Living in Iraq
If you’re a blogger you’ll understand what I’m about to say next. Well, I’m hoping you will. I’m hoping I’m not the only one who feels this way. You know when there’s a post you really know you need to write, that one every one keeps saying you should blog about that to? The one you know people will likely want to read more than your two cents on the newest Tarte foundation or what not. Yes, that one. Well this is that one for me. I know I need to write about life in Iraq because its what people keep asking me about. It’s what people keep telling me I would love to read about. It’s what everyone I encounter on a random run to the shops ask me about: you live in Iraq? Really? What’s that like? Honestly, its what most Iraqis I’ve ever met ask me about. They don't tend to live here for the most part.
What is it like really, living in Iraq? What is it like living in Iraq as a foreigner? What is it like living in Iraq as a woman?
Let’s put aside the pitfalls of living in a place that has seen far too much war and strife, and admit for a second, that’s a pretty awesome conversation starter to be able to whip out, all casual and twiddling a glass of whatever it is you're drinking, the Yes I live in Iraq card. I’m not complaining. I’ve probably never had a more interesting party trick up my sleeve.
But back to this blog post. So you know when you’ve got that one post you really should write, and you know you need to write, and everyone who knows you will be expecting to find on your blog about your life.
Right well, then you know the feeling of not being able to write it.
Because that’s how I feel right now. I am here, shown up, coffee in hand and half drunk (I cannot resist an iced latte, and it finishes far too soon every. single. time), and I am staring at the screen completely flummoxed. I have no idea where to start. I am living an opportunity afforded to few (alright, yes, many wouldn't want this opportunity if it was afforded to them, but nevertheless it is by definition an opportunity if I chose to see it that way), and I for the life of me cant put into words what its like.
But I’ve been skirting the issue far too long so lets give it a go. Why is writing about life in Iraq so hard?
Maybe its because I am afraid of cliches. It’s easy to fall into cliches when you live in a place thats been in the news so very, very much ever since you were a little girl. Maybe its because I am afraid that life here isn't really all that different to life anywhere else and people will be disappointed. Oh really, they’ll think on their imaginary laptop screens somewhere far away that feels more familiar to me, that sounds a lot like my life actually, not such a big deal then, not such a great party trick you’ve got there, move along. Or maybe it’s because life here really is rather different and confusing, but I don't know how to put the myriad ways it is so, into words. I’m not sure how to put a complete and utter change into words.
I think its the latter actually.
There’s so much more to living in Iraq than I can cram into one blog post, and so I wont try to. And theres going to be so much more I discover as I live here (of this I have no doubt, the first few weeks being any indicator!), that I couldn't cram it all into one post anyway. But lets have a taster. A little sampler of life in Iraq so far…
I’ll start with the first week. The first week was, to put it mildly and in polite terms, a bit of a culture shock. I wont beat around the bush, I’ve had the privilege of growing up in some very nice places indeed. I have not travelled extensively, and when I have traveled I’ve visited (for the most part) places that are not that different from my home in Dubai.
I’ve not seen a lot, is how people would put it, if they were trying not to say you’re a highly sheltered human being and frankly you’ve never even seen how the majority of the world live! But that would be a bit harsh, so they don’t. Erbil is not Mosul (please feel free to Google these names if they are unfamiliar, as Iraq’s history is far too complex to go into in a blog post), or Baghdad, or even Kirkuk, and I am aware that I have a much more comfortable life here than I would if we lived in the South or anywhere in the vast expanses of the provinces between here and the capital.
But it’s still Iraq. It’s still a country thats technically been at war since I was born.
The first thing that struck me upon arriving in Erbil was how small the airport is. It may be unfair of me to compare it to the literal monster that is Dubai International Airport, but nevertheless seeing a flight board with only seven flights listed for the day, was surreal to me.
There were no other planes visible on the tarmac when we touched down on a very, very hot (temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius or a scorching 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer), very, very dusty afternoon. All I could see for miles was a very alien yellow scrub like grass. I wont lie, the first place that came to mind was Tatooine.
For the uninitiated in Star Wars, its a very hot, very dusty, very lonely planet (also: Google). That’s exactly what Erbil looked like from the airplane window. I’m not saying that’s what it is necessarily. I’m saying that’s what it looked like. It was hot though, there’s no denying that.
My husband is a good husband and a kind husband, so knowing the initial shock of arriving in Iraq may be a bit much post wedding, he’d arranged for us to be picked up from the plane door and taken to a lounge where your immigration and baggage is processed for you (one of the perks of living somewhere like Iraq is you can buy luxuries like this for a fraction fo what they would cost elsewhere).
So my very first impression of Iraq was an empty airport lounge, my husband and I and an elderly lady who couldn't walk without assistance, in a vast, cavernous airport lounge, totally quiet save for the sound of the coffee machine in the corner, and floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto an empty air field, obscured to the naked eye by the absolutely glaring sunshine and heat haze.
I felt, and it wasn't the last time I would feel this way, like one of the last people in the world in a secluded outpost far away from the rest of humanity. Also, the wifi wasn't working so that didn't help much with that ‘we’re all alone far far away’ feeling.
It was a far cry to the bustling terminals like Terminal 3 in Dubai or Terminal 5 in London that I was more accustomed to. Where flashing screens and chain coffee shops compete for your attention the moment you filter off the plane, and you literally have to break into a run to get to immigration before the 300 other people racing you to it.
It was a little disconcerting if I’m honest. I like bustle.
We were collected by our driver (again, the perks of Iraq), who arrived in a car that played Kurdish music (more on that later), one of the few cars that has an access card to drive all the way up to the airport terminal (airport security in Iraq takes on a whole new meaning of airport security), and herded away in a Range Rover filled to the brim with 7 suitcases, my husband, our driver, and myself, already melting.
I wanted to start my stay in Iraq right. People had plenty of forewarnings for me. You can’t expect to tell people you’re moving to Iraq and not have a literal barrage of are you sure’s, and you know what you’re getting into, right’s? You learn to brush it off even though yes I know what I’m getting into, its not exactly like Iraq isn't in the news ever.
But in a way they were right and I was wrong. I didn't know what I was getting into. You never really can, before you do. I’m a firm believer in that now. I used to think that you could, but I was young and naive. Now I’m just young thanks. But I started with the right intentions. Whisked away from the airport and towards our shiny new apartment on the 17th floor of a building not too far from the scrubby yellow airfield, I had every intention of making the best of whatever it was that I had walked into.
But more on that to come.
(Funny how when you break the wall on the post that refused to be written you realize there’s so much more to say than you could ever get down in a 1000 words or so. More coming soon on every thing from stalling elevators to buying mattresses in the market to making friends in a very, very foreign land…)