by Jeremy Star
Varman was late to work so I decided to arrange a taxi to Lalish on my own. I headed for the taxi stand and was soon surrounded by the group of drivers and hustlers. An elegant young man in a suit with a pocket watch and sunglasses on spoke English. I wanted to take a taxi with locals to share the cost but he told me no one else was going to Lalish and I would have to take a private taxi. I negotiated for awhile before agreeing to 20,000 dinars. It emerged I was not going with the driver that I had negotiated with so I sat and waited.
After about 10 minutes my taxi arrived. The driver was young and impatient. He was exasperated by our lack of shared language and not interested in broken communication. He tried to charge 20 American dollars, which equated to more than the agreed 20,000 dinars, but I stood firm. We drove around Dohuk, seemingly running errands and then waited at another taxi stand. Finally we headed out of the city and it became clear that it was not a private taxi when we picked up other passengers along the way.
It was a terrifying journey. The driver was constantly speeding, using his cell phone and over taking other cars around blind corners. It was a great relief to be dropped off in one piece at the turnoff to Lalish. One of the other passengers – a solider – also got out. We came to a police checkpoint where he provided some explanation and they waved me through. I began to walk up hill towards the temple and was soon overtaken by a car. It stopped ahead of me and the passenger window wound down. What are you? The passenger asked me. I declared myself a tourist. OK, get in. Lohman was a journalist of the Yazidi faith who worshiped and worked at Lalish.
There was one further checkpoint before reaching the tiny village centred on a temple. It is the destination for pilgrims of the Yezidi religion and beautifully situated in a narrow valley. Because the whole village is sacred, Lohman and I removed our shoes and left them at the entrance. We met the son of the resident family and drank cay. Lohman told me about the beliefs and customs of the Yezidi, which included hospitality, and soon lunch arrived. I sat with Lohman and three other men around a large plate of rice with and meat, served with flat bread and tomato soup.
After lunch we drank more cay and I was shown around. Special care had to be taken when entering the temple to step over the doorstep. There were several tombs inside the temple, draped in brightly coloured silk cloths which were covered in knots. I untied and retied a knot while making a wish, which is a Yezidi custom. A long annex contained hundreds of pots that once held oil used to fuel a scared flame in the temple. We walked around the rest of the complex, stopping for cay again with a friend of Lohman’s.
When Lohman discovered that I had no transport back to Dohuk he arranged a ride for me to Sherhan with someone else he knew. I could catch a taxi from there. We waited for the other passengers, five students, to return. The four girls sat in the back and I shared the front seat with a young man called Bahaa. I was surprised to discover that he spoke perfect English which he told me he had learnt from Eminem and 50 Cent. We had a conversation about how the physics he studied clashed with the beliefs of his people who are so closely tied to religion. An apple was passed to me from the backseat and I talked to one of the girls who also spoke English.
We soon arrived in Sherkan where Lohman’s friend found me a taxi and arranged the price. The girl I had been talking to asked if she could have her photo take with me so we posed by the car. With no thought at all I put my arm around her shoulder, all cultural barriers forgotten during our conversation. She recoiled, and politely told me to remove my arm. I felt terrible for making her uncomfortable and apologised, but the moment was broken. As I was getting into the waiting taxi I asked Bahaa the price, he told me it was 5000 dinar and reached for his wallet, but I insisted I pay, said goodbye and placed my life in the hands of another taxi driver.
More by Jeremy StarInto Iraq
Impressions of Dohuk
More of Dohuk
Visit to Amedi (Amadiya)
Back Across the Border
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