The typical Kurd is more wide than tall, wears a sash around his belly and is super hospitable – especially to foreigners. The least he will do for you is to invite you to a glass of Chai.
But most of the time you get invited to lunch, dinner or even to stay for a night. So spending money is really a hard task in Kurdistan. I picked up about 50 € from the bank in Iraq – yes, bank cards work there (at least you can withdraw money with visa card in bigger cities) – and I was not even able to spend a third of it in two weeks.
I had to stay in a hotel only once and only because the military brought me there. Actually I wanted to sleep in the mosque that night but the Mullah said it is not safe for me and he called the mayor. The mayor just said he will send someone to pick me up. A few minutes later four fully armed Peshmerga soldiers arrived and took me with their army truck to a hotel, bought me two sandwiches on the way and paid the room for me.
I slept in the mosque the first night when I came to Iraq. It was pretty late when I arrived in Panjwen, the first town after the Iranian border. And after walking around a bit I met a friendly guy who I followed to the mosque. We had some cake together for dinner, had some good conversations and shared the carpet in the mosque for the night. What is not so great about sleeping in a Sunni mosque is that they have their first prayer very early in the morning. So I got woken up around 3:00 by the Mullah who was standing right next to me and yelling the prayer. When I opened my eyes I found out that I was surrounded by praying people. I just closed my eyes and fell asleep again quickly after all was over.
Hitchhiking in Kurdistan is very easy and great experiences are guaranteed. From Sanandaj to Marivan a fruit and vegetables seller took me with his pickup and fed me with lots of delicious vitamins.
Hitchhiking with vitamins
Another time I got a ride by a nice Kurdish guy who invited me to have lunch with his friends from the local Koran school and after that his family gave me orange juice and a bag of fresh cherries.
Unfortunately most Iraqis don’t care much about their nature
Iraqi Kurdistan is actually one of the safest places you can imagine. In the cities you see money exchangers with piles of money on small tables. Often they just leave the table with all the money to go and get some Iraqi Chai. And if you take the bus and sit down at the back you give the money to guy in front of you and your money is being passed forward by everyone to the driver.
Although it was shocking to hear the news about the civil war which was not even 100km further in Mosul, Kirkuk and other near cities outside of Kurdistan. The border to Kurdistan though is heavily guarded by the Peshmerga troops and no notable incidence has ever happened inside Kurdistan. But the situation could change rapidly. Especially with all the refugees coming to Kurdistan now.
The two biggest cities in Iraqi Kurdistan are Erbil, the capital and Soleimanyie. In these cities different cultures come together. Kurds, Arabs, Iranians and refugees from Syria.
Playing Domino in Soleimanyie
The streets of Arbil
Need some clothes?
But beside the big cities the smaller cities near the mountains are very beautiful and have a special flair with all the small shops, the tea houses and the cafeterias where the young people come together. So I’ve also been to Panjwen, Ranya, Soran, Duhok, Zahok and the very beautiful cities Akre and Amedi wich is build on top of a hill.
Unfortunately I can’t tell the truth about Kurdistan without going to jail here in Turkey. Or at least it feels so when you see all the police tanks patrolling the streets and when you hear how the government treats the Kurds and people supporting them. I will write more later. Stay tuned…
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