It’s 4:20AM and I’m sitting here at gate A14 in the Sacramento International Airport. As usual, I have a lot of updates to share. First things first, I should clarify that my last post was on old story that I wanted to share. “As Long As I Have Jasna” occured two years ago, in October of 2012 when I was traveling through the Balkans.
Second, I accepted a nomination from the Peace Corps to serve In Madagascar, starting June of 2015. I didn’t expect my process getting back in to the Peace Corps system to be so quick, but am I overjoyed that it was, as they held their word in streamlining our (me and my fellow West African evacuated trainees) applications. We were all told in our closing online conferences that our nomination to new countries would be within two to three months of our applications being submitted, it ended up being less than a week. Thank you Peace Corps, my friends and I sincerely appreciate it after everything that has happened.
So, with my acceptance of a new Peace Corps assignment, it put me in essentially the same exact position as last year. In October of 2013 I was working towards my original Peace Corps assignment in Sierra Leone. I had submitted my application in August, and was two months into what would ultimately be a ten month process before I left for Sierra Leone in June. Last year I decided to design my life around my application once I had made the decision that it was what I wanted to do, beginning work as a substitute teacher at San Juan Unified School District, and waiting tables on the side to help bolster my income. And after my false start in Sierra Leone I find myself in the same situation as one year ago, with a Peace Corps departure in the somewhat distant future, and the better part of a year that needs occupying with work. Stepping back into the subbing-waiting-saving while living at home combination was not out of the question of options for the next 7-8 months, but out of my zone of interest. Although my situation is so much like that of a year before, it differs in that my personal finances are not shaky as they were a year ago; virtually non- existent after my travels in Europe and down the east coast of America. I can now afford the option to work abroad in this period of time because I have the personal financial security to do so, and equally important, because my life has already been structurally reduced to the point where I can pick up and go with very little notice. Basically, I have streamlined my responsibilities and possessions.
As such, I have spent the majority of my free time the last few weeks pursuing opportunities to teach abroad. It just so happens that the opportunity that has stuck, and that I have accepted, is to work in the city of Erbil, Kurdistan, autonomous state of Iraq, as a 6th & 7th grade English and Humanities teacher until my departure for Madagascar. There’s a lot tucked away in that statement. For one, Kurdistan is not an internationally recognized country. In fact, it’s not even an official state. Kurdistan is the autonomous region of northern Iraq completely self governing and protecting, straddling the definition of autonomy itself with full independence. Erbil happens to be the largest city of Kurdistan, as well as its capitol, a city with a metropolitan population a little less than Sacramento, but with a similar regional importance, being the base of the Kurdish government and president, as well as the Peshmerga, the military of Kurdistan. Yes, I will be in Iraq as denoted by international boundaries. That’s a scarier thing to read than it is to actually type, knowing what the difference is between the city of Erbil and the Iraq that most of us know as portrayed through the media and the events of the last 1 to 10 to 25 years. This is not Baghdad, but a very westernized city, highly dependent on its massive oil fields, some of the largest in the world, and the outside influence and wealth that these oil reserves have brought. Because of this, there is a very large and pronounced western community and a far more liberal attitude and lifestyle in Erbil than most of the surrounding area. That is true as well for Kurdistan, which is one of the most progressive nations in its greater region.
As I said before, Kurdistan has no international boundaries, it is a nation without a state, a distinct culture of people lying with the borders of what we know as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. They happen to be the largest ethnic group without its own state in the entire world, a population of about 30 million. It is an incredibly interesting dynamic, and one that is not reflected anywhere else in the world to this size; so many people with so much in common except for a border to call their own. It is one that I am very excited to discover.
As always, I will be safe, and very cautious of all of my actions as well as my surroundings. I understand fully what is happening in the area around Erbil, as well as on the fringes of Kurdistan itself, the conflicts with ISIS ongoing. I will exercise all necessary caution, and stay as updated as I can to let you all know that I am being safe, smart, and doing as much as I reasonably can to experience this wonderful place.