Thursday, July 17, 2008

Iraq Trip - Day 1

Erbil, Iraq

I started the day by hastily packing 3 days worth of clothes, my camera gear, and my laptop into two Domke bags, and leaving my large backpack with the front desk to hold until my return to Turkey. I met Memet, my fixer, at 8am in the hotel lobby, marking the start if our 3 day excursion into Kurdish Northern Iraq.
Memet had flown into Diyarbakir last night, and this morning we boarded a bus around 8:30am headed to Silopi, a town near the border. During the 4 hour ride we passed countless Turkish military outposts, there must have been one every 10min. It appeared in some instances the Turkish military was more numerous than the actual in habitants of the area. The Turkish presence in the Kurdish region was very clear. During the trip there was a brief stop when we had passed a relatively severe car accident in which a car had lost control and gone off the road. The car was totaled, but the family inside seemed relatively unhurt, just very shaken up, which is amazing since I have yet to see one person wear a seatbelt here. The bus gave the accident victims a ride to the next city, Mardin.
After arriving in Silopi we began the confusing process of crossing the border, it is required to take a taxi across if you do not have your own vehicle, to save on costs we shared a ride with a businessman from Van who had the same destination as us. Upon arriving at the border, we began the confusing maze of checkpoints, getting out passports photocopied, stamped, etc. After the long process was over we grabbed an Iraqi taxi on the opposite side of the border. There is no bus service in Iraq so we were force to take a long and expensive cab ride from the border to Erbil. This ride was shared with the same businessman we crossed the border with to shave 1/3 off of our price. Getting to Erbil was more costly than expect, I am a bit worried I may exhaust my funds before getting back to Diyarbakir, even though I grabbed some extra cash.
Just seeing Iraq is a bit overwhelming; we started out passing through the mountainous north, then heading through some garbage filled, depressing villages when we got closer to Erbil. The closer we got the thicker the dust in the air got as well. The heat is hard to describe, temperatures may reach 120deg during my visit.
We spend an hour or so exploring the area this evening, but we were just too exhausted from the travel to do anymore. The hotel is surprisingly expensive, more than in Diyarbakir; the quality is satisfactory but kind of lacking. The AC cut off sometime between when we checked in and now, the shower isn’t the best, and it’s just overall a bit run down. But I suppose it is Iraq.

Tomorrow AM the plan is to head over to the local HQ for the local Iraqi military force and see if we can get permission to photograph some Kurdish Iraqi soldiers working in the area. Memet seems to think it shouldn’t be too hard to obtain, I hope that is the case. If it doesn’t pan out, I’ll hunt down a different story. Hopefully this brief trip goes well, it sure is costing a lot. I suppose it may be worth it already for the experience of seeing Iraq first hand, gaining this story to tell, and the interesting stamp on my passport.

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