The following story is a winner of the My Kurdistan Story Contest in the 13-17 year-old age group. It was submitted by Rozan,* a 16-year-old student living in Canada.
Since I was a little girl, my family and I have been traveling to Kurdistan every couple years or so. Every single time I’ve visited, I’ve loved it and admired my culture so much. Although I don’t remember my trip in 2003, the rest have been so incredibly amazing! The food, the cities, the mountains, the people and simply the vibe over there is so outstanding compared to where I was born and raised (Canada). There’s nowhere else I’d ever want to be.
Road Trips in Kurdistan: From Hawler to Soran
My mother is Hawleri and my father is from Soran so going from Hawler to Soran (and vice versa) is an amazing road trip. I’ve driven from Ottawa to Toronto and many other places and I can tell you that it’s nothing compared to the road trips in Kurdistan. The best part is stopping every thirty minutes or so for a snack break. That’s where you can buy the most sweetest fruits and the most delicious nuts. My trips in 2007 and 2010 were the best. I’ll even admit that those years were the absolute best years of my life. Some might think why? Those were the years where Kurdistan was stable. Where everyone was happy and the city itself was developing into an even bigger and even greater city. I still cherish the memories from those trips.
Four years later my family and I decided to visit Kurdistan again. I was so content to be visiting again. I would constantly think about the colour of Kurdish dress I wanted to buy and my family over there. As you know, the war with ISIL is still on going and has been for the past couple years which is so unfortunate for such a beautiful city to go through. At the time, my mother was a bit worried whether it was safe to travel or not so she asked her mother if the situation over there is steady. Keep in mind that this was in December of 2013. My grandmother told us that everything seemed to be fine and that there wasn’t major war nearby. As soon as we got the thumbs up, we booked our tickets for July 25 2014 – August 31 2014.
As the months went by, things started getting worse and worse. We weren’t sure if it was safe to go. When the trip got closer we decided that it’s fine since the city itself isn’t in danger. I was stoked, my sisters were stoked and so were my parents. We were so excited to finally go back. Our flight was from Ottawa to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Erbil. It was long, I’ll admit, but when we finally got there, I felt a sense of relief. Everything in Hawler was absolutely amazing. I went to the Qayseri, Qazay in Soran, Qalat, visited some family, went to so many parks, went to Rwandz and Korek Mountains.
An Unexpected Threat from ISIS
I felt like I was in a dream until August 22. That’s when my dream became a nightmare. On August 22nd at about 10:00 PM Erbil time, we got breaking news saying ISIS was in Mosul, which is about 1-2 hours away from Erbil. Later, they mentioned that they are about 30 minutes away. “What? How? and Why?” was all that I was thinking. I was at my grandmother’s house with everyone except my dad who was at his brother’s house. Within the span of 20 minutes, we called my dad, packed our stuff and went to my dad as soon as we could. My uncle who has six kids packed their whole house. The whole city was empty within an hour. We wanted to leave as well but the roads were packed. When I say packed I mean extremely packed. It would’ve taken two days just to drive to the airport when it normally takes 10 minutes.
Hours of Panic
We were stuck and desperate. We knew two weeks before that our tickets back to Canada were cancelled so my parents were already upset and this made them even more upset. The neighborhoods were insane. Everyone was shooting their guns and you could hear people screaming. I didn’t know what to do but cry. “Was this the last day of my life?” That’s what I kept thinking. Believe or not, I was planning a hiding spot in case something happened. The whole city was a mess. Everyone was a mess. I didn’t know what to do. The only thing we could have done was stay in the house and not leave anywhere. My dad and my uncle were watching the news to see if something new would come on.
Gratitude for Peace and Safety
At about 12:00 AM Erbil time, the news confirmed that everything is fine and for everyone to stay calm. I was relieved when I heard that. Those were the worst hours of my life. Ever since that day, I’ve felt the sorrow and pain that Kurdistan has been going through from Saddam Hussein and now ISIL. I put things into perspective and realized that cities like Makhmour and Shingal go through this everyday. I thank God everyday to live in such a safe and peaceful country.
*last name removed in order to protect identity.