Thursday, March 30, 2006


Notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a copy and keep me on the road!
In Arbil, or Hewler, as the Kurds call it, I was expected by Maher, another alienated (alienation: unavoidable syndrome of the repatriated). Maher navigates the urban chaos of Arbil with Copenhagen's traffic manners. When he becomes the blank of all horns he curses in Romanian. "How about that?" -I stare at him. "Four years living in Cluj Napoca".

We had arranged to meet in the Sheraton Hotel, where American contractors rub shoulders with Arab oil sheiks and immense bodyguards whispering mysterious instructions to their shirts' collars. When I approach the reception with an 80 liters backpack behind and a small 20 liters one on my chest I am perfectly aware that I must resemble the average bomb man. The security guards think the same, and they check every centimeter of my being. To describe the atmosphere, enough to say that a sign at reception goes like this: "Please leave your guns at reception". Maher easily spots the hitch hiker among the postwar aristocracy.

We are soon going around the city, which reflects better than anything not only the economic recovery but also the will of existing of the Kurdish nation. A postcard akin to Berlin in the 1990s. Where the eye focuses, there is yellow crane. No building is completed. Nothing is. Everything is becoming. Whole housing estates are being given away to people free of charge. Facilities that in Saddam era people would only dream of spring everywhere: music schools, public swimming pools, rehab centers for personal mines victims...

"It is the first time that Kurdish people see construction, before we only knew how to spoil. We can't believe it." -says Maher. What I can believe is that Maher has swapped the idyllic land of Andersen to inhabit a province that strives to retain peace in a country mounted in the slide of civil war. Despite the enthusiasm there is much to do: Kurdistan is energetically dependent. Benzene price is high since there are no local refineries and they must sell black oil to Turkey and buy it back transformed into benzene. Electricity comes and goes: Arbil is a Christmas tree.

"Relax as if you were in Christiania" -says Maher when I spill the beer over the carpet. That somebody in Iraq was mentioning the famous Danish bohemian neighborhood was not as surprising as to remember that Maher had chosen to leave the hippies to inhabit these volatile valleys. Three knocks on the door: one for each mustached friend of Maher that enters the house. They are Kurdish from Diyarbakir, Turkey, activists of the PSK (Socialist party of Kurdistan). One of them, Kutlu, speaks some English.
- Nice, where did you learn, at an institute?
- 5 years in Diyarbakir prison.
I don't know if it was Holderlin or Wilde who said that isolation always paradoxically leads to an extension of vision. It’s certainly the case of Kutlu, who in his time behind the bars read half universal literature and even found the poet in him. Holding high the can of beer he drops some verses in Kurdish. Maher translates:
- Even if with them I have seen my father and brother die, these eyes can rest when they reach you.
Only the word "stigma" comes to my mind. After the guns have silenced their sentence, how long shall we wait until we can definitely say goodbye to them? Say goodbye to the gun, to the memory of the gun, to the gun in the monument and in the flags, to the one in the poems, in the games and drawings of our children? Kutlu would have answer such question with a half page poem, but my intention was to know what the guys in the government thought about the matter. Thanks to Maher's contacts, during 24 hours we crossed phone calls with Dr.Kemal, the vice president of the Kurdish Parliament. Finally at 10 pm, when beer was starting to take its toll, the phone rang: "For you, the vice president" -says Maher.

The following morning we were entering the Parliament. Like the Sheraton, it's cordoned by 3 meters high contention walls. "For the bomb-car attacks" --points Maher. There are so many official buildings in such conditions that the government ordered muralists, in a psychedelic turn, to decorate such walls with child style drawings of valleys and kids playing with kites in an attempt to cheer up the looks of the city. Denying reality, a first step to change it? At least one doesn't have the sensation of being strolling around a battle ground. On the contrary, one would say that the Parliament is a kindergarten. The building itself doesn't look like a Parliament: in Europe we would mistake it for an office block. Even if it has been opened since 1992, only since three years ago the Parliament is producing something more than pressure over the ground. A group of coaches still covered with nylon also waits to enter the Parliament through a nearby door. Another indicator that everything in Kurdistan is arriving.

Once inside, to pompously dressed guards stay still in front of a giant portrait of Barzani. Like in the Danish Parliament!" -exclaims Maher with the crossed pride typical of the exiles.
I was received by the Information Advisor to the President, who among other things asked: "How do you travel?" "By thumb" -I replied. Since that reply in Kurdistan equals to say "by shoulder" I was demanded a practical demo. From somewhere a camera of Kurdistan TV appears, and so I found myself hitch hiking imaginary cars inside the Kurdish Parliament. I will always be grateful to life for such absurd moments.
Little after we were escorted to the vice president large office. Dr.Kemal greets me with his enormous hands marked by scars, souvenir of his time as Peshmerga, fighting up in the mountains, before asking asylum in Austria to heal himself. Such an eclipse of guerrilla experience with exile experience is frequent in those occupying notorious seats in Kurdistan. As in post WWI Germany, something that sociologists call "fronterlebnis" (experience of the front) seems to be the invisible seam of Kurdish society. The illusion that a shared sufferings necessarily flows into shared goals has resulted in true trust towards the political class. But not only in Kurdistan can illusion be the constituent material of reality.

When asked about how to transit from a mountain trekking fighters society to a civil one, he considered necessary to give me a brief history lesson. "For two millennia, the only friends of the Kurds have been the mountains" -he sentences. He details how in each historic period the Kurds have been swept aside by different enemies, always deprived of their chance of attempting their own country. After each historical era Dr.Kemal downs a glass of water as if he had choked with some century. His argument seems to point that demilitarization is far beyond possible horizons so far. Let's talk about democracy then. Surrounded by police states like Syria, Egypt and Iran, how can you develop a democracy? Is there anyway you are not going to imitate the regional model? (In Saddam's times if you didn't hang a portrait of him in your shop you would have it close it down quickly. Now people hang Barzani portrait just in case.) My question hides a premise, that Dr.Kemal either didn't detect or happily let pass: I am referring to Kurdistan in the same way I am referring to independent states as Syria or Egypt, while technically it is only an Iraqi province. His reply is poetic: "The sweet water that all Iraq drinks springs from the mountains here in the north. Some day we hope, democracy will also flow from here to our neighbors".
It is not going to be easy. During Saddam times, Arab families were paid to settle in traditionally Kurdish cities like Kirkuk and Mosul. The mix makes this city nearly ungovernable today. In Kirkuk, Kurds make up only 40% of the population now, while in Mosul the Tigris River divides the two groups, Arabs to the South and Kurds in the North. It is not difficult to imagine a Belfast or a Jerusalem in Mosul not long from now. Kirkuk was until recently considered safe, but while I was holding my interview a car bomb exploded and a grenade smashed the crystals of a judge's house. The government strategy is; again, compensate Arab families economically if they leave.
While history always postpone the answers, it's for me time to leave Iraq. The time is running and Iranian and Afghan visas are already sticked in my passport. While typing this lines, already out, I have the sensation of having lived 10 days within the pages of a history book, On the other side of the border, in Turkey, I feel a tickling in the stomach, and the question: "how is life going to be for them?" storms my mind. Because these "them" are not statistics or newspaper headlines anymore, they are faces, they are friends. Friends I carry in my steps, that invisible luggage that gets bigger and bigger.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


First hitch-hiking lessons ever Iraqi TV…

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


In Arbil I had the chance to talk to members of the Peshmerga, the once furtive militia that now has taken a grip on legitimate power.

Some of them were too young.

Some of them actually accomplished a merely symbolic role and didn’t speak much.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Beyond the concept of “second hand”…

Friday, March 24, 2006


Yeah, I know. We believe it is only about desert and manoeuvring American tanks.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A car mechanic who had lived in Munich and spoke good German.

Two local soldiers. In the beginning the ride was for free, 10 km later I had to pay, and then it was for free again…

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a copy and keep me on the road!
As usual, peak experiences take place in involuntary detours, in those coordinates of the map completely lateral to our original destination. In that way, the following morning I was early on the road pretty sure I was going to Arbil, only to stumble 10 km further up the road with a library sponsored by Lovebridge, a German foundation, befriend its director and accepts his invitation to spend the night with his family back in Barzan.

Serbest shows me around the whole building opening all doors ahead as if I had some kind of allergy to handles. If by mistake he fails to give me priority to pass he apologizes: "Sorry Mister Juan!" He walks stopping briefly at each shelf to name its content with elfic manners. In the main reading room it’s obvious we have interrupted the two employee’s chit chat. Who can blame them? There is nobody consulting any of the 10,000 volumes that rather seem to be aging as wine in a cellar.

In top of one of the bookcases there's a poorly stuffed duck, his wings extended for nothing ("He came from Iran" -proclaims Serbest") and a street dog, surprisingly stuffed by somebody with an urgent need to stuff but little range to choose from. So, as she shares the fate of the pharaohs the ugly dog shows his teeth to everyone on the room. Nice invitation to reading. Serbest insists on extending the tour to a large classroom where two foreign aid workers teach first grade schoolboys according to Montessori's postulates. But it's him who has become the focus of my interest.

Serbest's house stands on a hill, some 200 meters from the "maker" where I had slept the day before. While his wife's shadow brings the tea tray as close as the culture allows her, Serbest's mobile rang. He glances at the screen and smiles when recognizing the number. "Takk!" -he answers. Conversation follows in a German like language that sounds familiar but that I cannot identify. It turns out that Serbest, who speaks broken English, is proud fluent Danish speaker. Exile is again the Rosetta stone for the matter: five years of political exile in Copenhagen. On the other phone, Maher speaking, who is not in Denmark, as one would expect, but in Arbil a hundred kilometers away. In the land of the butter cookies, Maher and Serbest were co-exiles and pals.

When asked about the reasons of the exile, he stands up and hangs down a family photograph from the wall. From the twenty people (all men) posing staunchly in regional dress I only spot one, the ubiquitous Mustafa Barzani. Serbest's finger rests one second in each face before moving on, just the time it takes Serbest to pronounce the sentence: "Assassinated by Saddam."
From the confusing genealogic explanation it followed that Serbest, whose surname is also Barzani, came to be something as the cousin of Mesut Barzani, the president of Kurdistan. Although I have the feeling the surname is more of a load to him tan a privilege, it's no doubt he would have joined the list. It is also clear that repatriated exiled make up a significant sector of Kurdish demographics. Somehow, everything in Kurdistan is returning: the Pesh are back from their outlaw life in the mountains and political refugees fly back from the Scandinavian welfare states to take their places in the construction of the dream. An implosion follows each exodus. The recent addition of a weekly flight from the Danish capital to Arbil suggests this is not just easy talking.

When dinner arrives I hardly have any appetite, we have been talking about the Anfals operation, when Saddam choppers attacked Kurdish villages with lethal gas, and about how Arab and Kurdish refugees transported their mutual territorial exclusion to the temporarily camp in Denmark where they all waited for the approval to their asylum request. With all he lived, it surprises me how calmly Serbest speaks. It seems he is reading a bedtime story. Muslim by context, Serbest appears to my eyes as a nihilist. Behind the mask of the local turbaned man unveils the profile of the universal man who even drops a Krishnamurti thought:- Oh, Mister Juan! Maybe you are thinking in what are you going to do next week, or when you arrive to your country, but when you stop thinking, only then the whole world will be there.And it was as if my vertebrae would crack.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Serbest proudly shows me a canyon populated by jumping ibexes....

Serbest and his son.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a copy and keep me on the road!

An elderly bunch plays "dama" over a board drawn with chalk in the pavement, with movements that combine gentleness and velocity. We are not far from the bridge that, has granted way over the river Zakho, for near a millennia in the town of the same name. A black and white turban caracoles around their head as a Babel Tower. It is an exclusive pattern, like a plate number, and it indicates the men are from the North Eastern Mountains. They play with stones rhythmically; it seems they are trying to attune history.

I am in the Iraqi Kurdistan, and so much calm here is as foreigner as I am. For the first time, what is apparently sliding irreparably into civil war is the rest of the country. Even if since the end of the first Gulf War Saddam's helicopters haven't raided the region unleashing lethal gas, only for three years the Kurds have been able to relax and play "dama". The fringe of a large and gloomy cloud obscures the sun. One of the men stands up and exclaims: "Stormy weather is coming from Iraq". Given the fact that, at least technically, the conversation is taking place in Iraq, the comment is not a mere weather forecast, but -and specially- in front of a foreigner, a proud declaration of independence. In the mast of a nearby school, the Kurdish flag supports the comment.

I changed ten dollars to Iraqi dinars and hit the road without more plans than advancing trough the mountain road network towards Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. My map, with its designs of miniature camels in the Eastern Deserts and oilfields in the Persian Gulf area, caters more for getting school boys interested into geography lessons than to guide a foreigner in the aftermath of the war. I don't either the least reference about the local reaction to hitch hikers.

Happily, as I am still walking in the outskirts of Zakho, and only after two minutes waiting, a spotless Chrysler Concorde stops. Surprise wrests heavier than the lack of habit it seems. I get in it astonished; it is not the kind of car you would expect to stop in a country that counts 20 years of internal and external conflicts. In spite of prejudices, the average car in Kurdistan is a 1991 Opel Vectra. Not bad, Syrians are still driving their 1950s De Soto and 304 Peugeots... The driver is a barber, and he speaks fluent German as a consequence of exile. He drops me in the highway to Mosul, which has been strongly advised against. It seems I am forced to take it for at least 50 km. As tango philosophy goes: "If you are already in the dance floor you must dance". Well, I didn't come to Iraq to take dance lessons, but there were no options, so there in the Mosul highway I extended my thumb.

Two minutes again, a Peshmerga (Police) commander slows down his Mazda (freezing traffic for one minute) and welcomes me in. He is driving to Duhok, a middle size town considered safe from where I can finally connect with the mountain network. Despite my driver is a policeman, the local Pesh stop me for questioning and examine my passport suspiciously before waving me through. To the inherent difficulty of explaining that one finds attractive the panorama of hitch hiking in countries bordering collapse you must add the bonus of having to explain it in Arabic (The only channel of communication since I don't speak Arabic). The most annoying thing of roadside questionings is that after you are let in peace there is always another curious gun-totting official at the exit of the next town.

So in Duhok itself I was stopped again by the Pesh that, not understanding why did I want to palm down cars as I walk when I could just charter a taxi from the city center, they propose the military version: a soldier with a Kalashnikov stops the first car, opens the door and orders me to jump in, and takes seat at my side.

I travel with armed escort until the village of Zawita, when the soldier (I must say he was of the smiley type) gets down and pays both his fare and mine. I am already in the mountain road. By a petrol station, a lieutenant of the Peshmerga pulls aside. I am tempted to think that, either the security forces are extremely kind, or all the population holds a position in them. (With time I would consider realistic the second option). My driver's name is Memet, who changes gears and listens to electronic music as he speeds by the sinuous road. The alpine like landscape conjures up an aesthetic illusion, for a second I think this is Tirol... The lieutenant himself doesn't seem to have a much accurate idea of where we are and, maybe conditioned by history, he asks: "So... is Irak beautiful? I mean Kurdistan!" He laughs at himself as the first rain drops predicted by the senior dama players of Zakho come true.

When we reach a village called Barzan he takes another direction. It is too rainy to make travel pleasant so I decide to stay there for the night. Memet says I should have no problems finding shelter in the "maker". I didn't know what a maker was, and as Memet's explanation in Arabic didn't help, I decided to walk up hill following his index finger in search of... well, in search of a "maker". At the sight of the only official looking installation I knock the door, which was opened.

Two men were drinking tea in the large carpeted room only whose squareness was only interrupted by the large heating stove vertical pipe. They stand up with one movement and, as if they had been waiting for me, they made place in the ritual for me. A banner of the KDP (Democratic Party of Kurdistan, hangs from the wall. Only a day after I would understand that I was in the base of the Peshmerga who look after the grave of Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Guerrilla that confronted Saddam. As the surname indicates, Barzani was original from Barzan village. Unwillingly, and forced by the rain, I had hit the spiritual center of Kurdistan, as anybody who sees the hundreds of flag decorated cars in weekend pilgrimage-picnic to the site may agree to call.

This Pesh, unlike the ones in the checkpoints, execute a verbless hospitality. They are not interested in my passport or destination, they simply like to help. During the dinner, down in the floor around a giant circular tray, the TV displays home videos in which columns of Pesh triumphally trek down the Shirin Mountains after Saddam was defeated in the first Gulf War. In March, when most of the Kurdish national days (Anniversary of Barzani's death, Declaration of Autonomy, etc) seem to happen, such imaginary is so profuse that you think the good men are still descending, happy and muddy. Provided each fighter has grasped some wisdom during his sojourn in the heights, as Zarathustra did, there is no doubt we are witnessing the rise of an enlightened nation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a copy and keep me on the road!
Bernard Shaw once penned that martyrdom is the shortest way to fame. I cannot say, though, that I am driven by any masochist quest to trespass fire lines. There isn't either any necessity to cross Iraqi territory in my otherwise natural passage from Turkey to Iran. If something took me here, that was the loyalty to the idea that caused me to hit the road on May 1st, 2005: human being is intrinsically good stock. It's been more than 10 months since I let my native Argentina and started my walk from Belfast City, in Northern Ireland, with my stuffed backpack and my thumb ready, committed to roam Europe and Asia, not as a tourist, but as a wanderer. No credit card, no mobile phone, no hotel bookings, no buses. No plans. Hitch hiking, my only mean of transportation. Cheap, that's true, but mainly a secret gate to the harmony of chaos, a chance for advancing without imposing, abandoning oneself to the involuntary punctuation of the road that builds itself.

Behind the expedition one aim: to compensate the partial and stereotyped picture of the world generated by mainstream media by portraying universal hospitality across the globe. Official image of the world, centered in the political conflicts among governments, outframes the basic honesty of the average man struggling under any flag, fomenting thus the paranoia that grants ground for further conflicts.Since I left Belfast I haven't found a country whose people is not convinced that hell starts in the neighboring country. The Hungarians swore that I would be eaten alive by Romanian Gypsies, while in Romania those Gypsies warned me, as they obliged me to drink their ziuca, about the great danger involved in crossing the Bulgarian border. Of course Bulgarians would rather grant me citizenship than letting me trot into the wild Muslim world. So each time I would get a new stamp in my passport I would tell myself: "Ok, here is where I am going to be effectively thrown to the hungry dogs". Only to have my expectations frustrated by a bunch of jumpy-around locals inviting me to their homes. Now it is the Turks who fear for my integrity as I hitch trough their country in my way to Iraq, the famed homeland of the kidnapping art, even if I am going to the relatively safe North.

The distance between Europe and Iraq is more symbolic than geographic. Even if the chaos with which the country is constantly linked with seems incompatible with proximity, let us remember that Iraq will have a full border with the European Union as soon as Turkey is blended in the joint. Hitch hiking swiftly from Ankara to the Southeastern provinces I am driven in fact a highway that bears –or drags- the European standard road nomenclature E-90 until the very border , always failing to signpost Iraq at all, as if shameful of its destination. Across intensely green grasslands guarded by still snowcapped mountains I bypass the cities of Sanliurfa and Batman. In Sanliurfa, the tailors receive the most unusual instructions in their lifetime, namely to produce somehow an Argentinean flag to hang from my backpack. If I happen to stumble upon fundamentalists, hope they see from the distance I am a South American. Holding also an Italian passport I deposit it in Batman Town Hall (as ridiculous as it may sound). I reach Silopi, the last Turkish town, in a yellow Scania whose driver declares how much he likes me. And strategically removes the news in the dial and tunes some romantic music. The episode hardly matches the circumstance of arriving the tricky border.
But border are we exactly talking about? Is there a border? If I believe the map I should say I am crossing from Turkey into Iraq. That's officialdom. Reality: the last "Turkish" guy I talked to (he halted me in the streets of Silopi and forced me to accept his invitation to drink lemonade) welcomed me to the Mesopotamia, and finally wished me good trip to Southern Kurdistan. In this case, if you want to update your lingo, you have better get back t the times of Ramses II. Despite having mastered the mountain passes among present day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish people have never been able (or allowed to) established their own state, becoming the largest ethnic group worldwide without one. Nevertheless, they brokenheartedly refer to every patch of land they inhabit as Kurdistan, and still denounce the Treaty of Sevres (1920), in which the triumphant Allies granted freedom to other victims of the Ottoman Empire, such as the Armenians, but never consolidated the sovereignty promised to the Kurds. The fact that oil hides underground may have something to do…
What decades of hiding in the mountains grenade propeller in hand didn't reward the Kurds just fell from heaven when Saddam was elbowed out in 2003 by the Coalition Forces. Since then, the pompously titled Kurdish Autonomous Region began to consolidate itself as a truly independent republic, even if still tied to the national capital Baghdad. And so the wind caused yet another flag to wave: the Kurdish Flag, which suddenly came out of all closets. The Peshmerga, (or simply Pesh), mountain partisans under command of local hero Barzani, also trekked down the mountains to become a full legal nation wide police force. Just imagine one day IRA forces patrolling the streets of Belfast and Londonderry.
"Welcome to the Iraqi Kurdish Autonomous Region"- announces a sign in the checkpoint. The kind man behind the glass takes my passport with some surprise... "Argentina? Maradona!" Until then he is sadly average. But then adds a striking: "Are you a terrorist, sorry...oh no Mister! I mean...are you a tourist? I was starting to think that the Kurdish Democratic Party in charge was democratic to the extent of having a tick box for every path of life… In shameless opposition to the Iraqi embassies in Ankara or Cairo who had asked me for a special visa costing 50 bucks and taking three weeks to process, these folks just ask me: 'So why are you coming to Kurdistan?" "Well – I answered naively- you are a new country and I wanted to visit you." I also let them know I had visited the Syrian Occupied Kurdistan and gave the Kurdish names of the towns. After that, they became the most accommodating guys you could think of, stamped my passport and waved my trough. I was in.
I thought I was able of such arrogances only in inoffensive countries like Slovenia or Latvia. But instead I found myself stepping into Iraq at night, without local currency and with a crappy map downloaded from the internet. With what moral authority I am going to tell my children not to throw fireworks to the neighbor's dog? I entered the first roadside restaurant I met to examine my map, and there the image of a U.S. contractor taking his food tray to the table fully dressed in Marine uniform took me to reality, I was in Iraq, I should watch my step. Convincing the opportunist taxi driver that I didn't owe him 20 dollars just for hauling me the 2 kms between the two border posts had been impossible to the point of letting him speaking alone to his old Renault 12. When I exited the restaurant he was there again, accompanied by a police officer. He wanted his money, but it was not his day, the policeman was more interested in knowing the countries I had seen in my journey and told the driver not to bother me again.
An early impression of Zakho, the first Kurdish town, was that of a lack of balance. Cars luxurious even by European standards (read BMW X-5, Chrysler Concorde) jam the main street aligned with decrepit shops and very basic housing, Kurdish flags equally decorating crumbling houses and expensive toys. Of course, it was too soon to understand anything.
As I walk in search of a cheap pension, the crowd that chews kebab under a portrait of a head robbed Barzani stare at me as if I were a green dog. Just think the country hasn't seen a tourist in the last 25 years. So visible, the security forces promptly entered the 2-dollars-a-day room I was sharing with three workers from Mosul, and did the usual questions. The usual questions didn't include what I am sure they were asking themselves: what is a foreigner doing outside the Hilton? Even if it is the language of the enemy here, they seem to appreciate that I speak some Arabic, although they left the place offended because I had refused to sell them my tent. Both the workers and the officials advised me against visiting Mosul, Tikrit or Baghdad. Their reason, let aside the daily car bomb in Baghdad, is more quintessential: "People there is Arab" –he sentences. Of course, hell is a plant that grows on the other side of the fence…

In the morning I peep through the window. The Kurdish tricolor is waving outside, the green, the red and the golden sun in the intermediate white stripe contrasting bravely with the gloomy, cloudy sky. The heart beats. Ready to attempt hitch hiking in a country that attempts existing.

BREAD ECLIPSE... and more.

As she throws once and again the pristine white flour over the burning disc, a woman produces a bread eclipse in the village of Cedvetye, near Osmaniye. In the city of Sanliurfa, not far from honey coloured mosques, a tailor manages to put together an Argentinean flag, if I stumble upon fundamentalists, they better see I am SouthAmerican from the distance (will it help?)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Hospitality Club members at Osmaniye (Turkey)

On the way to the forbidden border... enjoying the friendship of members of Hospitality Club at Osmaniye, a town that hasn't seem many members passing by. You can see in the picture; Esen, Gulsum, Erdal, Kutlu, me and Soner, in a cultural center where we listened to some cool folk music (played by Kutlu). Thanks to oall of you for your time and friendship!

Gumshoer on the way to İraq... Embassy hopping in Ankara. The hiddeous third dimension in Adana...

Photos : Crippled in front of the largest mosque in Middie (Adana, Turkey) İf İ continue like this the only world İ am gonna tour is the model at my back...

This week was a proof of how a second of stupidity can challenge months of careful study and timing. İ had made it to Ankara with the only aim of getting hand of İranian, Afghan and Pakistani visas. Having skipped winter in Egypt, in Ankara it looked like he had finally won the ‘cath me if you can game’. Being the capştal of a country normaly associated with warm weather, Ankara welcomed me with the last snows unmelted.

Obtaining 3 visas in a week is not a big deal with a bit of planning. Up to date with the orthodoxies, on the first morning İ was fast to knock the door of the Argentinşan Embassy to ask for the letters of recomendation required by the İranians and the Afghans. Excelent is not a word that covers the efficiency of the Argentinian Embassies. I only waited one hour for the 3 documents, under a portrait of San Martin, famose crew member of İnflation period banknotes and leit motiv of school children magazines.

Going around applying for tourist visas of for the ‘Axis of Evil’ is as much an experience as ıt ıs to visit those countrıes. In the desolate ıranıan embassy a bearded dıplomat scrutınızed my passport ın the search for ısraelıan entry stamps. Only afterwards (when he dıdn’t fınd any) hıs face acquired serenity, and the visa was issued on the same day. At the Afgahn Embassy my request comes as a surprise. The consul recites by heart the procedure: ‘two passport photographs, 30 USD and the letter of recomendatıon from your Embassy’. Then he takes proud of that fact that finally he has seen the day in which somebody requests a tourist visa for hşs country and states: ‘The media exagerate, very ofteen in Afghanistan you cannot hear the sound of the fighting’. He adds solemnly that Tourist Offices have been opened in Herat and Kabul.

İn the week İ had to wait for the visas I had the chance to catch a glimpse of a specific sector of the population of Ankara. And this was no doubt thanks to the converstaion with my hosts: Ant and his girlfriend Guzdan. İn a country that since the fall of the Otoman Empire has been a schism from the rest of the İslamic World, my friends belong to the most progressive handful. İn Ankara, where head scarfs are an anomaly, their fears that some windblow of history draggs the country into bear fundamentalist hands seem unjustified. Take Guzdan. Being a a professional diver (actually the first cave diver woman in Turkey) and cross country skier, she runs into panic when even considering the chance. I understand her : in countries such as Syria or İran her hobbies would be labelled ‘anti-islamic’. Where is the place for a female diver in lands where women can exit their doorstep alone only if in absolute knowledge of the way to go, implicitly outlawing leisure exploration.

The opinion cross fire between Guzdan and Bianca, Ant’s German cousin, was also notable and reflects to dıfferent phılosofıcal posıtıons, the fırst pragmatıc , the later ıdealıst. . Guzdan is eternaly grateful to Ataturk, father of the modern lay Turkısh state, to who accordin to her they own their present degree of liberty. Bianca is an a priori enemy of all thing imposed. But what if it is liberation what comes with guns and troops? İsn’t it valid at all? – is Guzdan’s question for Bianca. Then her arguing changes tactic, and she asks for the specific points of Ataturk experiment that she finds violent or negative. Bianca seemes jailed in her own definition of prıncıples: all ımposed thıngs are bad.

Bianca deserves a complete paragraph. She is a carpenter, and for 4 and a half years she has been travellıng around Europe accordıng to an old German medieval tradition called ‘wanderschaft’. In such, the apprentices of any skill abandon their hometowns and dwell for a minimun of 3 years with their skills as their only wealth. They can be distinguished for their wide hats and somewhat anachronic looking outfit. From building a yurt to reapairing a window, nothing seems to escape her possibilities of wood craftmanship.

Going back to myself, with the 3 visas in my passport, my door traspasser, my can opener.... I hit the road bound for Adana, my base in Sothern Turkey. My plan there was to leave my ıtalıan passport (and any other evıdence of my second nationality) before sneaking into İraq. I made it to Adana ın a truck at 2:56 am. It was too late to call my frıends so İ decided to camp until sunset. The petrol statıon employee, who at those hours was double checking the cash total, pointed me a building site where İ hoped to find some camping spot. İt wasn’t bad luck but stupidity: the darker tone of the surface should have tıpped me of its depth. İn free fall, half second was able to host two sensations. One was the anxiety of ıgnoring how deep İ was falling to. Almost simultaneously, the hapiness when noticing that the back pack was rotating, due to gravity or some angel, then causing me to hit the ground backwards, and absorbing al the impact. Thanks to the backpack my back resulted unharmed. My head came out with to large scratches (near the spot where my brother had slamped a door on my face when İ was 8). My left knee got the worst of the deal, and continues on strike. İ remaıned tremblıng ın the dark. Sounds like an İron Maiden song name. The terror of not knowıng ıf İ was gonna be able to stand up again was something quite unparalled. Nevertheless, it was compensated by the laugh caused by the unusual coordenate. After all, screaming for help in the bottom of an elevators gap in Adana, Turkey has some charm. More when İ thınk İ was in my way to İrak, the place where it would be more acceptable to get killed. Eventualy İ standed up, and walked as a crippled back to the petrol station where İ was collected by my friend Mustafa shortly after. My vital fluid was trickling, so I guess I looked pretty much like a zoombie straight out of an American class B movie.

Without medical insurance the doctors refused to pay any attention other than the first aid, and a radiography was needed to know what was going o in my knee. Then Mustafa enacted his dramatic skills in front of the police, to whom he demanded, for Turkey, for Ataturk, and for the Sovereignity of the Turkısh Republıc of Nothern Cyprus, to grant some assıstance. The touched policeman forced a doctor to prescribe the X ray and eventualy he just ordered me to rest. For how long? Rest!!! I can see my self, hitch hiking into İraq with clutches...