My old friend Sean LaFreniere went on that spontaneous and rather ill-fated road trip from Istanbul to Iraqi Kurdistan with me last year. Inspired by the short video from the region on 60 Minutes last Sunday, he posted some of his own observations and photos.
My overwhelming impression was of a region and a people desperately wanting to be “normal”. I was also startled (after living in Europe) to hear people talk about defending their land and risking their lives to do it. These people are peaceful, but pack guns – like Texas.
Their greatest complaint was of boredom. They are tired of hanging out at the “state park” at the waterfall in the hills every night. They want a Starbucks, a few more shopping centers, and maybe a movie theatre.
They seem used to spotty power and poor plumbing. Turkey gives them a few hours each day and the rest comes from generators. It is a bit sad since the Kirkuk oil fields should provide them with ample power if not for the political problems.
They have plenty of mosques and some women wear conservative dress. But I also saw Christian churches. And I never saw anyone drop what they were doing for the call to prayer (I have not seen that in any Middle Eastern country). They seem no more religiously strict than Alabama, maybe less.
Construction was everywhere: new roads, new schools, and new hospitals. Almost every car was shinny and new. The new houses were all several stories with impressive porches, hot tubs, and flat screen TV’s.
Now that they have the freedom to spend some money on themselves they are going for bright and flashy. Maybe it is all a bit overdone, but I think I can understand. This is a bit like California, where too much is just enough to show your change of fortune.
Read the rest and see Sean’s photos here.