FIrst Impressions of Iraqi Kurdistan

Eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan were amazing. After Diyarbakir, we took a bus straight to Dohok, Iraq, passing through some ancient ruins along the way.  These pictures are of Hasankeyf, an ancient city dating back to 1800 BC.

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Unfortunately we weren’t able to get off the bus, but we got to see a few of these places as we rolled by in the daylight.  We got through the border no problem, and arrived in Dohok at night. We grabbed a taxi and tok it to a sketchy little hotel in what seemed like an abandoned, run down neighborhood.  I walked across the street and got some falafel, figuring it’s the thing to eat in the  middle east, but was severely disappointed when they not only didn’t have hummous or tahini, but just had some lame American “Family” sauce in a squeeze bottle. To make matters worse, later that night it made me sick.

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First impressions of Iraq were largely mixed.  There’s a lot of signs of American culture, action movies, wedding dresses, signs in English etc.  I’d say definitely  more so than eastern Turkey  For the most part, it’s clearly a developing country, the streets are over crowded with people and traffic, there is trash everywhere, and a lot of the buildings are falling apart.  But it’s also clear that there is a lot of development and things are changing quickly.  The next day we walked around Dohok taking pictures and checking out the local market.  The city was much more lively during the day, but since I wasn’t feeling great and there didn’t seem to be much to do in the area where we were, we decided to just get a cab to Erbil.

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Erbil was a similar impression to Dohok, but on a larger scale.  Pulling into the main square where the Citadel sits, there’s a huge park with fountains, and lots of lights set up for new years. The next morning we decided to take a walk through the Citadel and see one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet.  I was fully prepared to pay an entrance fee, but after walking up a steep road to the entrance, the only person charging money was a man with a camera taking portraits.  We walked through to find most of the citadel blocked off, and only the main road going through open.  There were a few spots where we dipped off to check out one or two things on the sides, but a lot of it was under construction and there were workers and guards around, so we just saw what we could.  I think we really missed out because I am sure walking through the old houses would have been amazing, but it seems like they are at least making some slow progress on restoring some of it.  I think in the future this is going to be a real tourist attraction.

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Afterwards, we met up with Rawand, who I met through couchsurfing.com.  We had some tea and got acquainted with him and his friend, and then walked to the university he attends, Kurdistan University.  We immediately went to the cafeteria and it was really nice to get some good food, even just some beans and rice, fruit and drinks.  The other thing I noticed immediately about the university was all the women.  In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are NO women out after dark.  I mean, mostly the city of Erbil became a ghost town after dark anyway, but there were always a few men around, but I never once saw a woman once the sun went down.  So, seeing so many young women being active at the university was good to see.

Traveling with Caroline through the middle east has definitely given me some good perspective.  If I had been alone, or with another guy I think my experience would have been pretty different.  Personally, I never once felt threatened, or at risk.  I felt safer than I usually do walking the streets of Boston at night, but having Caroline with me forced me to really think about what it would be like to be a woman there.  We went slower, were more cautious, and I noticed every man’s hard stare as we walked by.  I’m well aware that men have a lot of privileges that women don’t, and these are usually taken for granted, but there was a clear difference in how men treated her vs. me, and I can only imagine what it would be like to travel alone as a woman in this region.  That said, I am sure it has been done, but I think it would be a lot more difficult, uncomfortable, and probably  more dangerous.

Rawand was telling us that the city he is from, Sulymaniya, is a bit more “open” when it comes to women.  Over all, Iraqi Kurdistan so far is probably not for everyone, but I’m glad we went.

Here’s some pictures of our trip from Diyarbakir to Erbil.  I’ve got so much more to write and a lot more pictures to upload, but can’t right now, will make another blog post on the rest of our time in Erbil and Koya soon!

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