Operation: Cross the Border
by Jennifer Martin
It was our sole mission to cross the Turkey-Iraqi border - via Silopi, Turkey - and find accommodation in Dohuk, Iraq. When rockin' up to the bus station in Mardin, we unexpectedly came across one other tourist, a Canadian (sans flag emblem stitched on his backpack), who was also heading to Silopi. While he was able to jump on the first bus, we waited for the second.
After a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Silopi to a place known as a garage, or pronounced as "garage-y" in Kurdish and Arabic, which is essentially a location for taxi drivers who offer long-distance services. At the garage-y in Silopi, the driver charged 50 USD to drive us to the border, handle all the paperwork required to obtain a 10-day Iraqi Kurdistan visa, and take us to the closest garage-y on the other side of the border.
The queue to enter Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey was lengthy and unbelievably idle, making the alleged four hour wait time a reality. Travelers often exited their vehicles to make small talk with the others waiting to cross. To the right of the leisure travelers' was worse: trucks seemingly lined the streets for miles. The truck drivers even rigged up chairs and flat surfaces to play cards in order to pass the time. After observing our surroundings, we prepared ourselves for a tediously long day. Suddenly, without instruction, our taxi driver sped to the front, cutting in front of many cars. When questioned by two or three others, our driver retorted, “Ameriki,” and gestured toward us. Inexplicably, most people accepted that justification. Instantly, however, one woman stormed up to our taxi, pointed a finger to Steve and I, and scolded, “Dirty! Dirty, American!” Guilt trip and nervous laughter followed.
After inadvertently maneuvering our way out of Turkey in 1/4 the expected time, our next task was crossing the Iraqi border. Before anyone enters Iraqi Kurdistan, his or her passport must be "processed" in a separate building. We strolled into a contemporary building with our fellow border-crossers, and our taxi driver disappeared with the passports to...help..."process"...them. In the meantime, we sat on leather couches, watched television, and were served chai tea. Nicest border crossing ever.
While relaxing, an Iraqi man approached us, “You American?” (as if it weren't obvious). After responding in the affirmative, he explained how he worked with the U.S. Army in Mosul several years ago and how, when they parted ways, he left with “400 friends.” Needless to say, it was not the time nor the place where you would expect to have an "Awww" moment.
So aside from our taxi driver using us to cut in line, crossing the border was hassle-free.
My immediate observation when arriving in Dohuk was the lack of infrastructure. Alternating between structurally sound and rickety, the buildings were loosely joined by electrical chords resembling old shoelaces. This, I'm assuming, was a contributing factor causing the mini-power outages. Several times throughout the day, a city in Iraq will undergo one of these outages lasting approx. 20 seconds - 2 minutes and which were more amusing than they were an inconvenience. Overall, the city was fairly nice under the circumstances.
Our first mission after arriving in Dohuk was to find food. We walked into a local, neon-colored diner where we received our first taste of the Iraqi dining experience. Upon sitting down, 3 bowls of soup, 3 salads, 3 bowls of rice, a pile of naan (bread), a bowl of vegetables, and 3 bottled waters were placed on the table. Ten minutes later, despite the fact we ate enough food to last for the week, the waiter asked whether we wanted to order chicken, lamb, or beef.
The waiters rolled us out of the diner, and to minimize the bloating effect, we strolled around town. It was immediately apparent that I was in the small minority as a female. At night on the streets of Dohuk, my best guess is that there was 1 girl for every 30-40 males; although, more women were out during the day. Of the women at any given time, approximately 25% to 33% looked “westernized,” meaning that their dress was similar to women’s dress in Germany or the States. The vast majority of women wore traditional or glam’d head coverings [though those in Dohuk were much more traditional than those in the cities to follow].
While there was an absence of women, there was a disproportionate amount of young men who...well, Bobby best described it: “All these guys look like they just walked out of a gay bar.” Tight-fitting, name-brand T’s and polo shirts were the norm, accompanied with dark or faded jeans, large belt buckles, and the latest Adidas sneakers. This fashion was juxtaposed by the traditional clothing worn by the older men: turbans or keffiyehs, brown loose-fitting pants, prayer beads, sandals, and dark-colored belts.
The final observation from our first night wandering the streets was that the "tables were turned." When visiting a new city or country, you are obviously the one doing the sightseeing. In Iraqi Kurdistan, while walking around town, we were the site. People kept staring at us :). In no way was it malicious; rather, they were stares out of curiosity. It's not like the people of Dohuk see a tourist everyday!
You can read more by Jennifer here: http://jennifersblog85.blogspot.com/.
More by Jennifer MartinUnexpected Sightseeing
Erbil - Old-School Iraq
Erbil by Day and Sulaymaniyah in the Evening
Amna Suraka (Red Security)
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