Well, the drive to Mosul from Baghdad was uneventful thank God. I'm here now and what a difference! There are foothills to the North of the city made up of craggy rocks and sporadic brush and trees. It's looks as if a giant took his hand and clawed from the bottom to the top of every hill. Water flows in places and the whole place is green with low grass and shrubs. The city of Mosul is larger than I imagined. It is bustling with life and at night, they actually have lights throughout most of the city. Directly to the North of Mosul is Kurdistan. I think people are still arguing whether 'Kurdistan' really exists but believe me, they have the border between Kurdish controlled Iraq and regular old Iraq locked down fairly well. The Kurdish soldiers are called the Pesh Merga. I have not had time to look up why they are called such but they are a joy to be around after spending 45 days in the Western desert with the Crazies. Once you cross the border, you go through the foothills for a few miles and into an enormous valley East to West. The soil is fertile and there are farmers selling their wares from the backs of pickups. Potatoes and onions and stuff. To the North of the large valley, you enter the mountains. I have heard since being in country, of the towns in Kurdistan. They are the only places in this country that I have heard of people taking off their flak jackets and walking openly in the streets and shops.
Today, I had the pleasure of doing just this. The drive was beautiful through the mountains. I can fully understand how the Kurds kept the Iraqi army at bay after driving through them. The mountains provide on of the finest defensive positions in the whole country. You must travel through deep valleys to get through them and any invading ground force would be churnned up immediatly when trying to do so. Once in the city, just like in the stories, everyone started dropping their vests and weapons. I was in shock for a while walking on the street and shops without a vest but I was assured when I saw other Americans there doing the same. Like idiots, we'd smile wide and just walk up to each other and introduce ourselves and talk about the place where we were and how wonderful it was. The most surprising thing about the shops was that they held pretty steady with American prices. I thought I'd find cheap shopping heaven but I wasn't dissappointed because they had just about one of everything!
The next and most strange thing that we did was walk into a restaurant. I haven't forgotten what a restaurant is like, but it sure was strange to walk into a restaurant in Iraqi albeit controlled by the Kurdish forces. When we walked in, it was smiles from one end of the restaurant to the other. Everyone said hello and we were seated. The restaurant was a deli style looking place with plastic tables and windows that looked out onto the busy street. I asked for a menu but when I couldn't make heads or tails of even the English part, the waiter took notice and turned the menu over to the pictures. Everything looked great so we all picked our favorite picture and ordered. While the meal was being prepared a host of things were brought to the table apparently as appetizers or to be eaten with the meal. A large dish of sliced cucumbers in a light yogurt sprinkled with fresh dill. My mouth almost fell apart when I ate that because it was so good. Next was a large dish of green olives that had been marinated in what tasted like a white wine. Oh......the joy. A soup was served as was bread and a large plate of Chick peas and also a meatish, vegatable mixture that tasted like the veggies were just picked. At last a centerpeice of varying cut fruits and vegatables and pickles and cheeses was put before us. There were forks and spoons flying all over that table!!! We hadn't even recieved our meals yet!!!! Had I actually been shot at that point, I would have died with a smile on my face!!!
Next came the main course. I can't remember the name of my dish but it was a combination of rice mixed with vegatables and raisins and chicken baked into a bread somehow. the whole thing was about as big as a head of lettuce. My comrades got chicken kabob and my dish as well. When we were just about finished with our meals the waiter brought out a plastic pitcher and placed it on the table. I don't know how he even got the pitcher on the table for all the plates of food that were present!!!!! My friend inquired as to what was in the pitcher. We were told that it was a light yogurt and cream milk mixture for after dinner. It was spooky to look at when my friend drank it but when he gave me the 'You gotta try this' look, off I went. It was delicious as well but I wanted to limit it because I just didn't recognise what it was! After that we shopped for about an hour and drove back.
My last blog was a plea for some sanity and peace. I have found it in the most unlikely of places. They are fighting on a daily basis in Mosul. Helicopters buzz over the city on a constant basis and the fighting will be a while but I know that just to the North, my Shangri La awaits my return.