Return to Jewish Kurdistan: A Father and Son Journey to Iraq during the Height of the Insurgency
Sabar, Ariel, Moment
It was the hottest part of the afternoon--a dry 110 degrees--when my father and I reached Iraq's northern border. We were queasy after a stomach-churning four-hour taxi ride from the airport in southeastern Turkey but saw right away that the Habur border crossing offered little in the way of rest.
Cab drivers were playing chicken for parking spaces before dashing off with passengers onto a dusty street lined with customs offices.
Our driver, Tariq, a wiry young Turk, grabbed my father's passport and mine, scribbled some numbers in a ledger and led us to a small office where a throng of other drivers pressed against a counter clamoring for passport stamps.
Tariq tore off a paper ticket. But to judge from a semi-functioning electronic sign with flashing red numbers, more than 100 people were ahead of us.
It was July 2005. My father was 67 and had knee and back trouble. I led him through the crowd to an empty chair, then went out for some air. A torrid wind was scattering empty water bottles across the pavement. Knots of men in sweat-stained shirts leaned against the walls, talking or clicking prayer beads. Boys peddled warm soda from plastic buckets.
I tried to sit on the curb, but the pavement burned and I shot to my feet. Two hours passed and the numbers on the sign had scarcely moved. Tariq tried a bribe, then begged for pity. His fare, he told the police, was a distinguished American professor who was not feeling well. "Please, let us get our stamps so we can get him someplace where he can rest," he said in Turkish, nodding toward my father.
A uniformed official behind the window sprang out of his seat, gesturing angrily and shouting.
"What did that guy just tell Tariq?" I asked my father, my heart thumping.
"Emm," my father said, clearing his throat. "He said, 'I don't give a shit who that old man is or where he's from. He can stay in his seat and wait for his God-damned number, or he can go to hell.'"
I looked at the sweat gathering at my father's temples and the way he clutched his briefcase to his chest like armor, and wondered whether our trip had been a mistake. He was nearing retirement and living a life of simple comforts in southern California. What was I doing dragging him halfway across the world, to the edge of a war zone?
My father and I had sparred for months over my idea of traveling together to his Iraqi hometown. I had quit my job as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun to write my father's story--how a boy born to an illiterate Jewish mother in the hills of Kurdish Iraq wound up at the University of California at Los Angeles as a professor of Aramaic, his ancient mother tongue. But I wanted my book to be something more: a way to repair a relationship with a man I had always kept at arm's length.
Trying to …
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Publication information: Article title: Return to Jewish Kurdistan: A Father and Son Journey to Iraq during the Height of the Insurgency. Contributors: Sabar, Ariel - Author. Magazine title: Moment. Volume: 33. Issue: 5 Publication date: September-October 2008. Page number: 58+. © 2009 Moment Magazine. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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