08 June, 2010

Erbil: Moving on

I probably didn't need to set the alarm for four AM. But it was worth it to look out my window and see the citadel walls suffused with a soft glow in the predawn light. At four, the sky was just beginning to pale and the city looked soft, a study in sand-tones; though in the city center, i could hear roosters crowing nearby. I had been planning to climb the citadel and photograph the city in that light, but it was just too early. When i descended the hotel stairs at 7:30, the thick ceramic treads were being torn up.

Erbil Citadel is undergoing restoration, partly thanks to UNESCO, though it doesn't seem like there is much to restore. People still inhabit the place, though the tops of many of these brick walls are crumbling. The view out over the city, at least, is worth the short walk. Looking down, just left of the city center is a series of commercial streets (rather narrow, cluttered ones). The first one i wandered down i'll call Repair Shop street. There's a guy sitting at a desk right there in the street, and the desk is piled with DVD players. On the corner is a street vendor selling shish kebap, right next to a bakery where young men pull flatbreads out of a clay oven, and taking them from the huge tongs, throw them frisbee-like onto a table.

I turn from that onto Blanket street, merging into Kitchenette Avenue, a small section of which i dubbed Locking File Alley. Next i pass a cross between a junkyard and flea market - think Watto, from Star Wars Episode I. Here in Iraq, Tattoine feels just around the corner, but as i pass a statue of a horse turning a grist wheel i'm reminded that this is not some alien planet, it's Mesopotamia. It isn't only the sights that shape a perception of this place. It's also an olfactory experience. On Repair Shop street, the aroma of motor oil; passing a trash truck, a sweet, almost fruity scent with sickly topnotes.

seen on Repair Shop Street

Wondering if could find an ATM, and unable to communicate with a taxi driver, i asked at a hotel to use their phone, and called my next destination - a couch surfer in Suleymaniyah. Andrew said the best bet was to go to the Sheraton in Hawler - the only commonly known place in Iraqi Kurdistan to use an ATM. So i took a taxi to Hawler, had my bag searched by the security guards, walked into a luxurious lobby, used the cash machine, and left. The place is actually called the Erbil International Hotel, but locals know it as the Shee-rah-ton, pronouncing that last syllable as if it were French.

Then it was another short ride to the Suleymaniyah garage. At the garages - there's one for each direction out of town, basically - there are several lines of taxis under a long corrugated roof. You find a taxi and wait for other folks to share it (as i did coming from Zaho to Erbil) for anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 dinars. Thankfully, there was also a minibus to Suleymaniyah - same plan. I sat waiting for nearly an hour, then the ride was a bit slow, but only 8,000 dinars.

at Suleymaniyeh Garaj - that's our driver next to the dried fruit guy, 
and the sort of minibus you'll find in northern Iraq