As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now in Erbil and we are running a mini YES Academy in Kirkuk. Once Kirkuk had a Kurdish majority, but after the 1991 Kurdish uprising, Saddam depopulated large portions of Kurds from the city and moved Arabs in. These days, the city is divided between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. The Turkmen are remnants of the Turkish population when this area was once under Ottoman rule. Kirkuk is blessed and cursed with an abundance of oil, which all sides are fighting to control.
The road to Kirkuk was dry and dusty, and looked like Texas oil country. As we drive in, there is a roaring oil fire shooting flames up into the sky. And it is significantly hotter here. It feels like living in a hairdryer. It is easily 115 degrees. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it is for the soldiers in the truck beds in full fatigues and 50 pounds of body armor.
We are doing a program at the building of the Kurdistan Save the Children’s Fund. We are doing a children’s theater program that seems to have trouble with tribbles. Each day, the number of kids in the program multiplies. The kiddies are making rooster masks, and learning folk tales. Also, they are singing. I have an adorable video of the Iraqi kids doing a campy version of “Singing in the Rain.” And of course, the hokey pokey.
We are also doing a piano program, a strings program and a jazz/woodwinds program. Many of the kids from Kirkuk who were involved in the YES Academy in Duhok are back doing some continued study.
No one seems to like Kirkuk, especially not the pesh merga guarding us. We have metal gear soldiers posted throughout the building. Everyday we change our transport route. Yesterday, we came roaring up the wrong way of the street to arrive.
The program yesterday was a bit chaotic. The piano and jazz/woodwinds program share a room, and yesterday the kids kept running in and out and slamming the door. Our semi-sullen woodwinds teacher Mariano blew a gasket and was ready to walk out from class. I caught him as I was about to do an interview with Gali Kurdistan, a Kurdish tv station. I gave my interview, and returned to find him sitting in the office in a huff. I asked him to give me two minutes to set up some gatekeepers, and I took a soldier to the door of his class. I brought him back, and he laughed when he saw the sentinel in full fatigues standing outside his door. He said if anyone else comes in, the soldier should shoot them. The laugh calmed him down and got him back into teaching mode.
On the road back from the program, there was a big fiery accident. A petrol truck was ablaze on the other side of the road. Black smoke was billowing, and we could see the flames roaring up. Worried that the thing would end up as a big petrol bomb, the soldiers took the convoy off-roading, and we went off into the desert road through the ditches and around the burning petrol truck.
We returned back to Erbil and napped, and I went with some of the faculty into town and through the bazaar. We wandered through the market mazes, passing stands selling Syrian soaps, endless shops of cheap Chinese goods and colorful spices piled high. The best part was the people watching. The colorful scarves adorned the beautiful Kurds and Arabs. Sparkling sequin abayas and florid hijabs filled the market mazes. I admired the beauty of the people. Some looked more Central Asian, other Kurdish and others Arab. I saw a beautiful mix of green, blue and mahogany eyes peeking out from below light scarves or black abayas. We wandered our way through the markets, and ended over in the main square with its plethora of water fountains to cool the night air. The group sat next to an adorable old Arab couple from Mosul. I chatted with the Sheikh and his wife, who had been married for 46 years. He was in Erbil for knee surgery because the doctors are better in Erbil than Kirkuk.
We ended the night at a lovely outdoor restaurant called “Today,” which had pools and a sea of tables out on the cool grass. The night air was sultry, but still pleasant. Bradley the piano professor had a friend named Omar come join us. Omar is from Mosul, but now works in Erbil because of the bad security situation in Mosul. He is a doctor in pre-natal care, and told us some interesting tidbits. He is allowed to examine and treat pregnant patients, and perform c-sections but in Erbil he is not allowed to be involved in the birthing process if the baby is coming out the regular way. It is not like this in all cities, but here in Erbil that is the situation. He can be in the room if there is a female doctor present, but not assist in the process—even if it was his patient he had examined throughout the whole stages of pregnancy.
Today, there was a problem with one of the trucks. It broke down on the route to pick us up, so we had to all pile into a range rover and drive in one car for most of the way. We picked up the convoy en route, then we stopped again and changed our convoy from the armored trucks to cars filled with soldiers. I chatted with the soldier driver named Sari. He wanted to visit California and find a California girl. He said he loved Michael Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez. He wanted me to sing for the cab, so I belted out some Michael Jackson for him.
Billy Jean is not my lover, she’s just a girl. She’s says I am the one, but the kid is not my son.
As we roared through traffic, I also treated him to some Beach Boys (“I wish they all could be California girls”), Elvis (“Since my baby left me”) and Johnny Cash (“I hear the train a-comin’). Not sure if he still wants to protect me after my warbling, I would probably ransom me to al Qaeda for such horrendous singing, but the car full of soldiers sure got a kick out of it.