Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Contacting our Contacts

I can’t help but feel that today I became part of the propaganda machine. I had been warned before leaving England of a tendency here to show visitors only success stories, and today I became one of their tools. I had also been warned of the Kurdish affinity with making people wait, and putting obstacles (advertently or otherwise) in their way – this too was no fallacy.

After a sleepless night of thunderstorms and Adhan I spent the morning hunting down our contacts who as yet had not appeared. It seems almost a right of passage to go through 10 people before finally arriving where you want to go. I must say though that in general when you finally meet someone they are the epitome of politeness. This is inherent throughout the middle east.

We had one particularly uncomfortable meeting with the head of a government program. He sat in silence at one end of his room while we battled through half an hour of awkward silences and desperate monologues. Finally we were served tea by his decrepit mother and ushered away without a word of help. On we went.

Finally we worked our way up the ladder and now seem to have sorted out the rest of the trip. Refugee camps, settlement villages, battle zones and mass graves – with a mountain picnic thrown in. A very nice man helped us arrange everything, and having checked our credentials he sat us down in front of youtube to watch Susan Boyle – his favourite Britain’s got Talent entry. It doesn’t really get more surreal than talking about death camps and murder one minute, followed by a 60 year old iraqi giving a rendition of Les Miserables. He then insisted on taking us to lunch where again we were mobbed by children.

Amazingly it turns out that these were the young founders of the Sulemaniyah gangster rap palace and break dancing troupe. Tomorrow we are off to impart with some british hiphop in exchange for which we have been promised the best robot dance in the world. Certainly not what I had been expecting but perhaps somewhere in this is a great documentary.

We spent the rest of the day visiting schools. It's rather awkward being ushered from room to room, surrounded by people tugging you and then waiting for you to say something groundbreaking. Through translator - back again – nods of approval – back again and on and on. I found myself my repeating simple questions just for a lack of anything else to ask 8 year olds. One of the centres took young children off the streets to prevent them being molested by under sexed adults at the bazaar - a problem that is not as bad as it used to be.

This afternoon Rick and I set off alone through the bazaar, we needed our own impressions and we needed to be rid of official eyes. My first advice has to do with cameras and soldiers which do not go well together: you should expect some shouting and gun waving. Faining ignorence however has so far extricated us nicely from this, so we will continue to do so with caution.
Again, it can be claustrophobic when surrounded by so many people. Most of them have only seen westerners on television or in camoflage so we certainly attract a crowd. At one point we were trailed by an enormous and vicious looking soldier hiding his uniform under Kurdish robes. We did the old double back and then in exchange followed him. Our evening's entertainment.

Everyone wants to talk, everyone wants to shake hands everyone wants to glare. One old peshmerga got rather agitated, storming towards us, his hands flailing and shouting loudly. We’re not sure whether he was mad at the American invasion ("americanski, americanski") or as one man said “just donkey mad”. Either way we didn’t stick around to find out.

It is nice to have sanctuary at the hotel for a few hours in the evening, however every day is a new excitement.
Until tomorrow.

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