When you initially tell people that you are going to Iraq, regardless of the difference between Iraq proper and Iraqi Kurdistan, there is a look of bewilderment that comes over their faces. The response is often one of two things: Are you in the military? or Why on Earth would you go there? At first it bothered me that no one seemed to recognize the importance of a project like this and my interest in going to this exotic place. For most people exotic means palm trees and pina coladas; for me, and I can surmise that my fellow students here would reflect this sentiment, exotic means being in a faraway place where we have removed any sense of comfort and familiarity.
At this point, dissatisfaction over the responses to my going to Iraq has turned into a sense of amusement. I even told some friends I was coming here to help to train Iraqi Special Forces (obviously total bullshit), and that I was carrying ninja throwing stars for my protection. Perhaps others worry too much, or perhaps I worry too little…we’ll have to wait a few more trips before rendering judgment. Regardless of the responses or my reaction to them, this is no doubt an exciting opportunity that not many people will ever get to experience. For this very reason, I am completely satisfied and happy to be here.
I could probably take the next paragraph to lament about how long the trip was and how tired we are with jetlag, even three days after our arrival. However, this should be a given as I am now 7 time zones away and a world apart from the American way of life. In many ways, this brings me peace. Western influence has become so pervasive throughout the world that it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape it. Some readers might ask, “Why would you want to escape this way of life that has brought us so much?” In many respects, they would be correct to ask this. If the American/Western way of life did not prove fruitful people would not be mimicking it. However, just like any other culture and society, our own has proven to have its faults as well as successes. While we should no doubt look internally for answers, I tend to want to look outside our realm of existence for inspiration. I came here with an open mind and an honest desire to learn, perhaps even more so than my desire to consult for NGOs.
My experience thus far has been a positive one. There has not been one person who has not treated us with the utmost respect and kindness. We have certainly had our fair share of looks, but I cannot complain about this as Paige, the only female member of our team, has taken the brunt of them. Blondes are quite popular in this region of the world. The people here, English speakers or not, have tried to accommodate us in whatever way that they can. Our hotel manager brought us breakfast to the room, a cake, and has consistently tried to go out of his way to make us happy. On numerous occasions speaking with strangers we have heard the phrase, “I love America!” With many people there is an obvious barrier of communication, but the Kurdish people have really tried to welcome us.
Our experience here has been made even better by our hosts at the University of Duhok. They have not only been accommodating, but they have often put their own lives on hold to make sure that we are enjoying our experience. Reving Mizory, our main contact, served in the Kurdish military and was the first Kurd to work with the US military in the region. He was a translator and also served with the Special Forces…pretty badass stuff. He has excellent English, is light hearted and fun, and is incredibly open to our barrages of questions. I don’t think we could have asked for a better point of contact for our stay here.