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Chapter 11: Skipping Ahead

Darbandikhan to Dokan. April 14-15.

After a spectacular time in Darbandikhan, it was time to move ahead. The truth is that I, with a bit of visa trickery, could easily spend a whole year in Kurdistan surviving, or rather thriving, on hospitality alone. But that is not why I'm here. Aimless exploration had a place in my past, but is no longer what gives me purpose. I am on my way. And so, I hit the road to Sulaymaniyah.

The ride presented the steepest climbs and the most spectacular views that I had encountered thus far from the seat of the bicycle. The first 30 km was mostly uphill but my rested and well-fed body felt strong. The next 40-50 km was more downhill or flat, with a little climb in the end. The day brought no real challenges until right when I reached "Suli" and got my fourth puncture in as many days of riding.

These flat tires were annoying and worrying for the future, but I had been strangely fortunate with them. They happened in or near towns, so help was never far away. They did not cost me much money at all - laughably little by European standards - and some mechanics even refused to take my money. The mishaps didn't even affect my pace considerably, delaying only hours of arrival, not days of progress. I left the bike repair in Suli with a tube of higher quality, new tools and better pads to mend a puncture myself should I have to. That plus a lookover with oil, tire pressure and gears, including one hour of work while I was chilling, all for a massive 11 thousand dinars... or eight US dollars.

Sulaymaniyah is a big modern city and one of many examples of things foreigners do not think, or even believe, belong in Iraq. I skipped it. Living in Europe and raised in a capital, modern cities is nothing exotic to me. And while I knew nothing of Suli, the fact that Iraq is so much more than western news show was no news to me. But more than that, I didn't feel at the time that the city was my place. I didn't sense a story of significance to live, or to tell. Of course they were there, millions of them. But in the busyness of the big city, the small stories are harder to see, and people are less outgoing to share about them. Or perhaps it is just me, feeling the most lonely and isolated when completely surrounded.

I did bring one glimpse of a story in Suli, or rather from the suburb where he lived: that of my host Saman. A relative of Shuan's, Saman is an Iranian Kurd and christian. For twelve years, he fought as a rebel for the Kurdish Opposition in Iran and came to Iraq when Jesus called him away from fighting. He seemed to me a weathered man. About my age, yet much older somehow, having lived a hard life. His wisdom knew better than to feel regret for his choices, as he knew they felt right to him at the time and led him to what he needed then. At the same time, I could feel a suppressed sadness from him. An emptiness where there was once a spark, now lost to time. He spoke to me but asked himself, or god, or maybe both:

Where did my youth go?

Saman is another character I will revisit, perhaps then to learn more of Sulaymaniyah, but after just one night I again hit the road, aiming for Dokan on smooth, slightly descending roads. It would be the first touristy place on my tour in kurdistan, mostly due to Iraqis enjoying the nature and the lake. Somehow though, I didn't feel the vibe there either. Admittedly I would have taken pretty pictures had I gone up to the dam and explored, but I felt no drive to do it on my own.

This was a moment when I was glad to have chosen a project where I am going home. After resting in a mosque in Dokan I was considering my options, and the lack of interest in any of them was motivating in itself. Onwards means homebound, and so in times of loneliness, the bicycle and the road are the ways out of it, in spirit and in reality alike. I cycled another 15 km to the northwest, the general direction of Europe and Sweden, before finding shelter at a road restaurant in the first little town. That meant sleeping in a smelly cellar in the middle of nowhere, yet I felt I was going somewhere. The option would have been a private hotel room in pretty Dokan, feeling lost.

After calling my parents and writing two chapters in this blog, something that took me all evening, the feeling with which I fell asleep is best described as JOMO. The expression is a personal favourite, short for "Joy of Missing Out". I was at peace with the one place I was at and the one path I had chosen, and fell asleep with no regrets over roads not taken.


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