How I Got Kidnapped in Iraq

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The US State Department site at the time of writing currently states, "Do not travel to Iraq... any part of Iraq..."
They go on basically to say, "We don't enjoy hostage situations, we don't have many people in Iraq, and if you disappear we probably aren't coming to get you..."

Me, I just like driving and eating carrots.

I was crunching on a carrot somewhere between Sulaymaniyah and Halabja in North Iraq, when I decided to pull over to take a few photos of a lush green field.
The team I was traveling with was busy that day, so I was out in my little red rental car, driving with a huge bag of gear.

My typical experience traveling in Iraq has been one of kindness. 90% of people are open, kind, curious, delighted, and even concerned to see a woman traveling alone.
On this particular day, I mostly had aggravated people by pulling off the road to take photos... but once they saw that I was female, they would simmer down.

I spotted a lush green field with a glorious landscape.
Getting out of the car to take a shot is a production, especially when you're filming a documentary as well as shooting stills.
My video camera is lassoed to the stabilizer, and then my medium format camera needs a light touch.
Plus I had the carrot hanging out of my mouth...

I was mid-getting-out-of-the-car, when a man on a three wheeler pulled up.
Three wheelers are motorcycles with a two wheeled cart over the back seat.

Wildly gesticulating, he said in Kurdish for me to come with him.
Thinking that I am in the wrong field today, I quickly say, "Kurdii Film! Ameriki!"
This usually settles any disputes.

He continued to gesticulate, and I had a decision to make.
Trusting my gut, and that my car could outrun his three wheeler, I got on the road behind him.

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It was a lovely afternoon.

With tremendous pride, he showed me his young cow, his lambing sheep (January is basically springtime in Iraq) and then I met his five children, his two wives and his mother.

This is when the kidnapping began...
It was lunchtime, and I was fed a meal of fries, pickles, pitas...
Then his mother offered me a pepper.

I broke all my own rules...
don't eat spicy things, don't eat raw food from strangers,
don't be crazy...

I bit into it.
It was a Jalapeño pepper.

I will never forget this pain.
His mother laughed in the face of my tears...

After the burn subsided,
we all had a laugh.

I got into a lot of trouble with my seven words of Kurdish
and my use of Google Translate...
But the one thing that I did pronounce clearly and apparently too bluntly was,
"I need to go now."

I noticed the neighbors gathering to see about the yellow photographer woman from America
And knew I would be in for longer of an afternoon than I had bargained to be part of...
and with these words, they did let me go.

With softer words of thanks and gratitude,
I drove off, thankful once again for the kindness of strangers
and that the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself...
and Jalapeño peppers.


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Month 01, 2022

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