Sunday, July 30, 2006

My Weekend in Kurdistan, Conclusion

Note: This is the last installment describing a trip that occurred last month, so thanks to everybody for the patience. Unfortunately, with the Ambassador out of town for most of the month, little of interest has happened otherwise, so nobody is missing out on much by my retelling an old story. As with the second "Driving Through Arbil Province" post (see below), it is going to take some time before I can download all the pictures that accompany this part of the trip, so please check back later.

After breakfast we piled back into the Land Cruisers for a twenty minute drive through the Kurdish countryside, where we were dropped off in a clearing halfway up a mountainside. Masoud Barzani, his sons, and Ambassador Khalilzad led the group down a narrow trail that curled around the ridge, setting such a brisk pace that they quickly separated themselves from the entourage in tow. One of the Pesh Merga scrambling to keep up with them to provide security nearly fell of the side of the mountain! Personally, I had to move so quickly over the rocky ground that was not able to take in as much of the scenery as I would have liked.

We hiked for about an hour down the mountain side to a stream with a swift current, green water shimmering in the morning sun, and a steep, rocky slope on the opposite shore. We stopped at a rock outcropping below a sharp bend in the river. Already waiting for us was a cooler filled with water and soda, as well as watermelon and some vegetable cooling in a spring that emerged from the base of the mountain. The Kurds immediately started to set up a grill and a tent amongst the rocks. Fresh chickens were brought in by jet ski, and various attendants started chopping vegetables and skewering the chicken. And, of course, hot tea was brought to us as soon we arrived.

Although the water up in the mountains was freezing (around 50 degrees), Barzani, his sons, and the Ambassador didn't hesitate to put on life preservers, wade out into the middle of the stream, and proceed to float down the river. Although I never made it out past my thighs, the other Kurds also played joyfully in the water despite the temperature. I guess that having survived genocide, persecution, and exile, a little cold water can't stand in the way of enjoying the good life.

While waiting for lunch, I was given a ride on a two person jet ski with one of the KDP officials. Given that I was likely the first American military officer to visit Barzani's retreat, and that these jet skis are as close as the Kurds come to having a navy, this was likely the first joint U.S.-Kurdish naval maneuvers in history! We traveled about 2-3 miles up and downstream from camp, passing some spectacular rock formations and caves, an ancient stone bridge that had either been washed away or destroyed so all that remain are the rock piles on either side of the stream, and an assortment of locals fishing or bathing, including a car that was inexplicably parked in the stream itself.

We ate lunch atop a green artificial turf mat laid out over the rocks beneath a blue and white striped beach tent. A plastic mat sat in the middle of the tent, with ten place settings, and was covered with plates of lamb and chicken kabobs, assorted vegetables, rice with lamb, and lamb still on the bone. I commented on how beautiful the mountains were here, and one of the Barzanis relayed the legend of how the Babylonian King married a Kurdish bride, and to keep her from feeling homesick, built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to remind her of Kurdistan.

Tea was served after the meal (of course), accompanied by bowls of fruit.

As the afternoon wore on, sadly it was time to go. We were expected at Nechrivan Barzani's (Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government) house in Irbil for dinner. However, there was no plan for how to get everybody back to the SUVs parked downstream other than to take the river rather than hike. So what ended up happening was like a scene out of the Peanuts River Race: the President of Kurdistan and his sons were floating down the river in life preservers, accompanied by the Ambassador of the United States of America to Iraq in an inner tube; the former Prime Minister of Iraq was put into a two person jet ski whose engine died halfway down the river; the American security detail followed in a rubber raft that consistently took on water throughout the trip; and circling them all the whole time were various Pesh Merga and KDP security officials on jetskis.

I managed to hitch a ride with the President's nephew, who brought his personal $10,000 racing jet ski for the occasion. We ended up passing everybody else, and I found myself being the first American to arrive at the sandy landing point where the SUVs were waiting for us. The Barzani's nephew dropped me off in the middle of several Kurdish families on the beach, to whom a foreigner getting off the back of a Barzani's jet ski must have looked like something out of a James Bond movie (if only I were wearing a tuxedo!)

The sand burned my feet, so I stopped halfway up the shore to put my hiking boots back on. An eleven-year old boy ran up to where I was sitting and said, "I love you!"

I did something of a double-take and smiled awkwardly, so the boy spoke again.

"I love you, America!"

Okay, that made more sense! I laughed, and the boy said with even greater enthusiasm than before:


I thanked him on behalf of the President, and pulled out my Kurdish-English phrase book. Immediately I was surrounded by a half-dozen Kurdish boys (ages 8-15), with whom I tried every phrase or question that seemed remotely applicable. Unfortunately, the phrase book was a gift from somebody on President Talibani's staff, and I'd forgotten that Arbil Province (Barzani's base) and Sulamaniyeh Province (Talabani's base) employ different dialects of Kurdish. So for twenty minutes the boys and I made an extremely awkward, if good-hearted, attempt to communicate. Eventually, the rest of the river race caught up, and I had to say Zors Spas to my new friends.

In the end, my weekend in Kurdistan is likely to be the best three days of my tour in Iraq. The scenery was gorgeous, still untouched by the economic development that is quickly coming to Northern Iraq. The Barzanis were extremely gracious and generous hosts -- although there are definitely critics of their oligarchy, the lives of the Kurdish people are definitely improving under their leadership, and they represent an improvement of epic proportions over what the Kurds endured under Saddam Hussein and previous regimes in Baghdad. And finally, the Kurdish people I met were exceedingly friendly despite their years of suffering and previous indifference and betrayals by American administrations (i.e. Kissinger in 1975; the Reagan Administration's lack of response to Anfal).

I seriously hope that I am able to return to Kurdistan someday, and hopefully will be able to bring my family as well.

Friday, July 28, 2006

David Interlude (VII)

The Ambassador has been in the U.S. with Prime Minister Maliki, so my schedule has been fairly light for the last few days. Hopefully tomorrow I will (finally) conclude posting about my trip to Kurdistan, and maybe get to write something about my trip to Anbar Province earlier this week.

Until then, a picture of the little guy from his vacation in Maine . . .

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Two Meals with "Kaka" Masoud (Kurdistan, Pt. VI)

After we'd settled into our rooms in Barzani's mountain guesthouse, we gathered in a large room with a big screen television and enough seating and chairs for about twenty people. Ostensibly, I was there to help Ambassador Khalilzad edit his press statement on the last of MNF-I's detainee releases. But as the Ambassador and I reviewed the draft, the Barazani's are intently focused on the Germany-Argentina World Cup quarterfinal, which is being broadcast on a Turkish satellite station. For reasons I don't fully comprehend, the Barzanis and their KDP entourage are passionately supporting the German side. When Germany puts the game away in penalty kicks, our hosts burst into applause and congratulate one another.

With the game out of the way, we head downstairs for a late (2130) dinner. At least thirteen courses (not including the soup and the bread) are arrayed before us in triplicate so that nobody has to reach to far for a platter. The mind staggers at how many leftovers this hospitality must produce. I spend most of the meal talking with Barzani's son Masroor, who turns out to have lived in Northern Virginia for six years. (Mustapha Barzani, the founder of the KDP, was exiled to Arlington in the 1970s as part of a cease fire agreement with Saddam).

After dinner, we adjourn to the back deck for tea, assorted pastries, and fresh fruit. The deck overlooks a river valley across which one can see the streetlights of several Kurdish villages glowing in the darkness. The Ambassador, Barzani, and Allawi discuss, amongst other things, Paul Bremer's book, "My Year in Iraq," which none of them liked (much like most American reviewers, although likely for substantially different reasons).

The next morning we gather in the same room for breakfast. The Barzanis urge everybody to try a solid cream top, served with nan bread, although they concede that it will raise everybody's cholesterol level significantly. However, the cream is offset by the bowls of dark liquid set out before everyone. This turns out to be sesame oil, which is eaten by dipping the nan into it. I mention that I was going to eat it with my spoon, a statement which earns derisive laughter from the Kurds, who say that is how Bremer at the sesame oil. It turns out that Bremer's name is used a verb in the perjorative sense in Kurdistan. After filling up on apricots, cherries, and more jams and tea, we are fully carbo-loaded for the day of hiking through the Kurdish mountains that lies ahead.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Driving Through Arbil Province (II)

Note: I've been trying to upload the pictures from this part of the trip, but the internet connection in my trailer is preventing me from doing so. Check back in a few days, and hopefully I'll have them posted.

Back to Kurdistan.

After lunch, we drove to Jundyon(sp?), which roughly translates as the "Magic Spring." The convoy stopped at a small park where hundreds of Kurdish families occupied shaded tents by the spring, listening to live music. As we waled uphill toward the source of the stream, the Kurds burst into spontaneous applause as Barzani passes. At the top of the hill we come to the point where the spring suddenly emerges from the side of the mountain. Our party sits for water and fruit in a small cafe that is built into the rocks and open on two sides. We sit below a thatched roof with a pink cloth below that gives the cafe a pinkish glow in the afternoon sun. Water from the spring has been diverted through the tent so that it flows over the cobblestone floor. And of course, we were surrounded by a platoon of Pesh Merga and KDP bodyguards facing outwards toward the crowd.

Our next destination was to the top of a cliff overlooking a gorge known as "The Valley of Death," the site of a famous battle between the Ottomans and the Russians in 1877. Behind us a 450 unit housing complex was under construction. The developer, a Swedish Kurd whose name I miss, sees our motorcade and the VIPs, and bounds over the approach Ambassador Khalilzad about investing. As we leave the complex, we pass what appears to be a go-cart track in the middle of nowhere, although the carts on train tracks rather than loose.

After some more driving, the convoy suddenly stops at the bottom of a valley for no apparent reason. I get out of the vehicle and instinctively begin to follow the flow of the crowd. I don't see any other Americans around, and for the first time I am out amongst Iraqis without a sheet of armor between me and them. It feels oddly liberating. I follow the crowd through a covered market filled with stands peddling disposable cameras, children's clothes, hats, shoes, and ice cream. KDP security spots me and ushers me to our destination, a small cafe at the base of a waterfall that emerges out of the middle of the mountainside. This is "Bekhal," a famous Kurdish Kurdish landmark, apparently. Surrounding the cafe is a crowd of about 500 Kurds, who stand and watch Barzani, Ambassador Khalilzad, and Allawi sit and take in the scenery. Once again, the tables have been stocked in advance with bottled water and plates of cherries, nectarines, and plums.

When the VIPs stand up to leave, the crowd bursts into applause and begins chanting "Baba, Baba, Baba" (father) for Barzani. I've commented before that travelling with Ambassador Khalilzad is like being in a rock star's entourage, given the way he is mobbed by Iraqis wherever we go. But this is nothing compared to the adulation that Barzani receives from the Kurds whom he led to freedom.

As we walk on a bridge that crossesover the rapids, I'm hit by a blast of the coolest, freshest air I've felt since arriving in Iraq.

I'll conclude with some random observations made on the final drive from Bekhal to Doure:
- We loop around and follow the smae stream we saw before lunch. There are more than 100 stalls for families to rents and have picnics by the water on the opposite shore. Across the road are food stands and roadside cafes.
- I never figure out what they are, but as we go along I begin seeing more straw huts with a single pipe in the center of the roof.
- Everywhere we drive, there are numerous cows grazing or even walking by the side of the road with no apparent owners, as if they were just commuting.
- Halfway up one mountainside, nowhere near a village, we pass three little girls (ages 5-8) sitting atop a concrete barrier by the side of the road. They are adorable, albeit somewhat randomly placed.
- In sum, we spent roughly eight hours in that SUV. The whole time, the driver played Kurdish CDs, which to be honest, wasn't that bad. Although I couldn't understand a word that was sung, I could tell differences between different styles of music, including Kurdish jazz, traditional tunes, and something approaching Kurdish funk/hip hop.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mortars in the IZ

Back to Kurdistan in a little bit (and yes, I realize I'm dragging out these posts a bit).

In case anybody is paying attention to the news, we did receive some mortar fire today, and last night just before midnight as well. These rounds were nowhere near my office or trailer, so don't worry, I'm fine.

One person was killed, however . . . a sad reminder that this is still a dangerous place.

BAGHDAD, July 19, 2006 (AFP) - Two mortars slammed into Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave that is seat of the Iraqi government and houses the US and British embassies, killing one person and wounding two, a security source said.

The US military confirmed the mortars had struck but could not provide a casualty report.

Smoke could be seen pouring off the impact sites in the zone, and police officials said a car had been set on fire.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lunch on the Mountainside (Kurdistan, Pt. IV)

After being shown the mountain peaks in Iran and Turkey, the entire convey somehow managed to execute a three-point turn (on an unpaved, single lane road with no shoulder and possibly with land mines on the sliver between the road and the cliff) and descended back down the mountain. After fifteen minutes on the "main road" winding through the mountains, we stopped in a paved clearing half way up one mountain. Our Pesh Merga accompaniment immediately disembarked and began scrambling up the slopes to establish overwatch positions. Apparently, we'd arrived at our destination for lunch.

The site the Barzani's had selected for lunch was apparently where Saddam Hussein and several of his top henchmen once had hunting lodges. However, in the Kurdish uprising following the Gulf War in 1991, mobs of angry Kurds climbed the mountain and tore down the lodges. We were escorted to an old army tent, under which white plastic lawn chairs were arrayed in a horseshoe. As soon as we sat down, attendants brought us tea, which was quickly followed by lamb kabobs on skewers two feet long! Masroor Barzani, one of Massoud's two sons, pulled out a radio that alternated between Kurdish tunes and American soft rock.

After twenty minutes, we moved to another tent with a fully set table. The meal was less elaborate than dinner the night before, mostly succulent grilled lamb and chicken kabobs with vegetables and bread. From the few snatches of conversation that were not in Arabic or Farsi, I could make that once again the Ambassador, Barzani, and Allawi were discussing Iraqi politics.

So, what does one do after a barbecue picnic in the Kurdish mountains with a former guerilla leader and current President of the Kurdish Regional Government? You fire weapons, of course! About six empty Pepsi cans were placed on a rock about twenty meters up the mountain side, and Barzani's sons offered everybody (including Ambassador Khalilzad and former PM Allawi) their handguns for a little target practice. (I'll skip the details of who hit how many targets to avoid embarrassing anybody. I didn't have any earplugs so opted not to shoot).

When the ammunition was expended, we returned to the original tent for fresh fruit, pastries, and more tea.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Driving Through Irbil Province, Part I

My apologies for not posting much lately. The State Department's computer problems have not been fully resolved, and it takes forever to download the included pictures on the TrailerNet. But also, as I warned in my very first post back in January, I've been a little lazy lately.

Herein are some notes and observations, in almost no particular order, about the drive from Salahaddin to, well, where ever it was we ended up having lunch . . .

-- The convoy of 20-30 White Toyota Land Cruisers takes off with me sharing a vehicle with another aide to the Ambassador (an Iraqi-American who is beloved by the Kurds) and a young political officer from the Embassy. We pass through Kurdish mountain villages, some with small convenience stores, although more frequently we pass roadside stands with jugs of gasoline and cans of motor oil for sale. (This despite the fact that every gas station we pass is closed -- welcome to the world of subsidized commodities and the black markets that supply and demand inevitably create).

-- The roads, for the most part, are choppy and poorly paved. We pass numerous Kurdish children, far more than adults. This is likely the result of Saddam's attempted genocide against the Kurds in 1987-88, as well as the massacres in the wake of the First Gulf War in 1991, and the subsequent baby boom after the Kurdish region became autonomous with the advent of the No-Fly Zones. The boys invariably wear Western-style clothes, whereas the girls are more likely to be wearing native dress. Regardless of how they are attired, they invariably wave at us as we pass, and are adorable.

-- The slopes gradually become steeper, with granite cliffs appearing in the distance. We drive through green valleys with views of some spectacular gorges and cuts in the mountain sides. Near Mama Jalka, we come around a bend in the road and see eight fruit stands on the "shoulder."

-- In one little village, there is a fenced-in soccer field with artificial turf laid over what was likely once a tennis court. In another village, a basketball court sits at the base of a mountain, except the court is covered with mounds of feed.

-- Whenever we drive through a village or cluster of houses, the residents stop to look at the convoy as it creeps along the main road. It is more than likely the people know whose convoy it is . . . after all, how many 30 vehicle convoys are there in Kurdistan?

-- Near Korak Mountain (distinctive for the observatory perched at the peak) we pass a Pesh Merga barracks. The flag flying above the compound is Kurdish rather than Iraqi, with three red, white, and green stripes, with a sun sitting in the middle.

-- About an hour out from Salahaddin the road weaves through a cut in the mountain, with sheer granite slopes on either side, and a crystal blue mountain stream snaking alongside. Families are parked and picnicking near a small waterfall, in one of nearly a hundred stalls set up by the stream.

-- We pass fewer mosques on the outskirts of Salahadin then one would see over a similar distance in/near Baghdad, although later in the day they will become more frequent in the smaller rural villages. Kurdish mosques are also much less ornate than those I've seen in Baghdad, Amman, Doha, or Kuwait. The minarets are smaller, and if they even have domes, they are simple and less adorned.

-- We pass through Shaqlawa (not, as it turns out, an homage in any way to Shaquille O'Neal) a larger village with a crowded marketplace at the intersection of two roads in the center of town. The stands are filled with watermelon and cantaloupe, one store has a Western-style wedding gown on display outside. A few feet away, a pickup truck is parked with three goats tied up in the flat bed.

-- After Shaqlawa, the terrain opens into a massive valley of tan hills dotted with dark green trees on the slopes. The hills become steeper, and the two-lane highways becomes a series of hairpin turns. Roadsigns show cars driving off the mountainside as a reminder to motorists to watch their speed.

Some pictures of the Kurdish countryside, although they hardly do justice to the beauty of the scenery.

-- After some time, the convoy splits in two, with the VIPs and staff literally taking the high road while the attendants and extra security vehicles stay on the main road. We travel up an unpaved, one-lane road, and looking out the window I can see the ground drop precipitously just a few feet from the side of the SUV. Nevertheless, our driver continues to go about 80 Kph (roughly 45 mph) in order to keep up with the lead vehicles. Shepherds' tents are scattered along the mountainside. The convoy stops, and we get out of our Land Cruisers. Massoud Barzani points across a beautiful valley to some snow-covered peaks. (By way of comparison, it is over 110 degrees in Baghdad). Those mountains, he tells Ambassador Khalilzad and Dr. Allawi, are in Iran. To the northwest, at about an equal distance, we can see the outlines of peaks within the Turkish border.

Some of the shepherd encampments on the mountainside.

The snowy peaks in the distance are in Iran.

And the hazy peaks visible in the distance are in Turkey.

-- One of the Ambassador's security detail starts to move down the slop in order to take a picture of the entourage. The Pesh Merga quickly yell for him to stop, and to return to the group by retracing his steps. The reason? Landmines.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Breakfast with Iyad Allawi (Kurdistan, Pt. II)

At 0900 the next morning we met in the dining room around a large table filled with bread, cheeses, walnuts, various jams, honeycombs (actual beeswax and honey, not the cardboardish American breakfast cereal), and bowls of yogurt. Attendants served cheese omelets to each of the guests. Between the Ambassador, former PM Iyad Allawi, and myself, the conversation naturally steered toward Arab politics.

Allawi is a large man, with a round face and broad chest (that was once the recipient of an axe wielded by Saddam's hitmen. His wife survived the attack, but had a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered). Politically, Allawi still advocates Pan-Arabism, an emphasis on rule of law to fight corruption, and matter of factly declares that "Democracy will not work in the Middle East." It is easy to understand how he was a Ba'athist before Saddam turned the party into a genocidal cult of personality.

Yet whereas Massoud Barzani is spry, and has a face full of joy, Allawi constantly bears a look of weary resignation. Deep down, he likely recognizes that both his vision of Iraq as the leader of a Pan-Arabist/Socialist bloc in the Middle East, as well as his moment to lead Iraq towards this future, are both dreams that have come and gone. The sad expression he carries is symbolic of the fate of a previous generation of Arab intellectuals' aspirations.

After breakfast we gather our bags and load into a convoy of 20-30 Toyota Land Cruisers for what we are told will be a three hour drive to Massoud Barzani's retreat in the mountains. Instead, we ended up taking what turned out to be the deluxe tour of Irbil province. But more on that later . . .

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Kurdistan (Part I)

Last Thursday I arrived with Ambassador Khalilzad, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Kurdish-Iraqi parliamentarian Rosch Schaways and two other aides at the Irbil airport. Irbil is the seat of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the region within Iraq comprised of the three majority-Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq that have been semi-autonomous since Operation Provide Comfort and the establishment of the northern No Fly Zone at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. We were visiting Kurdistan as the guests of Massoud Barzani, the President of the KRG.

Our party was met at the airport by a delegation from the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP, as opposed to the other Kurdish party, President Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- more on the difference later). The delegation was dressed in tailored suits, wearing sunglasses, and standing outside a fleet of white SUVs. The entourage looked part Secret Service, part Sopranos.

Barzani's father, Mustafa Barzani, was a legendary guerrilla leader affectionately known as the "Father of the Kurds" for founding the KDP in 1946. After Mustafa was exiled in 1977, Massoud assumed the mantle of leadership in the Kurdish independence movement and fought against Saddam's regime for more than 20 years. (Well, except for the time in 1996 he invited Iraqi troops into Kurdistan to allow them to attack the PUK's forces). So Barzani is kind of like the George Washington of the Kurds, if General Washington's family subsequently had a share in most of the business activity in the colonies after the Revolution.

From the Irbil airport we drove about 45 minutes up into the mountains to Barzani's guest house in Salahaddin. Along the way, we passed the flourishing construction cranes and burgeoning apartment complexes of "Dream City." We passed at least six soccer games en route, raning from rag tag groups of boys playing on gravelly fields, to older men wearing uniforms and accompanied by a crowd of onlookers. People stopped by the side of the road to watch the motorcade of 10-12 SUVs and police escorts pass, including the ubiquitous Pesh Merga that seemed to guard every intersection and strategic point of high ground. Also along the roadside were groups of men sitting by parked cars with their trunks open sittin gon the ground and enjoying a picnic with friends as the sunset over the mountains.

At the guesthouse, we were greeted by "Kaka" (Brother) Barzani, wearing the traditional olive green Kurdish dress with cummerbund and a red and white Kurdish headdress. He greeted the Ambassador and other VIPs warmly, and guided them into the same receiving room where I sat with him and Secretary Rumsfeld in April 2005. Shaways, Allawi, and Ambassador Khalilzad sat along the far wall beneath a portrait of Mustafa Barzani, while Barzani sat in a large chair in the corner.

The receiving room of Barzani's guesthouse.

Dinner was another stellar exampole of Kurdish hospitality. I counted at least twelve different courses arrayed before, including lamb and okra in tomato sauce, grilled lamb, lamb kabobs, grape leaves and onions stuffed with rice, fish, and a sald comprised of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro. I sat next to Dr. Shaways, and tried to engage him in a conversation about wines. (He owns his own vineyard and label in Kurdistan). But he was understandably more interested in joining in the raucus conversation amongst the Ambassador, Barzani, Allawi, and himself that floated between Arabic and Farsi.

After dinner, we moved out to the back terrace, from which we see the valley below Salahaddin filled with lights. We sat around two tables as large plates of peaches, watermelon, cherries, apricots, and pastries were brought out. Finally, a little after 2200, President Barzani stood up to leave. His entourage of KDP officials graciously said goodnight, and left with him. I went to bed shortly thereafter, but as I headed up to my room, a waiter was bringing a bottle of red wine and fresh glasses to the remaining guests.

The back terrace of the Barzani guesthouse.

The view from the terrace in the morning.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday Steve!

Happy Birthday to my "little" brother Steve! I wanted to call you today, but couldn't find your cell number. You'll have to settle for knowing that I worked your name into Ambassador Khalilzad's address to the Embassy's Fourth of July celebration! (Well, at least as far as you know).

Enjoy a cold one at the Watergate tonight for me, and I'll be back next year to celebrate in person.

(P.S. You're supposed to be teaching David to read the book, not eat it!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Anniversary, Happy (Six Month) Birthday

Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week. State Department's computer systems suffered a cyber-attack that kept me from accessing the web log, our "trailernet" was out as well, and I've just returned from three days/two nights in Kurdistan. (Much, much more on this trip later).

For now, I just wanted to reassure everyone that I was okay, and wish David a happy six-month birthday (the 28th), and Marya a very happy third anniversary. I love and miss you both very much, and will be home before you know it.