Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Notice: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a copy and keep me on the road!
As usual, peak experiences take place in involuntary detours, in those coordinates of the map completely lateral to our original destination. In that way, the following morning I was early on the road pretty sure I was going to Arbil, only to stumble 10 km further up the road with a library sponsored by Lovebridge, a German foundation, befriend its director and accepts his invitation to spend the night with his family back in Barzan.

Serbest shows me around the whole building opening all doors ahead as if I had some kind of allergy to handles. If by mistake he fails to give me priority to pass he apologizes: "Sorry Mister Juan!" He walks stopping briefly at each shelf to name its content with elfic manners. In the main reading room it’s obvious we have interrupted the two employee’s chit chat. Who can blame them? There is nobody consulting any of the 10,000 volumes that rather seem to be aging as wine in a cellar.

In top of one of the bookcases there's a poorly stuffed duck, his wings extended for nothing ("He came from Iran" -proclaims Serbest") and a street dog, surprisingly stuffed by somebody with an urgent need to stuff but little range to choose from. So, as she shares the fate of the pharaohs the ugly dog shows his teeth to everyone on the room. Nice invitation to reading. Serbest insists on extending the tour to a large classroom where two foreign aid workers teach first grade schoolboys according to Montessori's postulates. But it's him who has become the focus of my interest.

Serbest's house stands on a hill, some 200 meters from the "maker" where I had slept the day before. While his wife's shadow brings the tea tray as close as the culture allows her, Serbest's mobile rang. He glances at the screen and smiles when recognizing the number. "Takk!" -he answers. Conversation follows in a German like language that sounds familiar but that I cannot identify. It turns out that Serbest, who speaks broken English, is proud fluent Danish speaker. Exile is again the Rosetta stone for the matter: five years of political exile in Copenhagen. On the other phone, Maher speaking, who is not in Denmark, as one would expect, but in Arbil a hundred kilometers away. In the land of the butter cookies, Maher and Serbest were co-exiles and pals.

When asked about the reasons of the exile, he stands up and hangs down a family photograph from the wall. From the twenty people (all men) posing staunchly in regional dress I only spot one, the ubiquitous Mustafa Barzani. Serbest's finger rests one second in each face before moving on, just the time it takes Serbest to pronounce the sentence: "Assassinated by Saddam."
From the confusing genealogic explanation it followed that Serbest, whose surname is also Barzani, came to be something as the cousin of Mesut Barzani, the president of Kurdistan. Although I have the feeling the surname is more of a load to him tan a privilege, it's no doubt he would have joined the list. It is also clear that repatriated exiled make up a significant sector of Kurdish demographics. Somehow, everything in Kurdistan is returning: the Pesh are back from their outlaw life in the mountains and political refugees fly back from the Scandinavian welfare states to take their places in the construction of the dream. An implosion follows each exodus. The recent addition of a weekly flight from the Danish capital to Arbil suggests this is not just easy talking.

When dinner arrives I hardly have any appetite, we have been talking about the Anfals operation, when Saddam choppers attacked Kurdish villages with lethal gas, and about how Arab and Kurdish refugees transported their mutual territorial exclusion to the temporarily camp in Denmark where they all waited for the approval to their asylum request. With all he lived, it surprises me how calmly Serbest speaks. It seems he is reading a bedtime story. Muslim by context, Serbest appears to my eyes as a nihilist. Behind the mask of the local turbaned man unveils the profile of the universal man who even drops a Krishnamurti thought:- Oh, Mister Juan! Maybe you are thinking in what are you going to do next week, or when you arrive to your country, but when you stop thinking, only then the whole world will be there.And it was as if my vertebrae would crack.

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