Working 9 to 5 (well, more like 24-7)

Oh dear me – I drafted this post long ago, and then got pretty busy at work and never posted it! Time to get back on the horse and get writing a few more – LOTS to say, so here’s this one from weeks ago…

 

So, on to a bit more about what I’m doing out here when I’m not posing in front of mountains or being called Wayne Rooney by the Peshmerga (no, I have not gotten over it and I don’t expect I’ll stop being offended for quite some time).

After arriving in Kurdistan, I moved south to visit some villages and IDP camps along the southern border areas between KRI and Iraq. The battle with ISIS is still very recent and in some places still happening not too far away, so rest assured we are following security procedures as best we can.

On a visit to a particular town we were shown around the site of a car bomb which exploded less than 2 months ago outside the Government buildings in the centre of town. This area is now heavily guarded and there are several checkpoints, blockades, and a general decor of concrete blast protectors and razor-wire. It creates quite the sense of war-time ambience.

I was actually shocked at the extent of the damage. I mean, a car bomb doesn’t sound great, but I’ve always assumed the radius of destruction would be relatively small. I was wrong. I guess it depends on just how much explosive you have in your car at the time too. Anyway this particular carbomb took out an entire building, parts of the neighbouring buildings, as well as an entire building across the street.

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A bit of local colour

So, now that I’ve caught you up on my hectic last few weeks, and given you the idiots’ guide to Iraqi politics, it’s time to do what I do best – tell you hilariously mundane anecdotes about my experiences of living and working overseas.

(And for those of you who don’t care for such things, stop reading now – this is my blog and I shall fill it with as much random crap as I like. So there.)

To start with then, how about a little weirdly uplifting tale? Kurdistan is the first and only country in the world where I have seen people consistently using their hazard warning lights correctly. Interesting fact or boring and mundane verbal diarrhea? That’s for you, dear readers, to decide…

All of the roads here are covered in fairly large potholes, secret hidden speed cameras, and speed bumps, which for some reason they have decided not to paint or make in any way visible, even when you’re essentially on a motorway doing 100kmh. So the fact that all these kind, thoughtful drivers who stumble across a stealth bump in the road use their hazard lights to warn other drivers of a potential hazard is really quite nice I thought!

Kurdistan of course is completely beautiful, gorgeous mountains everywhere, and incredible scenery. It looks as though a giant hand has reached down from the sky and gone “Scrunch scrunch scrunch scrunch scrunch!!” with it. The people here are lovely and incredibly friendly and nice. Most Kurdish people I’ve met have been refugees overseas at some point or other, which is a slightly weird concept for me. For example one of our drivers spent 10 years as a refugee living in the Netherlands, UK and Sweden before returning home, so he enjoys chatting about Manchester and other places in the UK he has been. Another of our staff is a Kurdish Syrian refugee who now lives in Kurdistan with his wife. It’s strange to think that both of these staff might have been on the other side of that line – they are working with us to help other refugees and IDPs when they themselves might have so easily ended up in those camps or cow sheds too, had their circumstances been a bit different. Continue reading

A challenging context…

Shall I fill you in on some of the security context here as well? Bear in mind that my general knowledge of global political and foreign affairs is extremely limited, so I’ll have to give you the dummies guide to the context here, as understood my me…. (Disclaimer – I can’t be held responsible if this turns out to be hopelessly simplistic or just plain wrong).

I’m now here in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). A lot of people just call it Kurdistan, but you have to be a bit careful with that, as “Kurdistan” is often used to refer to the entire Kurdish region, which encompasses parts of southern Turkey, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq and parts of Iran, so that could be confusing. For now I’ll just call it KRI. Technically I think it is still part of Iraq, but in reality it’s more of a semi-autonomous region (or something to that effect).

(And on a side note, I also have to be careful how I refer to ISIS. I was informed that it’s ok to say ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh, but I should avoid referring to them as the Islamic State, because that might add a legitimacy to them that could inadvertently put me on the wrong side!) Continue reading

All by myself…

Well now, so much has gone on since I got here it feels impossible to give you an overview, so I will have to split it all up into random chunks. Firstly, I’ll give you a quick recap of my first few weeks in Kurdistan.

I arrived here in a flurry of activity, and spent two weeks working crazy hours down in the south – we barely had time to stop and eat once a day, and after two weeks we were all a bit frazzled and exhausted, and feeling under pressure! I was supposed to organise the distribution of 1000 “winterisation” kits (blankets, mattresses, heater, kerosene, jerry cans, plastic sheeting etc), but when I got here nothing had really been done (no suppliers identified, no list of beneficiaries, no idea where we’d be distributing etc).

We were under some serious pressure to deliver, but in the end the supplier couldn’t deliver the goods until just before Christmas and the decision was made to postpone the whole distribution to January as we wouldn’t have enough staff left to manage it. Continue reading

Things I love about Kurdistan

Ever since my Reasons why I love the Philippines post went ever-so-slightly viral earlier this year, I thought I ought to try something similar in the next country I visit.

So here are the things I love about Kurdistan so far. You may notice a fairly heavy bias towards comedy food items…

I’ll be adding to this list as I go along.

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The Arc of Fire…

Phew! Time certainly does fly when you’re busy!

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur, but I’m now here in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. However, to backtrack slightly, (cos I like to keep things in chronological order….) here’s a little bit about my security training course before I left the UK.

I spent 4 days in a scout camp deep in the midlands on a Security training course, learning a lot about traumatic first aid in the field (how to cope with traumatic amputations and gunshot wounds in a place with no hospital or ambulance nearby). There were a lot of gory pictures and practice bandaging people with very lifelike wounds!

All very practical and useful.

It was freezing cold, so I had to nip to Asda to buy a new hat, gloves and an extra jumper for the outdoorsy bits,  Here’s me wrapped up in a tons of layers ready for the day!

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Home, Holidays and The Next Thing…

Hello again my lovelies!

Well after all the excitement of leaving parties and lovely presents, in which I got given an amazing model fishing boat which is now my pride and joy, AND an umbrella hat which is the most awesome thing ever, I have now left the Philippines, and am at home, back in the UK.

The flight was fine, and I even had enough space to spread out and lie down across the empty seats. The excess baggage was expensive but in the end I only had 29 kilos, which frankly after being in the Philippines for 1 year, was not too shabby at all really!

Since being back home in the UK, I’ve had a lovely time hanging out with my mum, sister, and niblings, getting lots of cuddles, trips to the spa, arranging to see friends and other such lovely things. Continue reading