top of page

Chapter 10: Darbandikhan Dominoes

Darbandikhan, Kurdistan, Iraq. April 12-13

In the game of Dominoes, success come down to calculation, communication and intuition. In any particular round, you have to work with the hand that you're dealt where decisions often come with two to three options. Reading the environment is key, both the hard data available and the behaviours of those around you. Luck can make or break a moment, but the game is made up of many rounds and so in due time, what you (and your partner) do will decide victory or defeat. It requires patience in practice to get good - playing, failing, analysing, sensing and most importantly trying again.

The term "domino" often refers to something else - the domino effect, a chain reaction of pieces falling on to the next. Setup is required, but satisfaction comes from not interacting at all, just watching the pieces fall.

In many ways, life is like Dominoes. In Darbandikhan, I really got to practice and appreciate both. While you can play the game of life and that of Dominoes without teammates, a game with a partner has higher complexity and is infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding. My main partners in crime were Shuan and Salman, with friends of theirs joining in to complete the crew.

Among us, Shuan and Salman definitely did the heavier lifting. At the Domino table, in planning excursions, keeping us fed and paying the bills, all while making sure I was comfortable. They taught me their ways of culture, a bit of language, some history and how to understand and benefit the plays of the partner across the table. But while my contribution was small in effort, and truth be told in raw Domino skill, I believe it added a spice to the table that made our brew and our crew all the more interesting. I had a blast of a time with these folks, two more brothers joining my big family, and the nature around Darbandikhan is to die for.

When planning my route, Darbandikhan was just a necessary stop on the way to bigger things. But reading the environment and the wonderful people around me, I switched tactics, made a new game plan. In a turn you can only play one domino, and so do I have decisions to make every day to balance storymaking, writing, budget, progress and energy. I am proud I chose to stay in Darbandikhan two extra days. It was, considering all information, the correct play.

But I cannot take more credit than that for the outcome of those days. The rest was all Shuan and Salman carefully setting up the domino toppling for my enjoyment. Once it started, it took me on a ride I will never forget: from the cute and quiet little town center, to the lush paradise above the dam, to Salman's popular game zone, to Shuan's lovely family, to the epic mountains and jaw dropping views to the east and, last but not least, back to the bricks for one more game.

I felt glad that I had already promised Amar that I would return to the region, for now I have all the more reason. In my hand of privilege, I have countless pieces. They lead to friends I have already made and to unexplored locations where new ones are waiting. Now, one of my pieces reads Darbandikhan, ready to be played. I have learned though that while a line of play might look appealing in the moment - such as going back there right now - it might not be the best strategy long term. I have yet a quest to finish. A path before me that is mine to ride. A home that awaits.

And so I will save that piece for later, for when the time is right, for when the game calls for it. But honest word, in my fantasies of bromances and road trips. riding to the horizon screaming along to "Chop Suey" like we are fourteen years again... I can't wait to slam that piece on the table, hard.


bottom of page