Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hey Guys, are we Being Shot at?

The bus rolled through a canyon and deposited us at a stream about 1km south of the Turkish border, where we met with some Chaldean priests and sisters.  Our mission was lunch.  Eating in bodies of water is a common practice here.  Lawn chairs and a table were set up in the stream, expats and Iraqis took off their shoes, and we relaxed in the refreshingly cold water.  Flatbread,  grilled chicken, and beef were served.  For dessert, we ate fresh melons that had been cooled in the water.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Helms

This a mobile grill.  The contraption on the right side is a hand powered fan that blows on the coals:

The tablecloth was washed in the river:

After lunch, some of our party decided they wanted to see Turkey.  They crossed the stream and climbed up a hill and out of sight.  A few minutes later, we heard two bursts of artillery fire.  Everyone was worried that the expats heading toward the border were about to be blown up.  We yelled for them to return, and they came back to the riverside.  We did not hear any shooting after that, and we rode the bus away from the border and back to Ankawa with our lives and limbs intact.

So why was the Turkish army shooting off artillery?  The Turks could have been shooting at PKK rebels, who often engage the Turkish army in skirmishes.  Alternatively, the shooting could have been intended as a warning to our expats that they needed to stay on Iraqi side of the border.  Whatever the reason, we now had a great story to tell everyone back home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


After leaving Dbuna, our we rode towards Syria.  The sun had set, but light remained in the sky when we reached the town of Zakho.  We disembarked at a church on a bluff overlooking the Tigris river, one of the rivers that made the fertile crescent fertile and gave birth to human civilization.  

Syria was on the other side of the river.  Syria was and remains a nation in a state of civil war, but this particular corner looked peaceful.

A small Chaldean town sat on the opposite bank:

The scene was beautiful, but things were less than perfect on the border.  One of the priests at the church told us that recently a man trying to swim across the river was shot dead by the Syrian army.

There are two churches on this site, an ancient one that dates to the 7th Century, and a modern building.


Inside the modern church, we listened to the choir practice.  After they finished, we took the bus into downtown Zakho.

Some graffiti reminded us of home:

The Khabur river runs through Zahko before merging with the Tigris.  The Delal bridge crosses the river here, and we went to stand on the ancient structure.

(Photo Credit: Matt Lenzen)

A bridge has stood on this spot since Roman times, though the current bridge could be from a later era.  The history of the bridge is infused with legend.  In one story, attempts at building the bridge kept failing.  One of the frustrated builders promised the gods that he would sacrifice the next creature to wander by in exchange for help with the bridge.  After he made this promise, his daughter appeared, so he sacrificed her.  Another legend says that the builders' hands were chopped off so the bridge would remain unique.  Iraq does not suffer from a plague of personal injury lawyers, and there are no handrails on the bridge.  Our guide told us that in recent memory, "someone fell off and died directly."  None of us died directly or otherwise during our time in Zakho.  We enjoyed a great dinner with the local clergy at a riverside outdoor restaurant, then checked into a hotel for the night.

The next morning, we traveled north towards the Turkish border.  Near the border, we stopped in the town of Bersawa.  We visited the church of St. George, where religious education classes were being taught.  Students sang for us in each classroom we visited.

In the courtyard: (photo credit: Joe Walshe)

Next, Zuhair Daniel, a prominent citizen, showed us to the remains of his former home.  The house was 400 years old and had been in his family for generations.  During the Kurdish rebellion, the Iraqi air force bombed it four times because it was believed to be a hospital for wounded rebels.  Mr. Daniel showed us around the ruin of his house, and pointed out the spot in the rubble where he had been born. 

I don't think our invasion of Iraq was just or wise, but standing in the ruins of this man's house, I felt proud that my country had destroyed the tyrant who visited evil upon the innocent.

A view of the countryside from Bersawa:

I would like to finish my account of our Kurdish roadtrip, but it's the middle of the night.  Tomorrow I'll tell you about eating lunch in a river and hearing the Turkish army shoot at communists.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Second Kurdish Road Trip

Apologies for the delay in posting.  I have been busy watching Babylon 5 doing schoolwork.

We took another weekend trip through Western Kurdistan, this time going all the way to the Tigris river.  On the way there, we stopped in the city of Dohuk.

A view of Dohuk:

In Dohuk, we visited a local priest, who brought us into the parish sitting room, served us lunch, and told us about the local Christian community.  Muslims are a majority in Dohuk and they have caused some problems for Christians.  With the encouragement of their imams, some Muslims smashed Chaldean liquor stores last December.  To prevent future attacks, the government now writes sermons for the imams.  This suppression of religious liberty surprised me, though I suppose it is understandable.  The Chaldeans face an even greater challenge than physical violence.  Unemployment is high among Chaldeans, many of whom have moved to Kurdistan to escape violence in the south.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most Muslims refuse to work with Christians, stifling their economic development.  However, there is hope for the Chaldeans in Dohuk.  They have a friend in the Muslim mayor, who quotes pro-Christian verses from the Koran and encourages Muslims to work peacefully with their Christian neighbors.  In addition, our host told us that a planned sewing factory may alleviate unemployment. 

Following our visit to Dohuk, we went to the Christian town of Dbuna (I'm probably misspelling it).  The town is in a wet and green place amidst the dry and brown mountains of Kurdistan.  A nearby river spills over into a swampy area full of trees.  It was a nice change from the usual monochromatic color scheme of Iraq in August.  As per usual, we visited the local church and listened as a local priest told us about his flock.  Many of the people in Dbuna are farmers and the town has been famous for its watermelons for centuries.  The people of this nice little town have had to suffer hardships.  Like many tyrants, Saddam enjoyed uprooting communities and shuffling their inhabitants around.  Under his regime, the people of Dbuna were forced to leave their homes.  The townsfolk had to start over again when they returned, and much of their housing has been provided by the government. 

Hanging out with a flock of goats and sheep in Dbuna:
(photo credit: Matt Lenzen)

It's great to see something green during the Iraqi summer:

We visited two churches in Dbuna, and they both contained the tackiest bit of sacred decor I have ever seen:


Yes, that is a flashing LED light.  I asked the priest what it was for, and was dismayed to hear that it is the sanctuary light.  Whenever it is flashing, you know that disco Jesus is present in the tabernacle.  After leaving the second church, we ate ripe grapes from the parish vineyard and watched the sun set behind the mountains.  Our day was not over yet.  We trooped into the bus and rolled out of Dbuna, and headed towards the Syrian border.  Check back soon for my next post.

Catholic grapes are best kind of grapes: