Erbil - Old-School Iraq
by Jennifer Martin
As we walked out of the hotel with our bags, a man immediately waved us over to the garage. Talk about service. So to cut costs, we arranged to ride to Erbil in a taxi with one other person. There are two routes to Erbil from Dohuk: the faster way being through Mosul and the "scenic" route ventures through the middle-of-nowhere.
Mosul competes with Baghdad and, at times, Kirkuk for most dangerous city in Iraq. As we awaited departure, Steve and Bobby looked half-asleep on the bench.
Suddenly, sitting upright in my chair, I quickly asked, "Hey, y'all told 'em we don't want to go through Mosul, right?"
Both Bobby & Steve brushed me off, "Yea, I'm sure they know. Don't worry about it."
"But we should tell them, right? It'd only take a couple seconds. Maybe I'll just go ask." Instead, I sat there. The non-English-speaking cab driver was all the way in the other room, at least 40 feet away. Asking was just too much trouble, and my true purpose for asking Bobby & Steve was to pressure them into asking.
"Do whatever you feel you need to do. It's going to be fine." They didn't take my hint.
Once we climbed in the cab, the driver assured us that we would not be traveling through Mosul. Nonetheless, this small interaction was actually quite embarrassing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, people overact when traveling. Nothing is as difficult or as dangerous as 'they' say. This was my first of two brief moments of weakness (the second didn't even occur in Iraq...we'll get there eventually).
Several hours later we arrived in Erbil...or whatever it's called. Because cultures may refer to by different names and because most or all vowels in the Arabic language are oral, i.e. not in the alphabet, Erbil has numerous names: Erbil, Arbil, Irbil, Arbilum, Hawler (Kurdish), Hawlêr, etc. etc. Regardless of its spelling, Erbil is the capital of and largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Erbil might not be much to look at, but it is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world. There is evidence that life in this city dates back 10,000 years, and the first written record of the city dates back to 2000 BC. Throughout the city's history, power has changed hands numerous times. Reading about it's history was analogous to reading about the history of my "homeland," Albania: Everyone has conquered it at some point or another. In Erbil, this includes the Akkadians, Sumerians, Greeks, Ottomans, and British.
In the mid-1990s, the city was caught in the middle of a Iraqi Kurdish Civil War between the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two major political parties. These parties signed a peace treaty in 1998, and violence has been sparse since. Other than a suicide bombing in 2004 or 2005, I don't think there have been any recent terrorist attacks.
Supposedly, Erbil is undergoing an economic boom at the moment. The infrastructure was much more sound than in Dohuk, and both men and women were dressed more modernly. There wasn't a "clash" between new and old, per se; however, there was no fluid transition between the different sections.
After arriving in Erbil, we dropped off our bags and explored the oldest bazaar in the world...which pretty much looked like a bazaar.
After exploring the city for the day, we decided to hit up a non-local eatery for a change. We ended up in the Christian area, which greatly differed from the other parts of Erbil. While walking to the restaurant, we passed a church with an armed guard standing outside. Alcohol was prominently displayed on kiosk shelves. At the restaurant, women were working as waitresses.
Furthermore, we assumed that this area was also home to NGO workers and foreign service members: prices were greatly increased and we heard the English language coming from two burly men and an old guy that looked like a missionary at a tables within the restaurant.
You can read more by Jennifer here: http://jennifersblog85.blogspot.com/.
More by Jennifer MartinOperation: Cross the Border
Erbil by Day and Sulaymaniyah in the Evening
Amna Suraka (Red Security)
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