The chairs are all lined up perfectly and the tables are all nicely set. The wooden patio looks immaculate. Ten feet from the tables stand tall planter boxes with well-kept shrubs and bushes lining the edge of the walkway. The tall planter boxes seem unnecessary at first until looking at the other side of the narrow road, in which case the plants are obviously used to block the line of sight. What was once a wide street has been tapered by fifteen foot concrete walls and barriers that clearly deny any kind of traffic aside from pedestrians and make a once relaxed part of the town an ominous place. This used to be the busiest, most popular stretch of Ankawa, and now resembles little more than a ghost town nearly half a year after a car bomb killed six civilians and injured nearly three dozen more.
The nightlife and social activity that Ankawa is known for has found new channels, and many other bars and cafes have absorbed the loss of business that has hit the buildings and businesses that sit directly on the stretch of real estate that was attacked.
For me walking that short stretch of road, only two hundreds yards or so, was a nice piece of closure. I was sad to see how much had disappeared, how few businesses now populated what was once a booming corner, but I needed to see it all for myself and take it all in to process that event a little further and make peace with it.
I was in Erbil for the weekend to visit as many friends from the previous year as I could, as well as pick up a new bike.
And The highlight of the weekend was seeing how well everyone was doing that had stayed.
My friends Pamela and Allan; Pamela a Choueifat teacher from Ireland and Allan a relocated Syrian from Damascus, are newly and happily engaged. Levi, himself a previous Choueifat teacher (who was also graciously letting me stay at his apartment) was happily employed with a company focusing on contract market research. Luke, my good friend from Sarwaran, invited me for drinks at a popular Ankawa bar, and it was good to hear that the new recruits at Sarwaran, Frank and Amy, were already doing a far better job than I ever did at managing the schools’ ongoing madness.
On Friday morning I went to the bike bazaar. Peter, the Canadian freelancer I’d met in Amedi a week ago met me, himself very interested in the possibility of making his journalistic wanderings a little more free and on the back of a bike. We scouted, talked, haggled, dismissed, and eventually both found bikes in conditions and price levels that worked for our different needs.
I bought a barely-used 150cc motorcycle from Iran with 3770 kilometers on its odometer. Peter purchased a bike for less but suiting the needs he had in mind.
The last part of my weekend was the 175 kilometer ride home to Duhok from Erbil.
The ride itself was evidence of how much the status quo has changed in only a few short months. The route I took would’ve been impassible only 4-6 months prior, through low rolling hills that were almost daily contested between the Islamic State and the Kurdish Peshmerga. The roads connecting Duhok and Erbil on the lower stretches of the Zab River, although relatively close to the Da’ish controlled Mosul, are now busy thoroughfares with heavy traffic flowing between the two cities and many villages and small towns in between.
It was a long and sometimes tedious ride, but beautiful all the same to see new scenery, and other parts that I had only been through under the cover of darkness.
More than anything, it was nice to find a little peace in my premature departure nearly half a year prior. Having the chance to revisit sites in Ankawa provided a good deal of closure on my time in Erbil, and makes it easier to move forward in Duhok.