Iraq on my Mind

It was fun to relive the warm gold of Kurdish summer in 2019, in the recent set of vignettes — They’re all linked at the bottom of this post. Scroll down for the collection.

But the question that begs to be asked is: it’s late 2021, why am I stuck in 2019?

A few reasons:

1. Mentally, some of me is still back in Iraq. Or wants to be. It’s an embattled country, but getting to experience the breathtaking parts of it — the flip side of the war narrative — as well as the utterly ordinary, meant I got to relate to some of Iraqi life. I still read news from / about Iraq with the same mixture of hope and trepidation I had when I worked there. I lived in Kurdistan, the autonomous northern region, for a year in 2019, and came home to Singapore eighteen months ago, in March 2020. Many a morning, I wake thinking about those mountains glowing in the sun.

Dr Abdulqadir examines a patient with his smartphone’s flash amid one of the numerous blackouts in this small village, one of the last in the country to be liberated from Islamic State occupation in 2017. Iraq, 2019

2. 2019 was the last time I was a working photographer. I’ve freelanced on and off for a number of years, but in 2019 I was employed, full time, as an image maker for a humanitarian organisation. It was a fulfilling role. I also wrote and shot video for the org., but it was with stills (and everything around them) that I made my best contribution. I’ve been working remotely at a desk for the past eighteen months, so the idea of moving around with a camera in hand for a job has taken on mythic proportions. This isn’t as much a “grass greener on other side” thing, as it is a “did I actually do that?” one. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Qolo, a Yazidi farmer, tends to his cucumber crop in Sinjar. In 2014, Islamic State came to Sinjar and villages around the plains of Nineveh and massacred thousands of Yazidi. Women and young girls were kidnapped and enslaved. Thousands remain missing. Iraq 2019.

3. A bunch of other things have happened between now and then. Add the Covid pandemic and everything related to it on top, and the loss takes on a surprising depth. But I was/am lucky to be in a position where there’s also opportunity. At the end of my long contract with the organisation this July, I found myself with a couple of months’ free to sleep a lot, and think about stuff.

I’ve needed time to fallow. I’m grateful to have gotten it.

At home in Iraq: my roommate Nadine enjoys morning warmth on the balcony of our flat, while Patate — the world’s best dog 😍 — wants to know about my breakfast. Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq 2019

Some of these moments are so vivid it’s hard to believe they happened two or more years ago. Iraq was also my last experience in the outside world before Covid-10 locked all of us down. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my friends, so this is one of the ways I say “I’m still thinking of all of you. I hope we see each other soon.”

Vignettes of Kurdistan

On Tea

In a small glass of tea, life.

Rising Sun

On filming at sunrise

Heavenly Sunset

☀️ Somewhere outside Sulaymaniyah city. Kurdistan, Iraq, 2019. This spot was one of those heaven-on-earth…

Chai Seller

☀️ Sulaymaniyah city. Kurdistan, Iraq, 2019. At the top of the mountain, after Ihsan and I were…

Kurdish Twilight

☀️ Sulaymaniyah city. Kurdistan, Iraq, 2019. One of many landing outtakes, as paragliders (you can…

Kurdish Sunset

☀️ Sulaymaniyah city. Kurdistan, Iraq, 2019. This picture was taken around the same time, and…

Kurdish Light

Little compares to being at the top of a world washed in gold.

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