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.