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ponchi101

Log book to the end of civilization. XXII

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I get fed up with life in camp and I get an excuse to leave for one day. Destination: Kalar, the city where the whole visa issue was done.
We travel early in the morning and get there in time to do what we have come for, and then have some time off. So we decide to hit the market.
You have never been shopping unless you have been in an Arabic Souq (market). The one in Kalar does not disappoint. It is small, crowded, with waters from who- knows- where flowing through it. It is, like all the ones I have been to (allow me to boast: Damascus, Cairo, Termez, Muskat and Bishkek) a maze of small shops and stands where sellers peddle their treasures. But it immediately gives you an idea of where Kurdistan is, in the economic scale of things. Far below the pristine Souq in Muskat, where cleanliness and expensive items are sold, below Damascus, below Termez (a border town between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). It gives me a good feel for the difficulties of Kurdish life, and another idea of why this place is so desolate in so many ways.
The items being traded here are of low quality. Most of it is manufactured in China, but not those meant for export (after all, Nike manufactures in China). Here the items are of cheap quality and that shows in that nothing has a price. Everything is up for bargain and the merchants know it. So you can feel free to offer anything you want, and it is a matter of persistence and trading smarts (two things I have in very small quantities). You can also follow an Arab legend: early morning is the best time to shop, because merchants hate to lose that first sale. It is a bad omen for the rest of the day.
The most beautiful area is the place where the women shop for their clothes. Arab women must dress in those long tunics and the idea is to (most of the times) buy the fabric and have a seamstress make the dress. So although you can by readymade clothes, it is better to have your own made. The fabrics are luxurious and colorful, as in other Souqs, so it is the elegant place of the market.
The other interesting place is the jewelry sector. Merchants here sell and buy gold, silver and stones. The value of the goldsmith’s job is meaningless; the pieces are sold by weight and nothing more, and you can bring you old ones and trade in (at a discount). All shops have windows displaying gold from top to bottom, and it does not sell for cheap. Gold is gold anywhere, and it is a simple internet connection that allows you to see the price in the NYSE, FTSE or wherever it is that gold is marked. We walk around for a while, taking a few snapshots, imbibing the scenery. That way we reach noon, and time for a proper lunch.
Our guide, one of the drivers that is local, decides to invite us to a restaurant “near the river”. We accept and are guided there. I have to confess that having once worked in the Orinoco, in which any branch or creek has a width measured in hundreds of meters, it is difficult for me to be impressed by a river. This one disappoints as expected, as it is a trickle of water that is flowing slightly more abundantly by the recent rains. I also discover, slightly late, that if we are going to be next to a river the food of choice is fish. We are taken to small tank where I can, indeed, pick up my own. I do, and inevitably two things come to mind: Monty Pythons’ The Meaning of Life and its opening scene (“Look, they are eating Harry”) and a song by Nirvana in which Cobain states that “it’s OK to eat fish ‘cause they don’t have any feelings”. I chose my victim and wait for it later.
We are served the usual metze, the Arab entrees that are always brought with any meal. We get our basmati rice, we get beans and hummus and pickled veggies, and spend a splendid meal. The sun is out but we are sheltered by grapevine. It is certainly relaxing.
We then notice that a train of ambulances go by us, and it looks suspicious. A few minutes later, one of our security escorts (no way was I going to be here alone) tells us the news:
“An explosion happened in a town about half an hour from here. So they are requesting all the ambulances that can go there”.
It is silly to even ask if it was an “accidental” explosion, or if The War on Terror is far from over. We finish our food, get in our car, and return to base. The guards and the driver seem unaffected by the news, and I decide that so should I. I am where I am.
Kurdistan is not going to let me forget that so easily.

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