27th Blog, May 29, 2010
This blog, like the last one, is more about everyday life here in Sulaimani than about individuals, groups, issues, or places. This blog is about how people move about and how they transport the stuff that is important to them. It involves animal and human powered vehicles, motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses. For those who care nothing about mechanical things involving transportation, feel free to tune out right now.
Every once in a while we would get jerked out of the 21st century by a sight from another time. The first picture I have posted is of a horse drawn cart in the middle of a busy highway. This does not happen often, but it does happen. Like the chickens we referred to in the last blog, the ones that roam freely in some parts of Suli, the horse drawn cart bespeaks an earlier, simpler time. That we see one so rarely is testament to the rapid change of this society.
The bazaar is a crowded maze of streets and shops. One of the common ways to get goods into and round the bazaar is by means of a human powered three wheel cart. These carts are everywhere in the bazaar, sometimes with light loads, sometimes with very heavy loads. They are sometimes perched on the sidewalk along side busy roads and from the cart an entrepreneur might sell cigarettes or hot tea. Car drivers and pedestrians alike appear to understand the importance of these carts, and grant them considerable freedom to move about.
The other means of getting stuff into the bazaar, and also into other parts of the city, is by the use of a three wheeled motorcycle with a truck bed in back. These “trikes” are all made in China, have single cylinder gasoline powered engines of around 200 to 250 ccs of displacement, and get power to a solid live rear axle by means of shaft drive. In order to use them year round, some drivers erect elaborate windshields to keep off the winter winds and rains. They are one of the work horses of this city, and one can find them creeping through narrow places in the bazaar or out on the heavily trafficked ring road which encircles the city. The men who drive them in the latter context are brave men, indeed, as they put-put along at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour on a busy road where they are being passed by multi-ton dump trucks and semi-trailer trucks that would squash them in case of an encounter. On one occasion, I saw a trike that was so heavily loaded that quite literally the front tire came off the ground for a couple of seconds after the driver hit a bump. Obviously he was not steering the trike for those seconds.
The other workhorse of the city, and a vehicle that rivals small cars in number on the road, is the small four door pickup truck. Unlike pickup trucks in the US, many of which never see rough use, the small pickups here serve as both family car and utility vehicle. People seem not to worry about loading them with objects so heavy that the back end of the truck sits on the axle. They carry everything: sheep and cattle, construction supplies, fruits and vegetables, you name it. They are not pampered. And then on the weekend, the owner will load up the cab with family and the bed of the truck with tables, chairs, picnic supplies, propane cookers, any children that will not fit in the cab, etc., and head for the hills around Suli for a day in the country. The two most popular brands are Toyota and Nissan, though the Chinese are making inroads with their own name brands like GoNow, Deer, and Grand Tiger.
The most common car used around the city is a small 5 passenger car of the size of a Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra. One can find similar sized cars made by Mazda, Kia, Hyundai, Opel, Volkswagen and Skoda. These are used both as personal cars and as taxis. The older taxi versions of the cars are white, with orange fenders. The newer versions are painted a solid beige color.
Beyond cars and small trucks, the other vehicles in wide use are SUVs of all sizes. At the smaller end of the scale, Hyundai Tucsons and Kia Sportages are popular. But one can find mid-sized and large SUVs. The most popular large SUVs are Toyota Land Cruisers, but one can find SUVs made by BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes Benz.
American car manufacturers GM, Ford, and Chrysler sell cars in this market but at numbers far below the Asian brands. GM imports model lines of small Chevrolets called Optra and Epica that are Korean made. They also sell the crew-cab version of a small pickup truck called Chevrolet Colorado, but the numbers pale in comparison to Asian brands. One can also find US-made Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans. Ford seems not to be in the small car market, but offers both Ford and Lincoln badged SUVs: Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX. For some of our trips out of Suli, we have ridden in a mammoth Ford Expedition. Ford also sells to the government diesel powered F-350 pickup trucks that are used by the police to transport soldiers. Chrysler sells both sedans like Chrysler 300 and Jeep SUVs, but their numbers are very low compared to other brands.
Motorcycles are used around here, though not in huge numbers. The most popular bikes are simple 125 cc. bikes made in China and Iran under the names Gwei, Nami, Arshia, MTR. If you were to put one of these bikes alongside a late 1960s Honda of the same type, you would see great similarity: a single cylinder, carburetor-fed engine; enclosed chain; drum brakes front and rear. They are cheap to buy – around $800 – and require little fuel. Like the trikes discussed above, these bikes are used to haul both people and goods. They are used year round, even in the rain and cold weather of winter. A hefty engine guard bolted in front of the engine becomes a mounting place for a piece of heavy plastic that will keep feet dry in rainy weather.
For people without cars, there is a system of privately owned buses that operate within the city of Suli, and between some cities. Within the city, a ride on one of these buses costs between 5 and 10 cents.
Heavy trucks are in wide use, hauling goods to and from the area. Popular brands include Scania, MAN, DAF, Renault, and Mercedes. It would appear that many of these trucks were first put on the roads in Europe and have made their way to Iraq from Europe as used vehicles. There’s nothing remarkable about them, as the first photo suggests. But I was amused with a warning sign on the back of a gasoline tanker truck. The meaning of the sign is quite clear, even if the spelling is not quite accurate.
Hope you enjoyed this digression from the significant. Next time, as we close out the blog messages we write from Iraq, we will hopefully have something more substantive to say.
As always, thanks for reading.