The Grass Is Greener Over Here

Charlene journal

Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan

I arrived in northern Iraq in the wettest cold season the region has seen in… maybe forever. It rained and rained and rained for weeks on end, with grey skies and clouds that hung heavy on the twin mountain ranges flanking the city.

I’ve enjoyed the rain and cold… but the continuing deluge has been deadly for thousands all over the Middle East, as infrastructure collapses and lives & livelihoods are washed away — usually that of already vulnerable folks. I wrote a piece for Preemptive Love’s blog. Read it here.

Ye gods, the magnificence of these mountains. Somewhere between Dohuk and Erbil. Kurdistan, Iraq, March 2019
The front passenger view from the same stretch of road, somewhere between Dohuk and Erbil. Kurdistan, Iraq, October 2018.

When I got here I was all agog at the green and rain and cold. It was a complete counterpoint to the dry brown heat I landed in, back in September. And also because it’s the sort of colour you associate with Ireland, not Iraq. But Iraq is a bigger place than us outsiders are led to believe, with more expansive horizons that we are shown. And seasons here change the land as much as they do anywhere else.

Driving around Kurdistan this spring, was being treated to an unbelievable amount of lushness. Iraq, March 2019
The view from the same-ish spot, back in October 2018.

So if those green photos on the Preemptive Love post have left you wanting more, then, here’s a compare-and-contrast special for you. All of the pictures in this post were taken from a car, while Erin and I were on our way to various other cities in Kurdistan for work. Since I wasn’t driving back in Sept 2018, or March this year, I had plenty of times to make a hundred photos of the landscape along the way.

Shepherds rest in the lee of the mountain as their flocks graze. Kurdistan, Iraq, March 2019
Somewhere on the road in Kurdistan, Iraq. March 2019

I was posting a whole bunch of green pictures on Instagram, a while back. Agog that what I thought of as desert country could burst into such vibrant life — although I’ve seen enough documentaries as a kid to know that deserts bloom spectacularly with enough rain.

But it’s always one thing to see it on a screen, and another to see it unfiltered, to absorb spring into the mind and body.

View from the toilet stop. March 2019
October 2018
March 2019
I think this is actually taken from the same spot in the road (with a shorter focal length), back in October 2018

Remember that dust storm from October?

One of the most epic sights I’ve ever seen: a dust storm devouring the desert as we sped along the highway from Dohuk to Sulaymaniyah. Erin, journeys are always legendary when you’re at the wheel! For scale: those little pixels on the horizon are trucks. Iraq, Oct 2018

Well this spring, we got to do a water crossing:

I’ve enjoyed this rainy weather, though cogent of the fact that it’s been hard on so many people. The first day of school at the tech hub that my organization runs for refugees and internally displaced — to help them acquire skills relevant in the digital economy — had to be pushed back because rain was wreaking havoc in the camps that they live in.

Signs of spring. On the first warmish day in a month, there were blankets and sheets in bright colors hanging all along the width of the barbed blue barrier – the border of the camp for thousands of internally displaced Iraqis. April 2018

We work in these camps regularly, starting businesses with Syrian and Iraqi folks who’ve fled war, and are trying to rebuild. When the rains got bad, I stayed dry in the office, and went home to a heated room. I have power around the clock in the plush expat compound where I live. So there is no question about lights, heating, cooling, water supply or charge for all my devices — because when grid power cuts (and it does frequently), I know the the generators are going to kick in. That’s not a granted that a lot of people can take.

It’s easier to see only the beauty of things when you’re comfortable, you know?

A prison from Saddam Hussein’s era shadows the magnificence of the mountains in northern Iraq. March 2019
Fog over crop fields. Kurdistan, Iraq, March 20