Still jet lagging it, I awoke at 2:15 and spent the early morning hours preparing for departure to the North, to Duhok, where I’ll spend the next month.
We followed the coal black asphalt highway unfurling along the softly rolling tawny hills. The morning sky was hazy, and sort of strange greyish hue, but the heat of the sun permeated everything, and the scenery that we were passing only had the occasional sad looking greenery. There were striations on the fields, as though they had been thrashed by giant tractors, maybe harvesting wheat, or hay, Reminding me of childhood long haul trips through Nebraskan plains. Barren fields. Dusty Sheep and goats in tightly gathered herds foraged in groups intermittently along the way. The roads were busy with traffic hurtling both directions. The roadway had space for what looked like two lanes, a wide truck lane, and a narrower inner lane (for cars), but the roadway was crowded with cars and trucks in every possible position, jockeying for space. Our driver was calmly overtaking slower traffic in heroic efforts to speed us along. I could barely bear to watch him gradually picking his way through the densely crowded highway, waiting for a relatively safe chance to overtake slower vehicles. There were an unusual number of white Toyota, Nissan and Deer 4 wheel drive pickup trucks travelling along as well as many petrol tankers.
There seemed to be elaborate construction everywhere, concrete mostly. There were many giant yards of dusty petrol tankers along the highway.
The check points had long, long queues awaiting entry into the Duhok region. Our driver continued to say blah, blah, blah…..Francais….blah, blah, blah..Canada…and the heavily armed guards smiled and acquiesced our passage.
We arrived in Duhok late morning. There are more than 750 thousand refugees here. More than 500 thousand of them are IDP’s (internally displaced persons)…who came to Duhok in an attempt to flee the conflicts in their regions. The communities here are being incredibly tolerant and patient with this disaster. The schools, hospitals, all public and private buildings that are available are absolutely full of people. Many, many familes live in the unfinished highrises that are just pillared shells, frames with no walls but have the necessary floors where people can rest their weary familes.
The locals have been quick to react to the crisis by forming small cadres of committees to manage the logistics of each small area. For example…the schools are now functioning (or attempting to) as homeless shelters, and they run volunteer staff managers 24/7. They serve food, hand out vouchers for medical travel, and for the most part seem to have things relatively under control.
I have heard that there is a growing resentment toward the refugees, but that isn’t at all what I’ve seen. Last night at a cafeteria style restaurant, I saw a young woman eating at a table adjacent to us, and when she finished, she thanked the owner and left. People are very generous to them. Perhaps it’s because Iraqis can all relate to this situation, many of them having survived similar trials.
I awoke this morning looking out across the mountains surrounding the city, and I could see many makeshift shelters on rooftops and around the neighbourhood. After many attempts to get the boiler working to make a cup of tea I was disgruntled and decided to go downstairs to fetch help. But the elevators weren’t working, nor were the lights, nor was there anyone at the desk when I finally arrived the multitude of flights of stairs to the darkened foyer. So I have trudged back upstairs, all the while thinking to myself how spoiled I am to be grumpy about missing my morning tea, when all around me I see people trying to make do, in a situation that they have absolutely no responsibility for, nor any voice in the outcome.