Friday, January 28, 2011

Sixth Blog

Sixth Blog. January 28, 2011

Much has happened since I last wrote, but most of what has happened is not particularly blog-worthy. My trip back to the US for the Christmas holiday was uneventful. Plane connections were on time and by the luck of the calendar draw, I missed the major storms in Europe and on the East coast that disrupted travel for thousands of people a few days after I was home. It was good to be home in my own bed and with family. The only problem is that the time was short enough that I couldn’t help but say to myself, “Ten more days and I will have to go back. Eight more days before I have to return. What do I need to get done in that time?” My sense that the time was short made it feel even shorter.

On returning to Suli on January 4, I came back to a quiet apartment for several days before the fall term resumed on January 9. Many of the other expat faculty and staff were not here when I first returned, so the place was quieter than normal. I worked on grading papers and getting ready for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, January 6th, I traveled by taxi to the nearby town of Dukan which sits below an enormous dam and lake of the same name. (Go back to my blog of October 15, 2010 to see pictures of Dukan Lake, which is one of the main sources of water for Sulaimani.) With me in the taxi were two AUIS students, Kurdistan and Shelan, and our destination was the home of Kurdistan whose parents invited me for lunch. Both Carolyn and I had the opportunity to work with Kurdistan last year as she was in Carolyn’s accounting course in the fall and my history of the Middle East in the spring. She is a bright, friendly person who is respected by all who know her: faculty, staff, students. She was accepted at Anderson University in the spring of 2010 and intended to study business there in the fall of 2010. Even with all of the letters of support we could muster on her behalf, the US Embassy in Baghdad twice denied her a visa to come to the US. Since this unmerited (in my judgment) rejection, she has arisen to the occasion and has continued in her own very positive way of living.

Kurdistan’s father joined the peshmerga, the Kurdish army that resisted Saddam, when he was in his teens and he is now retired. He is justly proud of the awards and recognitions that have come to him for his services to the Kurdish cause. Kurdistan’s mother and father fled to Iran in the late 1980s to escape Saddam’s wrath, and Kurdy was in fact born in a refugee camp in Iran. They returned to Iraq in 1991 only after the no-fly zone was established at the conclusion of the first Gulf war. One can tell from the name her family gave to her something about their belief in Kurdish causes. She is the oldest of their children, and the affection they feel for each other is quite evident. See picture of Kurdy with her mother and father.

The family treated me royally. Her father and I agreed that we both wished that we could have communicated directly, and not through translations. We could have had a fascinating conversation, I’m sure. The lunch was superb, family-prepared Kurdish food. (It’s unfortunate that restaurants in the area do not prepare similar food.) See pictures of Kurdistan and her brother setting the table and of the family with me in the next pictures:

With this kind of warm hospitality, it was hard to leave. On the way back to Suli, her father took secondary roads that run on the back sides of the mountains we have become accustomed to seeing from the main Suli to Dukan road. The scenery was, as usual, spectacular and my interest in it was heightened by his numerous comments along the way about having lived and fought in those very mountains during the time of active fighting between the Kurds and the forces of Saddam. See photo of a mountain scene on the way back to Suli. (Note that the photo has a fair amount of detail that can be revealed by clicking once on the photo, then after it has enlarged, clicking a second time.)

The other noteworthy event of January occurred on January 15th, when one of my colleagues, Jonathan; his wife, Carol; and one of his students from last year, Hemn, invited me to join them on a trip to Chamchamal, a city that lies southwest of here, between Sulaimani and Kirkuk. The purpose of the trip: to go to a famous archeological site called Jarmo. Using artifacts dug from this site in the 1950s, archeologists have determined that Jarmo is, like Jericho (in Israel/Occupied Territories) and Catal Huyuk (in Turkey), one of the places where there is the earliest evidence of humans raising their own food. One could say that the agricultural revolution began in these places in the period of around 7000 BCE. Having taught about the agricultural revolution in western civ courses for years, I wanted to see what this place looks like.

We took a taxi to Chamchamal where we were met by Hemn’s brother who picked us up in his Nissan Patrol SUV. We went first to Hemn’s home to meet his family and to have tea with his mother and father. Hemn is one of 13 children born to the same mother and father. You have to admire such a woman. His mother and father were delightful to meet and talk with, though, again, the language barrier made longer, more meaningful conversations difficult. It’s tough for a student to be an interpreter in these kinds of situations. We were received most hospitably as we sat on the floor of the room. My inability to sit with my legs crossed in front of me became painfully apparent once again. See tea preparation in next slide.

From Hemn’s home, his brother drove us some distance into the countryside east of Chamchamal. Paved roads gave way to dirt roads that, in turn gave way to no roads. We were literally driving across open fields and along the edges of plowed fields. I wish I had motion pictures of our trip, as I am sure the folks at Nissan would love to incorporate such pictures into their next advertisements for how sturdy their vehicles are. The roads were steep and rough as we crept along in first gear. The open fields were no smoother. Every advantage of an SUV over other vehicles came into play here: four wheel drive, low range transmission, high ground clearance, short overhangs in front and rear. About the time that I think I might be inclined to organize a group tour for Americans to see this part of the world, I have an experience like this and know that if it is this difficult to get three tourists into a place like this, how much more difficult it would be to bring a group of 12.

Jarmo is situated on a high plateau next to a steep drop-off into a river valley below. The setting is quite impressive in terms of the scenery all around it, but the site itself is about as inauspicious as any archeological site can be. This place was excavated by a team from the University of Chicago in the 1950s, but the work was stopped in the late ‘50s because of political instability. Today, all one can see are a series holes about 4 feet square and about three feet deep dug in rows. We assume that the pits were essentially test pits to see what lies below the surface of the soil. This is one archeological site that requires a significant act of the imagination to reconstruct what it might have looked like in its prime because so little remains. But I can say that I have been there, and that’s all that matters to me.

See photos below: an old black and white aerial photo from the ‘50s – taken from the Internet -- that gives you a sense of the site at the time of the work, and two additional photos that show what it looks like today, weeds and all. The lines of dark spots in the B&W photo are the pits that show up in the following slide.

We made our way back to Hemn’s house where during the time we were away his multi-talented mother had both prepared a delicious lunch and assisted the family cow in delivering a calf. No joke about the calf. See next photo.

A photo of myself, Jonathan, Hemn's father, and Hemn:

Myself with Hemn's mother and father:

As I am leaving the homes of students on occasions like this, I say, with all good intent, “I will never forget this act of hospitality. Thank you.” I truly mean this, and at least to this point, I can remember each occasion when I have been the guest in someone’s home. I wish only that I could repay their hospitality in my home. Given all of the forces at play, political and economic, that will likely not happen.

Since classes have resumed on January 9, my classes have gone reasonably well, though I am sensing as we move to the end of the term some slacking off by some students. It’s hard to maintain full attention for as long as our terms run, especially when there is a 3 ½ week break in December/January. By this time in one month the term will be over and I will be home.

As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments feel free to write to me at this address: