Back to Erbil

So the excitement that accompanied a winter break spent in Istanbul, Belgrade, Thessaloniki

and Bulgaria is now in the past and it’s back to “normal” in Erbil. Normal, of course, is relative.

Our relative is a stress level that always ebbs at a noticeable, albeit not unhealthy level, coupled

with frequent school-related upheavals. One way or another there was sure to be a few budding

crises as we began the 2015 segment of the school year, and so it was little surprise when they

almost immediately materialized.

It’s been a very real sense of the phrase ‘expect the unexpected’.

One of our brand new teachers, a fellow expat brought in to help primarily with upper grade

English courses like myself, left without notice over the holiday break. Without the slightest

warning at all. It’s one of the employers’ inherent risks in this situation; bringing in us expat

teachers requires round trip flights and a pair of holidays flights as a perk to sweeten the deal.

What helps attract people to the job in the first place is often a leaping point for making a clean

breakaway. It wasn’t until the first morning bus ride back from vacation that anyone of us knew.

She simply just failed to be at her pick up spot, and none of us thought twice about why that


That, in many ways, is indicative of life here for the handful of others like me, as there is little

sense of permanence for outsiders coming in. In my brief time here already, I’ve come to realize

that most don’t stay long. Those that do extend their stay tend to be outliers. Business

possibilities and the sky- high potential of oil and entrepreneurial gains bring in a constant flow

of foreigners, but most apparently don’t stay too long, and those that do escape for vacations as

frequently as they can.

In many ways it is a harsh culture to adjust to, one that often presents a lovely veneer of

westernism, but a veneer that disintegrates quickly upon closer examination. Poor prioritization

and fundamental design flaws seem to creep through too many things. For instance I sit here

now on the couch of my tiled-floor second story apartment. However electricity is often patchy,

and I’ve been advised many, many times not to drink the tap water (I really shouldn’t but I still


Glassy high rises dot the city, iconoclasts compared to the rusty tin and cinder block shacks that

they often tower over. The roads are filled with expensive foreign models that collect dents and

dings on their bumpers and undercarriages while driving over main thoroughfares that are little

more than dust bowls with massive potholes. There’s much work to be done, and most of it is

not as glorious as the strides Erbil has yet made.  Progress comes across as disorganized and

disconnected. So unfortunately, it’s been no real surprise when these same characteristics

seem to be all too prevalent at work.

The unexpected making itself the expected has been the true normal these past ten days back

on the job. We’ve been scrambling to clean up the messes left by teachers that have

unexpectedly left, teachers who’ve failed to cover their own lessons properly, and what

sometimes seems like directionless management. This job has never pretended to be

straightforward or easy by any measure, and it doesn’t look to be so at any point in the near

future. Sometimes it frustrates me to no end.

And through all of that, I love it. It has been a wonderful experience so far. Rewarding beyond

measure even with every little distraction and diversion that appears. Each one of them

indicative of a new quirk that somehow shows a little more odd charm in this job and truly once-

in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I don’t hesitate to remind myself that despite often mounting

frustrations I am part of a very select crowd. One lucky enough to witness a culture that feels

like an international refugee slowly close the gap of its own autonomy with that of our slowly

growing world view.

Vacation was long, and a great change for fourteen days. It was just long enough a time away

to distract myself completely from any lingering problems in Erbil. Long enough for me to come

back with a fresh and clean mind, ready for 2015. And of course all of those new frustrations.

Vacation felt good. And as hectic as it's been, it feels even better to get back to work.
Vacation felt good. And as hectic as it’s been, it feels even better to get back to work.

5 thoughts on “Back to Erbil

  1. Hey there Dawson,
    I really enjoyed this recent blog; very straightforward, educational, enlightening about life in Erbil, specifically about what it’s like to be a teacher in that city. The philosophical viewpoint that you have will certainly be expressed in all that you do, teaching and otherwise.
    I’ve asked Carl & Merrie to make sure that I can meet you sometime in the future & would love to listen to you tell about some of your life there in Erbil.
    Sincerely, Dolores


  2. This is fascinating, im thinking of traveling to erbil in the summer. Are there still busses from Turkey? Best case scenario for me would have been the direct flight from Tbilisi for $50 but it has been discontinued…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s