Monday, July 23, 2012

A very belated post about a very scary taxi ride.

This episode from my life in Iraqi Kurdistan happened several months back in April. I felt quite traumatized but also embarrased so first I only wrote Lukasz about it. Then I decided that I really should tell my family. Recently I have read a couple of friend's blog posts about crazy  adventures they have had, so today I post this.

  Lukasz (who has more knowledge about life in Silmani and much more Kurdish) left for  a three week holiday in the USA  leaving Pat and I alone for one day. This is what happened on
Tuesday early morning. I was going alone to pick up our team mate Garland from the airport because our regular, trustworthy  taxi driver  was coming and all would go smoothly.. I was pretty sure that Mohammed had phoned S.  (because S. speaks little English) on Monday to schedule the pickup
 and all was set. UNTIL 1:45 am when he was 15 minutes late (which is very unusual,). So I knew he was not coming. I was freaking out because when I tried to phone M  he did not answer either of his phones, so I assumed he had turned them off. Although I was pretty sure he had phoned S., I was not 100 % sure so could not imagine trying to phone S with my limited Kurdish to try to explain
why I was calling  at 1:30 am (if M had not really called).  I was thinking.."why today, when L is not here, why, why. what in the hell am I going to do. No contact with Garland, Don't know if he has dinars etc etc.

Then as I stood on the street praying for S. to show up and listening intently for any sign of a car, another taxi drove up. I was so relieved when he said he would take me to the airport. I ran back
to the house, closed the door and got into the back seat. Just after he stopped at the closed shop around the corner and took out a rifle and hid it under the covering over the fruit and vegetables that I began to realize how stupid this situation was. ( He did this  because they often search cars at the checkpoint on entering the airport area). I realized that I should have woken Pat for advice or at least support,  but instead  I was there in the taxi with barely enough Kurdish to say airport, let along discuss returning to the house so I could get Pat. So I decided I should at least phone him, but then realised that I thought that his cell phone  was named CPT white and that was not in my phone. (I found out the next morning that he is not white and I did... but anyway).

We were driving along in this broken down taxi that kept acting like there was something very wrong with it. We were getting close to the u-turn on the highway to turn around for the airport and we were
talking about husband and kids  and the usual chit chat with the Kurdish vocabulary that I know. Suddenly  he starts saying something like "min u to.. Hawree ( you and me...friend),,  Min u to,, bash..(good) " and patting the front seat. I really started freaking out.. My body was shaking with anxiety. So I played the "te negiestim (I don't understand)"card and played dumb. " nazenum  (I don't know) "etc. and praying hard, hoping that someone out there was listening. He still was headed toward the airport though and I saw the sign and we turned..[ Thank you].. And we got to the waiting place. (The waiting room to pick up arrivals is a short bus ride away from the airport. This is to discourage anyone getting close to the airport if they have bad intentions)  Of course, then I tried to exlain to him that I was meeting a friend coming from Istanbul and I needed him to wait.(There are few taxis to hail at the best of times at the airport, let alone at 2:30 am) Thank God again, one security man spoke English and I asked him to explain and ask. The driver  said he would wait.

This is not the taxi I was in but it looks just like it. These are the older ones, the newer ones are all white.

Of course, when I asked the Englishspeaker if the plane was on time and he said yes, he obviously did not understand what I was asking, because the 1:45 flight arrived around 3 am and Garland was not there until around 4:15. But the guy waited, along with a whole room of Kurdish (and Arabic ) people.

 I did get a lot of observing done during that time as I tried to settle my traumatized soul that was still berating my stupidity.. What a culture of waiting without complaint , I love it. They were all waiting for the buses from the airport. No one announced that the plane was late and there were no signs to report on the expected time. So a murmer would go through the room-"the bus, the bus" and in one movement the mass of people moved to the door. Then you would hear another murmer, "it's only a car" and they would move en mass back to their seats. This happened over and over again without huge groans or complaints. Kids fell asleep in parents laps and we all waited.

Anyway,the buses did finally begin to arrive and when Garland got there the guy drove us home with no more talk of being friends. He asked for 25,000 ID. for his trouble. (an fine price for driving to and from the airport at that time of night let alone waiting for 2 1/2 hours).

This was something we had never discussed as a team; what if S. does not show up?  And the
things that I knew from observing earlier taxi rides (one time when a former team mate went in a  taxi alone someone took the license plate number if case something happened) did not register until it was too late to go back (due to my inadequateKurdish).  I was so, so focused on S. not coming and not having a clue how to get Garland when it was the middle of the night and pouring
rain and knowing that the airport would close after the passengers left, that I forgot to take care for myself.

Thank God, the Creator, Allah or whomever (the somewhat human
decency of the eccentric taxi driver who may have just been joking or just
testing the water or something).

We learned the next day that S. had forgotten. He never forgets, but he did that night.

Lessons learned and will be remembered.

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