The following story was submitted to The Kurdish Project by Peter Colt. Share your own experience of Kurdistan.
In May 2003 I was a U.S. Army Civil Affairs team leader. After some time in Mosul my Company was ordered to Dohuk, from there my team (Mr. George, Mr. Sean, Mr. Ben, Mac and Nesmi) was assigned to live and work in Zakho. We ended up renting a house near Highway 1 next to a candy factory and near a mosque. This was to be our home until February of 2004.
Life as an American Soldier in Iraqi Kurdistan
I was very lucky that my translator was a member of the Brifki family. He was from Zakho and his family and friends ended up working with us. I was also honored to meet and be friends with his cousin, Mohamed Brifki. I was also lucky to have close friends in the Peshmerga and Security forces in the area.
During the time we lived in Zakho, we drove hundreds of kilometers a week assessing villages, roads and finding projects to help the locals. Our white Nissan Patrols could be seen crawling over the worst of mountain roads and winding into quiet villages. Everywhere we went we were treated like famous people. Many homes opened their doors to us and made us feel welcome. We drank, sweet, hot tea by the liter in numerous homes.
A lesson in Kurdish hospitality
We were very lucky to be treated like guests or long lost family. Many times we were told, “we want to make it easier for you to be away from your families.” Everyone we met made us feel as though we were part of their family . This was especially true during the holiday of Eid el Fitr when we followed the local custom and went from neighbor’s house to neighbor’s house, exchanging holiday wishes, candy and cups of chai.
We felt very safe because the Kurds of Zakho had welcomed us. They had offered five Americans, far from home, their hospitality and protection. While I missed my family, I never felt lonely. I was lucky to have wise older brothers, such as Ashti, Sheik Shalom, General Mohamed (at the Peshmerga military academy) and Mohamed Brifki, who offered advice and friendship.
Our time in Zakho passed quickly. When it was time to leave there was snow on the ground. We spent days saying goodbye to good friends. We hoped that some day we might come back to an independent Kurdistan. The day we left, we pulled our trucks out and were about to start south and home. The local children called out to me, “Galek Spee, Galek Spee”, as they had for the last several months. Months earlier I had asked Nesmi; “What does Galek Spee mean? What are they calling me?”
Captain “Very White”
“Sir, Galek Spee, means very white…they are calling you Captain Very White.” As excited as I was to be going home I was sad to be leaving Zakho. The children called me Galek Spee as they had been doing for months and I gave them candy as I had been doing for several months. The only difference was that this time, when the Ameriki Army trucks left the house by the candy factory, we didn’t come back.