I walked out of the hotel to find a whole detail of pesh merga waiting to take the American Voices staff to Kirkuk for a mini program. Trucks with heavily armed soldiers armed to the teeth. I tried to talk my way into sitting in the back with the guards outside, and even climbed up into the truck bed, but it got nixed by the commander. So now I am on my way to Kirkuk in a heavily armed convoy of pesh merga guards. It’s me and six heavily armed Kurdish soldiers. Three in the back with heavy ammunition pointed every direction and three in the cabin with me in full camo, machine guns, helmets and sunglasses. To make it more surreal, when I climbed in they were playing Michael Jackson on the radio.
We rolled out of Erbil with Kurdish music blaring. The landscape turned desolate and desert-like. I felt like I was back in West Texas. I chatted up the guards in a mix of Arabic and a lil Kurdish. The soldiers wanted to know what Kurdish I had learned. I told them the ten nice words I knew, then I told them that the shabab had taught me a few others. They almost drove off the road when I started dropping the curses that the kiddies taught me. To be honest though, this display of force makes me feel less safe than more. Normally, I am anonymous; now I am screaming target in my red shirt. And Michael Jackson is back on the radio. It doesn’t get more surreal than this.
Actually, it did when we started discussing wrestling. The fellows loved John Cena and Undertaker. As I have always said, the best American public diplomacy would be to send the WWE as cultural ambassadors.
I tried to take a picture of my pesh merga guard, but my camera is on the fritz. The soldier whose picture I was trying to take laughed and said “I am virus.”