by Jennifer Martin
Halabja is city in which Saddam ordered Chemical Ali to drop chemical weapons on the Kurdish residential area, killing up to 5,000 and injuring up to 10,000.
Halabja and the country of Iran are separated by a mountain range. In 2009, three Americans were arrested while hiking along this border when they entered Iranian territory without permission. Uh...we didn't go hiking.
On the return trip from Halabja, we were required to exit the vehicle at a checkpoint for the first time. We had probably crossed 30 checkpoints by now, so it wasn't nerve-wracking. Two separate houses were arranged in order for the military to check our passports, one for the men and one for the women. Bobby and Steve disappeared into the their house, and I made my way to my house. I walked in and waited until the person in front of me concluded her interview.
When it was my turn to have my passport checked, there was only one other person in the room: a beautiful young woman in the Kurdish military, her hair pulled back in a loose bun. The woman, between age 24 and 28, sat behind a desk. When she saw me, a smile appeared on her face, and she - almost in disbelief - asked, "You're American?!"
I smiled, but only answered with a "Yup."
The young woman reached out with both her hands to shake my hand and kissed me twice, once on each cheek. "What are you doing here?" She then asked, still smiling.
"Oh, you know. Just looking around. I am a tourist." I responded. At this point, I couldn't wipe the smile from my face. A lot of smiles were going around the room.
"Where you come from?"
"Sleman...Sulay...Slumanya..." Pronunciation was a little difficult then.
The woman put her hand to her mouth and lowered her head for several seconds. She lifted her head, still delighted and...seemingly moved. It appeared as though that she was trying not to tear up, "You come from Sulay? And you're American tourist?"
"Yes, we just came from Sulay. We enjoyed the visit a lot."
The woman grasped my hand once more, this time kissing me three times. We waived goodbye to each other, and I walked out of the house.
Bobby and Steve stood beside the taxi, looked at the huge grin spread across my face, and asked what the hell I was doing in there. I provided them with a play-by-play. By far, the best experience of the Iraqi Kurdistan visit. Not only was it a "touching" experience, but it was somewhat surreal. When I looked across the table, I couldn't help but think that that woman and I could have easily been in opposite positions.
You can read more by Jennifer here: http://jennifersblog85.blogspot.com/.
More by Jennifer MartinOperation: Cross the Border
Erbil - Old-School Iraq
Erbil by Day and Sulaymaniyah in the Evening
Amna Suraka (Red Security)
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