Right now, here is Kurdistan. Here has been a great many places over the past few years. Just a month ago I was still in London, where (dare I say?) I was on my way to earning the title of ‘Londoner’, after two years in what is currently my favorite city. Now that familiar here has become there, and what was once a very far away there is here. Now, why am I here?
I am currently working at Bradost Elementary School in Rania, a small city in Kurdistan. When I first started telling people about plans to move here, a lot of people misunderstood and thought I was moving to Kyrgyzstan – which would also have been a fascinating place to live and work in. But no, I am in Iraq; or rather, the autonomous federal region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. It is a mistake to think that Kurdistan and Iraq, though a de jure unified state, are one and the same. (This is something I’m constantly reminded of here, and will continue to talk about in the future).
I never thought I would end up here, but I can’t say I’m surprised.
Probably a common thought for my fellow itinerant souls. For many people the thought of leaving everything familiar and comfortable behind for the “great unknown” is discomforting. I find this hard to understand because (1) there is no such thing as the “great unknown” anymore – just google that ish, (2) the familiar and comforting things aren’t going anywhere; they will still be there when/if you come back, and (3) most importantly, if you’re adaptable and open to new adventures, you can make any place your home and any group of people your people. There are places that are more home than others, but nothing remains unfamiliar or uncomfortable as long as you are open to making this new place another one of your homes. I do miss London, and Boston, and Nairobi (if only because I’m supposed to miss home). But Kurdistan is quickly becoming home, at least for the next year.
But back to why I’m here. I studied international relations, development, and conflict at Tufts for my undergraduate degree, and just finished a master’s in conflict studies. I felt I had to actually experience life in a postconflict environment, because reading a few articles and getting into philosophical arguments in a seminar with fourteen other intelligent but inexperienced grad students do not make a “political scientist” or “expert” in postconflict reconstruction *cough*cough* despite what you may hear. Anyhow, I believe if I am to have any meaningful impact in the future, and help people change their lives for the better, I must first experience their lives and try to understand for myself the challenges of postconflict societies. That being said, I wasn’t about to traipse off to eastern Congo or Baghdad. I have no intention of being kidnapped, shot at, or forced to wear 39847584 kgs of body armor just to leave my house. So I had been toying with the idea of finding a job in Somaliland, or even just visiting, since I just finished a (meagre) 10,000 word dissertation on postconflict indigenous statebuilding in Somaliland. But the opportunity to come to Kurdistan came up while I was still in the middle of studying for exams and trying to figure my life out. I became more interested in Middle Eastern politics during my year at LSE, after having studiously avoided it for four years at Tufts (I promise there is a good reason behind that). We studied postconflict institutional building and power-sharing in Kurdistan, though admittedly the focus in most of my classes was on the causes and consequences of the Iraq War rather than Kurdistan. So when the job opportunity came up, it seemed like the perfect way to get experience in a postconflict society, figure out my life, avoid the “real adult” world of 9 to 5 desk jobs just a little longer, and try and do some good. (Thankfully 5 years of higher education haven’t completely turned me into a bitter cynic – though studying development at SOAS was getting me there). That’s why I’m here.