Historically, when we have left the States, we have had about 19 hours of transition time on a very pleasant KLM flight. With personal t.v. screens to watch a great variety of movies and television shows, our flights were always something to look forward to. And then we had the layovers in Amsterdam where we would take our final deep breaths of Western comfort and our first steps out of the Western world were taken as we stepped off of the plane and on to African soil.
Well, this time was a whole new experience. Our departure from Western comfort came in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. In the international terminal we were by far the minority, and there were certain signs that we were among people who were used to a different way of life – the greatest example being the conditions of the bathrooms. 🙂
We sat at our gate to get onto our Royal Jordanian flight to fly into Amman, Jordan and in no way did I have the sense we were still in the States. The feeling of having left American soil solidified as we got onto the Royal Jordanian plane. All of the signs were in Arabic with English translations next to them and all of the announcements over the intercom came first in Arabic, and then in English. We were back in the Arab world and we hadn’t left Chicago yet.
The flight was very pleasant, though we were concerned at first. There were no lovely little t.v. screens for us to watch, and as we sat down we became aware that we were surrounded by screaming children. The first hour into our 13 hour flight showed no promise of a break from the screaming, but as the turbulence subsided and the children learned that their screaming would not get them off the plane, everyone relaxed. In fact, Brian and I realized that the children were a far better form of entertainment than any movie could have been. There was one boy directly across from Brian who became our fast friend. We played and joked with him for the entire flight, breaking only for the occasional nap. Before we knew it, we were landing on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Jordan.
We made our way through the airport, onto a shuttle and into our hotel. Both of us were eager to begin soaking in our first real experience in the Middle East and it was more familiar than we expected. The hotel dining room served hummus, flatbread, eggplant dishes and all of the Middle Eastern cuisine we could hope for. Immediately we were using the Arabic we learned in Sudan and were surprised by how much we understood from other people, and how well they understood us. This only peaked our interest in continuing to learn the language. We are further along in the process than we knew!
We weren’t sure how we would do with the time difference… we had to get up at 4:30 am to catch our flight to Kurdistan, and we were concerned we would not fall asleep. Well our in-flight entertainment must have worn us out because we slept very well. 4:30 am came too fast, and within a couple of hours we were on the flight that brought us to Northern Iraq. We had met many of the others who were flying with us at our hotel. We met 4 professors from all over the region who are teaching at the brand new American University in Sulaymaniyah – the city we are living/working in. We also met quite a few Kurds who were traveling home. Immediately our impressions of the Kurdish people were that of warmth, friendliness, and hospitality. It was extremely refreshing.
I stared out the window as we flew over an incredible display of beauty – rolling brown hills, speckled with green meadows. I thought about how long I had been hearing about Iraq… since almost as long as I can remember. And there we were, landing in Kurdistan. Brian and I looked at each other and said, “Well, here we go!”
We followed our new friends through the passport lines and just as easy as could be, we were in.
We met our two Samaritan’s Purse colleagues, John and Doris, at the terminal. We liked them immediately. John and Doris also worked in North Sudan with Samaritans Purse a few years ago. We had heard all sorts of great things about John and Doris from the North Sudan staff, so we were eager to meet them. John and Doris have been working in the Middle East for almost 35 years. We cannot imagine better resources to help us learn about this complex area.
We sat over coffee immediately after arriving and peppered them with questions about Kurdistan, Iraq and the entire region. The story of the Kurdish people is even more devastating than I knew. The Kurds suffered cruelly under Saddam Hussein’s reign. Thousands of men were systematically killed and widows and orphans were transferred to camps in new areas to start their lives over. Chemical bombs were dropped all over the region, killing and injuring thousands upon thousands. Samaritan’s Purse is currently doing work with disabled people, as well as working within some of the areas where the widows and orphans were relocated. We are just learning bits of information about this area that has such a tragic history.
We are living and working in the city of Sulaymaniyah [ (Soo-lay-mah-nia)… most people call it Suly (Soo-lee) ] . Once again, we have been greeted warmly by those we have met. We are starting to get to know the local cuisine which consists of a lot of meat, beans and rice. Sulaymaniyah is one of the most progressive cities in Iraq (it has the only movie theater in the entire country!)
Though our Arabic was well used in Jordan, it is less useful here. Many people understand it, but they prefer to speak Kurdish. So we will be learning some Kurdish quickly!
We spent yesterday in the office with John and Doris along with Nawzad and Omar who are also employed by SP here. In the next few days we will be looking for an apartment for Brian and I to stay in (we’re staying at a small hotel for the moment) and continue to soak in as much information as we can.
More to come in the following days!