Day trips in Kurdistan
by Ben Van Heuvelen
I’ve taken a few good day trips over the past week or so.
One was a long walk around Martyr Sami Abdul Rahman park in Erbil. It’s a couple square miles, well kept, and located pretty near the center of town, but the people here don’t seem to know what to do with it. There are enormous playgrounds filled with see-saws and jungle gyms, big fields perfect for picnics, benches along a lakeside promenade — all empty. I probably saw a dozen people over the course of three hours. When I returned on a Friday for a run around the park, I saw maybe 30. I’m not sure whether to chalk this up to winter, or whether folks just haven’t figured out the joys of public space quite yet.
Another trip was a visit to the Erbil refinery. I took a 40-minute drive northwest of Erbil to the shores of the Zaab River, which was a dividing line between Kurdish and Saddam-controlled territory between 1991 and 2003. My guide pointed at some hills on the other side of the river and said, “Saddam’s tanks used to be there.” Somewhere along the same stretch of shore, Alexander the Great fought the Persians.
Then, a couple days ago I took a trip to the Khor Mor gas field. Kurdistan likes to boast that it has 22 hours of daily electricity service (compared with maybe 6 hours in other parts of Iraq), and much of the feedstock for this power comes from a single field. The good people of Dana Gas, the company extracting the gas, arranged for a driver to take me on the 3-hour journey — first down a very straight and flat stretch of desert highway to the northern outskirts of Kirkuk, then due east through some orange-brown country whose hilly topography reminded me of those sand-drip towers children make on the beach, except on a much larger scale.
I took some photos along the way, and have posted a few here.