Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Ups and Downs

The lift in our hotel has a mind of its own. Arriving on the floor you want is more of a lottery than anything else. Just a few minutes ago I was about to get out when the doors opened half way then suddenly slammed closed. They then opened again, but only an inch and I was forced to pry them open myself. Yesterday I got in only for the whole thing to turn itself off. The funny thing is, bearing in mind what’s going on outside, I use it without concern.

The roads are equally treacherous. There really is no such thing as lanes, and drivers are forced to fight for their own space. We have had a few near misses and seen countless people driving the wrong way down motorways. And never overtake an American convoy, you are liable to be shot. Again though compared with what we saw today this just seems like an occupational hazard, and there’s not much we can do about it anyway.

We spent the day in Halabjah, the scene of Saddam’s chemical attacks. On the way we drove through Arbat which Rizgar told us proudly was famous for its scorpions. The road we took was the same followed by hundreds of thousands of Kurds during the exodus of ‘91, when they were forced to flee Saddam’s reprisals. To this day the town and the people are scarred.

First though we went to another community centre. To be honest I have now seen my fair share, and while they are all very impressive as examples of progression, they are also all alike. But how can you say no when the children have been practicing for months hoping that one day a westerner will visit. Once again we smiled and nodded our appreciation. “What’s your name? How old are you? how nice”

Next we were taken to the mass graves to see row upon row of tombstones. Everyone we spoke to recounted stories and broke down in tears, and as we arrived as if on cue, the imams began calling from the mosques. It was touching and it shows just how deeply these people are still affected. From there we went to the Halabjah chemical memorial. Looking at pictures of skin peeling from blackened faces, bloated babies and calves suckling from their dead mothers (which happened also in human cases) I couldn’t help but feel detached. I wanted to feel more, I wanted to understand what they had gone through; yet all I felt was numb. It’s strange.

You see the scars on people in the streets and you hear horrible stories. Many new babies are still born with horrible illnesses or just still born, and yet this town has been largely ignored by the Kurdish government. Everybody spoke of their anger: They wanted to know why more has not been done for them? Why they still live like before, and why no one listens. Last year in a desperate cry for attention they razed to the ground the very memorial that had been built in their name. Today, it is the only thing to have been rebuilt. Something here is wrong and again corruption is playing its part.

I’ve got a bloody big welt in my mouth and it hurts. But who cares, I’m alive.

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