Sunday, August 24, 2008

Surreal Life in Northern Iraq

Sorry it’s taken me so long to update my blog from here. It has just been such a surreal and overwhelming experience I haven’t really known what to write.

We traveled 2.5 hours North West, towards the Turkey border, to the city of Dohuk, which is the 3rd largest city in Kurdistan. The first hour of driving we go towards Mosul, but leave a wide buffer zone between the roads we take and the actual city of Mosul since we don’t want any of that scariness. The topography here is beautiful in its own way. Coming out of Erbil we are in a desert valley. There are many shades of orange and brown, a few shades of dusty green, and every so often there is a bright flash of pink, blue, yellow, or purple as some of the village buildings are painted in bright pastel colors. The sky also has a tint of orange/brown due to all the sand and dust in the air. After an hour we start to get into the hills leading toward Dohuk and Turkey. These hills are pretty sparse, lots of rocks with a few scattered, and very hardy bushes since it seems it hasn’t rained here in ages.

Dohuk City is a wealthy city and hasn’t been affected much by the war. We did see a few US Military armored vehicles which we expect were coming from Mosul or Kirkuk. In Dohuk we met with the Director of Health for the Governate and visited one of our local subpartners the Psycho Social Education and Treatment Center (PSTEC). My knowledge of mental health and psychiatry is growing in leaps and bounds on this trip! My travel buddy, Amir, has many crazy stories of his experiences treating patients. Hopefully I don’t become one after this trip!

Back in Erbil I’ve had a chance to see the variety of ways that expats live here. IRD for example has a guarded street with all of our living compounds and offices, and we travel with a personal security detail named Paul who actually adds a lot of fun to our little motley crew. Then there is the RTI/USAID compound which is walled in and fortified neighborhood. We went there one evening to a bar called “The Edge”. What a bizarre place full of European security boys, unintelligent American intelligence boys, and the random women either from the NGOs or the International School. It’s like one over the top frat party. And then the highest extreme is the UN Compound which you have to have your name cleared 24 hours in advance, go through 3 different security checkpoints, leave all phones and cameras at the guard booth, and once you are on there is no getting out! We of course could leave, but those that work for the UN are completely trapped there and not allowed to venture out into the big scary world that is Erbil (it’s really not that scary UN!).

This morning we interviewed 3 candidates for Program Director for IMHI. Two of the three we were quite pleased with and I really hope we can get one of them on board. We are progressing well with our startup of this program. Thanks to Amir we have very good support and buy in from the Local Governments, now I just have to figure out how we’re going to implement all the great things we have planned! I have another week!

Pictures from the trip to Dohuk

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