I went to Kurdistan and didn’t get arrested by Iran

Brief post that I’ve been meaning to write for a little while. Have you ever been on a plane, nearing your intended destination, only to have the plane suddenly divert to another location?

Well, the infrastructure at the Baghdad International Airport is still developing. It can’t quite handle little weather emergencies, like, for example, heavy fog. So as Farrell and I were coming back from Malaysia (by way of the refugee camp that is Terminal 2 in Dubai, but that’s another story), I’m half asleep against the window when an Arabic announcement comes on.

I really don’t pay attention to it, because I figure someone will repeat it in English. Then…I keep hearing the word “Sulaymaniyah” repeated several times, and then people start getting really chatty and agitated (again, in Arabic).

Uhh…what’s going on?

Baghdad International had completely shut down and all flights were being diverted to Kurdistan (or, for the politically sensitive, the Semi-Autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region). When the attendents told everybody this, the ground below us was clear. No fog (or anything else), just a whole lot of desert (as it had been for the majority of the flight).

Eventually though, we flew over a thick blanket of grey fog that covered what I presume was the capital and its semi-functional airport. Farrell reminded me that his first flight into Iraq was during a sandstorm. The pilot took a chance with trying to find the runway and had to pull of a quick swerve to the left when he finally got the plane low enough to see the ground.

I was fine with the decision to fly on. It’s not like I was eager to get back to my shipping container bedroom.

Eventually, the landscape tranformed. No longer barren, brown, and flat. Kurdistan is textured and green. Mountainous, craggly, and verdent with life.

(Plant life, we saw very few signs of human life. It’s a bit sparse in that way.)

The airport is about the size of the embassy’s cafeteria. There are two duty free “stores” that have the combined area of my above-mentioned shipping container living space. One is stocked with perfume and hair products. The other has Turkish candy (because we all know that Turks make the best candy bars in the region). There’s one gate (though a second is being built) and pictures of President Jalal Talabani adorn every wall.

We sat around for about an hour with nothing better to do than stare at the beloved Talabani and remark about how Kurdish men are pale with light hair and blue eyes. Of course, catching a flight from Terminal 2 (the only other flights that leave from there go to Afghanistan and Somalia…some unsavory characters hanging out there) at the crack of dawn and not eating much of Jupiter Airways’ lovely cuisine, by this point I was starving.

The cafe? Tea and potato chips…only.

Not regular potato chips either…lemon-flavored chips. They weren’t half bad though. Tangy like salt and vinegar, but they tasted a bit too much like a lemon Sour Patch Kid.

Before I knew it, we were shuffled back on the plane and jetting back off to Baghdad.

So there it is. I went to Kurdistan, walked around (the airport) a bit, ate some local cuisine (imported from Iran), and didn’t get arrested for espionage. All in all, a lovely little detour.

Does this mean I can write “On-the-ground Kurdistan expertise” on my resume now? “Field expert,” perhaps?