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My Wreck in Iraq - 2013
by June's Views on December 21st, 2013

Esteban” and “Sam” are not their real names – they have been changed.

December 7, 2013 - Saturday:  While on a short trip to Erbil, Iraq, a travel companion (Esteban) and I have negotiated with our driver, Sam, to take the two of us to see some scenery and a couple of waterfalls outside the city.  Sam picks us up at our hotel after lunch.  We travel north of Erbil.  We pass the Khanzad Castle, a beautiful structure even though recent renovations make it seem a bit “too new”.  


We stop several times at scenic spots to take pictures and for Sam to have a smoke.  

We saw beautiful scenery – very high cliffs, mountains, vegetation,

If we’d stayed in the city we’d never have gotten this impression of Iraq
After a couple of hours we get to the Gali Ali Bag Waterfall…the falls are small and the water was very dirty that day, but the area is pretty.  We take lots of pictures and then go into the small café at the falls for tea.  Sam, a  Muslim, washes and proceeds to pray at the front of the café.  
We travel on to the Bekhal Waterfall which is more unique, and the water was clean.  There are a number of pipes coming out of the falls, transporting water.  There are many steps, kind of treacherous actually, but I’m glad I saw the falls.  There are houses built on the side of the mountain where the waterfall comes out, a very unusual sight
One “June’s Rules of travel” is BE BACK AT HOTEL BEFORE DARK, but we had enjoyed the afternoon and here we were, with high cliffs surrounding us and darkness settling in.  On the way home we had a bad car wreck.  I was sitting in the back of the small car with large headrests so I did not really see exactly what happened.  I was turned slightly to the right, arranging something in my backpack at the moment of impact.  I experienced about 5 or 6 seconds of terror.  I remember the car swerved hard to the right and I and I knew we were in trouble.  For a split second I remembered the breathtaking Grand-Canyon-like thousand foot cliffs we’d seen earlier and I feared we were going over one of them. 
But I quickly heard the terrible sound of metal scraping against concrete and felt the car slam into a large concrete barrier.  Even with my seatbelt on I was thrown forward, and hit my left cheek bone on the back of the front seat.  Then immediately I pitched to the back in my seat, hitting my right hand.   When the car came to an abrupt stop I asked Sam and Esteban if they were OK.  Both responded yes.  The car, with us in it, was sitting at an awkward angle. My next thought was that we might catch on fire so I wanted out of that car.  I couldn’t get out on the lower side.  The door was blocked by the concrete and the wreck had sealed the door shut.  I tried to get out on the left side but the angle of the car was so steep I could not open that door either. 
Suddenly there were several men around us – someone pulled the door open and I crawled out.  I went to the other side to help Esteban, who was clearly in shock.  I think I was too, but I did take some pictures of the totally destroyed car.  Sam said nothing, just kept looking at his car.  None of the men who came to help us spoke more than a few words of English.  It all seemed surreal.  Here I am in Iraq, in the dead of night, injured.  I’m not sure about Sam’s condition, but he’s the only one who speaks English, Farsi, and Arabic. These men are all talking to us but I can’t make any sense of what they are saying and I am pretty shaken up.  My cheek hurts and my right little finger hurts, but thankfully there’s no blood.  No one was bleeding.  There’s no place to sit; we’re on the side of a busy highway.  Finally Sam says we need to go with these men – we shouldn’t stay here, it’s not safe.  The men will take us to their camp.  THEIR CAMP?  Good grief!  

The men help us up the inclined, unpaved road where they did have a camp – sleeping structures I suppose, benches outside, and a nice bonfire was lit.  I became aware of the cold night air and the fire felt wonderful.  I appreciated the bench to sit on but there is no back support– I have to sit upright. 
I am worried about Esteban.  Sam is busy on his cell phone, calling someone about the car and about us.  The men don’t really know what to do, neither do I so we had that in common!  They are very polite and very kind.  Someone asks if I want tea….no thank you (I’m concerned I’ll need to use the toilet - no idea how long we’re going to be here), then someone asks if I’d like some food.  No thank you, again.  But when a bottle of water appears I received it gratefully.  One of the men brought out some salve and indicated he would put some on my cheek, and I agreed.  It felt good. One of the men told me he was from Turkey, another was from Iran, one from Iraq, and one from Syria.  We tried to communicate with not much luck.  Esteban wouldn’t sit down; he just kept pacing saying if he sat down he’d get too stiff.  I was concerned about his mental state.  
One of the men asked, “You scared?”  I replied honestly, “No, I’m not”.  Maybe I should have been but I really wasn’t.  He replied “Don’t feel scared.”  I felt completely surrounded by God’s hedge of protection.  I had begun to think of these men as my angels!  In broken English one of the men asked if he could have his picture taken with me and I agreed, and asked for their picture in return.  
Time awkwardly dragged on.  After about an hour another young man appeared who spoke excellent English.  We talked a bit and he interpreted a couple of statements for me to the men (I wanted to sincerely thank them for their kindness and assistance), and from them to me.  Shortly after that Sam appeared and said a tow truck was coming to take us to Erbil.  The men insisted we let them drive us back down the hill to the wrecked car.  There we said goodbye.  They had been so kind to us.  

Esteban, Sam, and I got into the tow truck and were driven to the edge of Erbil, where Sam’s two sons met us.  Father and sons exchanged kisses on their cheeks.  One went on with the car to, I assume, the junk shop, and the other drove us to our hotel. 
 On the way to the hotel Esteban says he thinks he should go to the hospital, just to be sure he doesn’t have any internal injuries.  Sam clearly doesn’t want to go to the hospital but he doesn’t say no – just said Esteban should think about all the paperwork involved and that Esteban hadn’t brought his passport with him this afternoon.  I really think Esteban should have gone to the hospital, but I did not encourage him to do that because I knew it would take hours and I so desperately needed rest and sleep.  In the end, he decided if they’d go to a pharmacy to get something like Ben Gay he’d wait until morning and then decide about the hospital.  With the Ben Gay, we went to the hotel and explained the events to the hotel manager, who was distressed about the wreck.  He questioned Sam, who was quite anxious to be on his way.  I suspect there’s more to the story than we know…but I do know Sam lost his 2 month old car today.  The hotel manager told me he would apply the Ben Gay to Esteban’s back and chest – I was so thankful for that.  I went to our room and told my travel companion Carolyn (who had opted out of the afternoon excursion) what had happened, then I went to the restaurant to get some soup – I was starved!  When I was back in our room the hotel manager came and gave me a plastic bag of ice for my cheek – so thoughtful of him!  He told me he would go back and check on Esteban at midnight, before he left for the night.  I appreciated that so much.                 

December 8 – Sunday:  I really expected to be extremely sore, but other than my cheek and little finger, I’m not.  I called Esteban and ask if I can see him–he says come on.  I went to his room and noticed at once he had not been to bed – he’d slept sitting up in his chair.  He told me the hotel manager had already been there that morning to help him with some more Ben Gay.  He’s in pain and still shaken and I hate like the dickens to leave this frail elderly man alone, but Carolyn and I must fly on to Dubai this morning.  Esteban’s flight isn’t until later in the afternoon.  He assures us he’ll be OK so we say goodbye.  The area around my left eye is getting darker by the hour!  How is it going to look for my granddaughter Britney’s wedding in 6 days?! I don’t want to upstage the bride!  Oh well… it is, what it is. 

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