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Chapter 9: Royal Treatment

Kalar to Darbandikhan. April 11

When I left the city border of Kalar there was another checkpoint on the road, and I was about to get off the bicycle to present my passport. But as I approached, the guard held up his phone, showing me the screen. It showed myself from a birds eye view. Apparently the trucker from the previous day had posted a story that received enough attention to reach these guards, even though that interview happened on the other side of the border. Boosted of feeling famous for just a moment, I was quickly let through but soon had to stop to pick up my own phone for documentation. The rivers, fields and mountains made for spectacular views in the morning light.

When stopping for a snack in the little town of Bawanur, a nice young man approached me. His offerings of hospitality was, as I have come to learn, quite typical for Iraqi Kurds.

Hi! Where are you from? Do you need any help? My name is Aram, I work in the shop right down the street. If you need any help, you can find me there, I am here to help you.

In any other place in the world that I have visited so far, "I have a shop down the street" is someone speaking in the role of a merchant making his living by offering his goods for sale. In Iraq, given that you are not from the area, the phrase is more likely used to simply tell you about what they do and where they will be if you need their help. For smaller goods and services, they are more likely to refuse your money than they are to accept them. They will never ask for payment or tips for general help or guidance, and offering money can even be an insult - one they will immediately forgive you for as part of their hospitality.

From my perspective as an exotic foreigner on a bicycle, I notice a slight difference in hospitality style between the Arab Iraqis and the Kurdish. The Arabs most often start with an offering of something specific they can provide such as water, food, shelter or guidance. From the Kurds, the initial offer is often that of help in a more general sense such as "Do you need any help?" or "if you need any help with anything, we are here for you." Both styles make me feel cared for and genuinely welcome, and make for equally great yet slightly different guest experiences.

The night before, with much assistance from host Mohammed, I had changed the back tube to a spare one to repair my first flat tire. Coming back to the story, after my quick chat with Aram from the shop down the street, I again found the back tire splashy. In this moment, I was very happy that I had just received that offer of general help. Three hours later, I left Bawanur with a mended tube, a full belly and a new brother in Aram.

For me in Iraq, any "yes" have to sooner or later be followed by a sharp and often repeated "no". After food there will be more food offered with hopes of continued appetite. After spending a night or two, it is often with genuine desire that the host family ask me to stay longer, despite going through great efforts to treat me like royalty. With Aram, I had to disappoint him that my limit was reached so soon, but I had already arranged with Shuan in Darbandikhan, and I would not cancel on a whim.

Just like many who have more than they need, I too invest in bonds. Only, the bonds and my investments in them look a bit different. When others give of their care and comforts, and I respond by giving of my time and my trust, connections are created. When those connection are infused with love by gifting of our souls, bonds are made. More than anything, I treasure those bonds. I nurture them and I try to do everything in my power to see them grow stronger. Leaving Aram felt painful as I knew he would be one of many who deserve much more than I am able to give them during this intense project. But I gave him my word that I would return to him, just like I have done with all the other friends, true friends, that I have made across Iraq. And for all my indecisiveness in adult life at large, one thing has remained clear: If I give my word, I aim to keep it, or die trying.


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