Into Iraq


Originally uploaded by The Toze

It looked like a topographical map; even the mountains were naked, bare of all vegetation. I flew from Jordan to Sulaymānīyah (Suli), which is located in Kurdistan. The airport was small and surrounded by mountains of an orange red color. We were the only flight landing and the airport was surprisingly quiet.

Karen Saba, my predecessor who is now in Jordan flew with me. We had visas for entry, but they had to check them out, it took us almost 30 minutes to get through passport control and they have this little round ball on top of a long stick, it looks like something out of a Sci Fi movie, it takes your picture. And they take everyone’s picture.

Osman, the driver was waiting for us. It took Karen longer to get through than me. I sat in the waiting room that lacked all the usual hustle and bustle of airports. It was eerily quiet. As I sat there and waited a humvee drove up with a long, long antennae and two British soldiers jumped out so heavy with gear it was difficult to determine their body shape. Our driver had gotten special permission to come all the way into the airport to pick us up. Normally you have to take a shuttle out almost a mile away from the airport.

As we drove through Suli, Karen kept on remarking on how much it had changed, that it had grown. The driver drove us to an area of town that was hilly and we navigated through side streets dotted with armed guards. They looked like they were carrying AK 47s or whatever the Russian equivaent is. They were dressed in fatigues patterned like the U.S. army fatigues for the desert, but these were blue. They didn’t look like they would blend into anything.

The car stopped in front of a house that had an unarmed guard in front of it. It was the Mercy Corps guesthouse. We got out and walked up to the next house, which is the office. The Mercy Corps office consists of three houses, the guesthouse where expat staff in the North live, the office where they work and a third one which I think serves as a place for visitors to stay and work when they come. We found Drakoulis, who was my predecessor on the Gender program and is now running the program for IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and Paul the country director just packing up to go over to the guesthouse.

I had a bunch of stuff for Paul from the Jordan office, I felt like a pack mule. I had also brought a gift for Drakoulis – a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. He is Greek and speaks English incredibly well, but at times he uses English words in a way that makes no sense. I had asked for his help with a contract issue and his only response was “later,” which paved the way for a semi-civil argument about the contract and his unresponsiveness. After sending me a list of things about the contract which had nothing to with the question I needed answered, he shot off this sentence:

“. . .I am trying to help but byou have to understand from your side that your work should not be ad hoc reactions to notional lack of information …”

I responded with:

First – There is no MoU agreement there is a service contract. Second, this is not what I wish to discuss, but I apologize I forgot you were omnipotent. If this is you trying to help me understand, you suck at it. And the sentence “understand from your side that your work should not be ad hoc reactions to notional lack of information” it may have English words in it, but it doesn’t mean anything.

He responded:

“… thank God we hired you Tiana … we always needed an English teacher for corrections … I never heard about this vacancy but since you feel comfortably with it … we can move on …”

And you know me, I couldn’t let it go without a response:

“Yes, and it’s great having our own walking living breathing Greek tradegy too. What ever will be do when you leave?”

I bought him the dictionary and highlighted notional, ad hoc, Greek and tragedy, which I had embarrassingly mis-spelled in my terse e-mail back to him. For the most part we have a good working relationship, but occasionally we have these exchanges. Looking back on it, it was pretty funny. But what he knows about interpersonal relationships could be inscribe on the head of a pin with room to spare. He doesn’t get along with anybody. It’s really too bad, because he is very smart and has a lot of potential as a human being.

We walked down to the guesthouse and I ensconced myself on the couch in the living room and got out my computer to check e-mails and do some work. We were all going to have dinner together at the house, Paul, Drakoulis, me, Karen and Elena. Elena is the new M & E (Monitoring & Evaluation) person in the North from the Ukraine. I really like her. She is almost as tall as me with dark long hair and strong pretty features. She is 33 and talks very quietly. She seems very calm and down to earth, no drama there. Like if the building were falling down around her, she would just calmly do the right thing.

I checked e-mails and then stretched out on the couch to maybe nap, but Drakoulis came in to talk to me about the Gender program. After that conversation he and Paul went out to get dinner. All meals in Iraq consist of Kebab and rice. Or Tikka, usually chicken Tikka and rice, it’s funny how rote it is. But when Chris was arranging my welcome dinner in Kuwait, he said it was difficult to choose restaurants because the Iraqis like very plain food. After dinner, the driver took me to the hotel. I needed to stay with the participants. Karen was staying at the guesthouse.

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