Iraq smiling people

Iraq between the two Gulf Wars was a suffering and rundown country but where no one spared a smile, ever. Ok, almost never, I mean, we did bump into a couple, more than a couple, of … let’s say glitches, but that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it?! Anyway, as the first group of tourists, no press allowed, to visit after the war, we were received with curiosity and kindness everywhere we went. Crowded bazaars, overcrowded restaurants, more than overcrowded public transportation, empty luxury hotels, emptier dark and rats- infested dumps, even emptier and fascinating archeological sites, the lonely road toward Mosul where our bus stopped and remained. This last one has to be told. So, we’re heading North on a cold, rainy, dark night. After a few hours, in the middle of nowhere, the tourists vote for a pee stop. The bus driver pulls over from the pavement onto the muddy, very muddy, shoulder … and there the bus gets stuck: wheels skidding. No radio onboard and no cell phones in analog times. It’s dark, pitch dark, and somebody says “I’ve heard dogs howling”, the guide corrects: “those are wolves”. More or less every ten minutes a car passes by, and doesn’t stop. One hour later a truck stops and tries to pull the bus out of the mud. But the chain breaks. The truck driver offers me a cigarette, an Iraqi cigarette with no filter, it’s a petard in my lungs. A bus stops, headed to Mosul. For a tip the driver offers to carry the tourists to the hotel door. We all get onboard, all but two because there’s literally, and I mean it, absolutely no more physical space. So when the bus leaves I find myself and the Italian guide in the middle of nowhere under the rain in a pitch dark night, but we’re not alone: my cigarette friend is still here. We hop on his truck, begin to smoke petards and talk. He talks in his double broken English and I reply in my triple broken Arabic. He’s Kurdish and every time I mention Saddam he spits on the floor of his filthy and stinky truck cabin. A little more than three hours later we are at the hotel, bye my friend. All the tourists are in the lobby discussing on how the baggages have been “visited” while at a pee stop, another one, guys you definitely have a problem, and all and only the women’s black lingerie disappeared. All is well what ends well.

Canon T90. Ektachrome 100 and 400. Gear reduced so as not to show off as a photog. But plenty of AA batteries for the Canon, just in case.

All photos ©Michele Molinari

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