06 June, 2010


In Silopi we leave the bus, and are immediately surrounded by a pack of taxi drivers. These guys are the ferry service: they do the talking, handle the passport issue, and drive you to Zaho, on the Iraqi side of the border. It seems all the windshields around here are cracked.

I had no idea what to expect. And that phrase "expect the unexpected" comes to mind. You see, i can be fairly blind at times to little details, like the print on my Turkish visa - and when i presented my passport to the Turkish exit official he grew upset. Where's your visa? he asked loudly. Right there, isn't it? i'm thinking. He makes a couple phone calls, stamps the passport and fairly throws it at me.

When he hands it back, i look closely: STUDENT VISA. SINGLE ENTRY. VALID: 16.12.2009 to 04.06.2010. [Expletive deleted], my Turkish visa expired yesterday! Thankfully, I discovered one can get a sticker visa at the border for $20 US.

Entering Iraqi Kurdistan was as simple as that last realization was painful. The border official asked a few simple questions - you're a student? Where are you from? Why are you coming? How long will you stay? and, with a chuckle at my innocent answers, welcomed me. No less than fifteen minutes later i had been issued at no cost a tourist visa from the Kurdistan Regional Government.

While we whisked through the border in about an hour, two lines of tractor trailers over a kilometer long waited; men squatted beside them passing time.

One of my companions on the taxi ride was a boy of about twelve, whose name i definitely can't spell. He leafed curiously through my passport, looking at the images on each page. Ironic; after two crossings into Canada and entry to Turkiye at Esenboğa airport, i have only crossed national borders three times to date. This boy is a professional.

The taxi drivers all know each other, and at times i think it's a friendly game to see who can get their passengers across more quickly. I'm fascinated by the unique culture that springs up among these crossers. Like many on both sides of this border, they speak at least Turkish and Kurdish (and on the Iraqi side, Arabic). As we approach the shacks of Zaho, i feel as though young men in these border towns have a unique coming of age experience.