great hopes that the Peshmerga or Iraqi forces will push the fuckers away so that I can have a look at that city one day! Insha’Allah, as people here say…
A Syrian family from Kobanê arrived in Erbil 15 days ago, and were squatting an abandoned building next to where we are living in Ainkawa, a district of Erbil. The little boy from the family came to us two days ago and asked us for help, so we went there to give that family food, supplies, blankets, a heater and a cooker plus a piece of carpet so that they would not have to sleep on the cement floor anymore. We even brought them wooden pallets so that they can put them in front of the holes in all the walls. Yesterday when we went back there with Tom, the family had left… We don’t really know where they are gone, maybe to a proper camp, but hopefully to a better place. Situations like this happen every day in Erbil, and that’s why it’s very important for us to help them as much as we can. I will be gone in two weeks from now, and I’m not really sure yet if I will ever come back to Iraq, but there is still so much work to be done for those people..!
Pensées pour mon père actuellement hospitalisé. Remets toi bien mon bon Jean-Loup. Je pense fort à toi !