Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Ministry; On the Road; Rooster Soup

I am going a little out of order because today was just too much to wait.  I will write about the end of the mini-YES Academy in Kirkuk later.

The day began in the usual fashion: I was off to fetch a suitcase of money from a shady government ministry. Ari (Roc)Kawa.- the K-stan project manager- and I were told that the money that the academy had been waiting for was finally approved, and we were assured that the government ministry would have it for us today.  Be there at 8:30am.  

So I got spiffied up, and we were there on the dot.  We were practically the only ones there.  We waited and waited in the lobby.  We waited an hour and a half before we got the Minister's assistant on the phone.  Come back at noon, and your money will be there.  Sure...and can I purchase a bridge in K-stan too?

But come back, we did.  And wait we did.  And as you can imagine, the money was not there.  But we spoke with the bursar, who explained the reasons why the money was not ready.  He had a check for us, but it needed signatures of the Minister and Director-General, and they were both in meetings.  And the banks close at one pm, so there was no way we were getting the money today.  And since it was thursday, so come back after the Fri/Sat  weekend, and the money would surely be ready then.  We begged, pleaded and cajoled but getting the money was not in the cards today.  So we did the next best thing, we got so obsequious that we convinced the bursar to wait for the minister and DG to come back from the meeting so that he could get their signatures now, and could have the check cashed early sunday morning.  Sure enough, we got him to make the rounds, and we followed in tow, and the check got signed.  So Sunday may indeed be payday.

The trick I have always found to work best in the Middle East is a dose of soft power.  Being direct never works here.  You have to be oblique.  You have show deference and obsequiousness.  The only way to get someone to help is to play to their honor. I know you have worked hard shepherding this check through the ministry, but you are the only one who can help us.  Our future is in your hands.  Please just a little more help.  Soft power is using your influence to get people to accede to your will, and it is the only power that really works here.  There is no power but soft power, and Paul Rockower is its prophet.

And then we were off.  With no money, and no reason to stay in Erbil until Sunday, Ari and I headed off on a roadtrip to Sulimaniyah.  It was so nice to get out of the sweltering Erbil (yesterday it was literally 120 degrees, I kid you not).  The road out of town led past pickups selling giant watermelons and cucumbers.  The city disappeared, and the sun cast shadows on the beautiful mountains spotted with shrubs.  The desiccated hills drove down into wide valleys below. The landscape reminded me a bit of Israel's terrain. 

We stopped to get a drink but our roadtrip ran aground: the car wouldn't start again. We pushed it to the closest mechanic. He was working on another car at the time, and we had to wait.  By the way, the "car carriage" so he could get under the car was a ramp of two rocks.  We sat around for about an hour.  The area we were in was real country.  I thought I was stuck in Kurdish dueling banjo country (dueling ouds?).

Once the doctor was able to look at the patient, it took the mechanic all of ten minutes to diagnose and fixt it.  The pump connecting the gas to the engine was weak.  He managed to fix it (mashallah!), but with one caveat: no air conditioning. No biggie, it was only 111 degrees.  The mechanic wanted only 10,000 dinar ($8) for his work.  Ari gave it to him, and I doubled it for a tip.  We wished the mechanic a ramadan kareem and we were on the road again.

We were back rolling through dusty terrain.  It was hot.  The air rushing in was dry and scorched.  We stopped to get bottles of water, and every so often would douse ourselves to cool down.  And we drove.  Past old stone and mud brick houses that looked to be from another epoch.  Past fields of burnt yellow sun grass.  We took the winding road up the mountain pass as the sun began to drop below.  We got a big scare as the car started to fail close to the top, but we made it through the pass and the road opened up to most stunning vista of a lake below with mountain ringing it.  We drove down through small river towns, and the air grew cooler outside (relative term: 99 degrees felt amazing).

And then we broke down again some 40k from Suli. A reminder why every trip is "inshallah."  Since there is no AAA (AlifAlifAlif), we called our friend Bashdar Major to save us.  We sat on the side of the road as daylight faded and the stars came out.  I had Hotel California in my head.

On a dark desert highway// Cool wind in my hair// Warm smell of colitas// Rising up through the air// Up ahead in the distance// I saw a shimmer light// My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim// I had to stop for the night.//

After about an hour, Bashdar Major and his cousin arrived to save us. We waited an hour for him. His cousin took one min and one turn of the key to somehow fix it.  We drove slowly into Suli.  The city's night lights proved a welcome sight.  A trip that normally takes 2.5 hours took 6 hours.  

We arrived into Suli, and drove through the city.  We passed murals to great Kurdish leaders and poets.  Suli is the cosmo capital of Kurdistan, and I fell in love instantly.  We snaked through the city, and ended up in a back alley.  In the alley, there was two large white plastic tables with scores of men sitting and eating.  We had arrived to the famous back alley joint called Osman's for some rooster soup.  

It was epic. In big pots, there were chicken and roosters boiling, as well as separate pots for the soup.  I had a bowl of rooster soup, and it was possibly the best chicken/rooster soup I have ever had.  It was soup that would have made a Jewish grandmother envious.  It had a salty/savory taste that was incredibly flavorful but not overpowering.  The meat in the soup was fall-off-the-bone tender.  The soup came with a bowl of rice and a bowl of fusilya- beans in a creamy tomato sauce, and a huge round Iraqi pita.  Out of ladles, we sipped ayran (salty yogurt-milk) over ice out of big silver bowls.  It was all perfect.  The hustle and bustle outside combined with the warm soup was the perfect end to a long day.  

After the soup, we sipped sweet hibiscus tea out of small curved glasses.  The Kurds have an interesting way of drinking their tea that I have since picked up.  They spill it out into the saucer to cool it and sip from the saucer.  It works works quite well.  I was reminded of how the Moroccans pour hot liquids between two glasses to release the heat.

So begins the first weekend I have had in a month.  Doesn't look like I will ever get the full vacation I was promised, but a weekend is a good start.


DrBones said...

Book Titles:
A Rock in Iraq
My Great Great Grandfather was a Wandering Aramean, and I have Returned

Anonymous said...

My Irish great uncle used to pour his tea into the saucer to drink it...That was circa 1935 in the USA152

Anonymous said...

Is there a difference between chicken soup and rooster soup?