After a fairly routine week of classes, on Friday, April 2, we joined four other faculty members in a day-trip to a mountainous area south of town called Qaradagh. Near this village, high on the side of a sheer face of rock, is an Assyrian era (7th c. BC) carving of a victorious king with hammer in hand and two vanquished foes at this feet. The climb to this area is a challenge, and in lawsuit-happy America would probably be declared off-limits for fear of someone falling and filing a liability suit. But the climb was worth it. The carving is imposing, if somewhat difficult to make out.
As interesting as the sculpture is, even more interesting is how on pleasant weekend days, Kurdish folks head to the hills with automobile trunks and truck beds full of all of the equipment necessary to fix whole meals. Wherever the land levels to a plateau, folks drive off the road, spread out blankets, and spend the day. Sometimes large groups gather, bring a small generator and sound system, and have a picnic accompanied by the dance music that everyone seems to enjoy. It was not unusual to see groups of people lined up to dance, and of course the beautiful Kurdish clothing was everywhere.
On two occasions we stopped to take in the sights, and on both occasions were asked by nearby families if we would like some tea – the very strong, heavily sweetened, variety that is popular here. On the second of these occasions we were asked to sit with an extended family, perhaps 15 people over at least three generations. Fortunately one member of the family spoke good English and so there could be some genuine conversation. It turns out that the patriarch of the family is in his late 60s, is from the nearby village, and has been involved since the late 1950s with the peshmerga – the freedom fighters who were such a thorn in the side of Saddam Hussein. The old man said two things: we thank you Americans for helping us to be free of Saddam; if you support Israel to be a state, why can’t you support a state for Kurds? Somehow we moved beyond the tension implied in the question and simply enjoyed the children. As the sole female of AUIS faculty, Carolyn was approached by the women in the group who wanted pictures taken with her. One of the grandmothers entrusted me with a 5 month old baby. See pictures below.
During the time we talked and drank tea with the family we could look down the hill to a large lake called Darbandikhan, the east side of which, we were told, is Iran. That’s how close we were to Iran.
As we made our way from Qaradagh to the lake we went past a new village that was built on top of an older village that had been gassed and destroyed by Saddam. A truly sad grave yard alongside the road contained the remains of whole families that died from the results of poison gas. Our driver indicated that 122 people in the village died. See next photo.
I (Carl) had thought that after returning to the US and getting reacquainted with our family, I might organize a tour of this area for some hardy and adventurous Americans. But I tell you that all-day travel around here continues to be a challenge. There simply are no public toilets anywhere, and restaurants as we know them are few outside of the larger towns. In spite of the lack of facilities, northern Iraq continues to be a fascinating place to live, and we continue to learn from new experiences each day.
Even as we write this blog, we have learned of the death of Robert Schleiger, one of Carolyn’s favorite uncles who lived in Loveland, CO. He battled cancer valiantly for the past year or so. Fortunately Carolyn was able to talk with him last week, before he slipped into a coma, and she could say her good-bye to him. This is the second of our beloved relatives to die this year while we are away from home. My Aunt Mary Sneed died earlier this year in Charleston, WV. Like Carolyn and her uncle, I was able to talk with her while she was still conscious, about a week before she passed away. We have had to grieve from afar.
On this Easter Sunday, we wish for all of you a meaningful day of rest and reflection on the meaning of resurrection.