Kirk was right. An update was required. A long but funny tale…
Our team flew from Baghdad to Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sunday afternoon. I said goodbye to them there and flew on to Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. I landed about 7 p.m. My flight to Istanbul was not scheduled to leave until 4 a.m. and I could not check in until midnight. Silly optimistic traveler that I am, I did not bring an electric converter to charge my phone and computer, and I did not have any Iraqi dinars (sent all that on with Kirk since he was staying and I was going), nor did I know the PIN to get cash from my credit card (since the ATM refused to give me cash on my bank card—tried that!). As an anesthesiologist, I always hope for the best and plan for the worst and try to teach that mantra and philosophy. I realize now maybe I should employ that philosophy as I travel! Anyway, I was unconcerned. I had had food on the plane to Sulay. I had been eating well all week. There would be lots of food on the way home. I was headed to airports with lounges and chargers. It was actually nice to be “unplugged” in a largely empty but nice airport. I had gotten behind on my yearly Bible reading schedule, so I had the whole book of Job to read. Amazingly perfect timing of God, I realize as I reflect on the last 24 hours. I had had an incredible week. Not at all to the same degree, but like Job I went from the heights to the depths. My last 24 hours was discouraging enough in the midst of it to never want to travel internationally again, especially to the Middle East (I actually did entertain that exact thought, at least once or more!). A funny aside is that we watched the Bollywood movie “Three Idiots” (highly recommend it!) one night together as a team and there’s a cute little ditty and dance number in it called “All is Well.” The trip to the Baghdad airport and the almost 4-hour check-in process caused us to coin the term “Fret Level: High!” but allowed us to keep repeating our new favorite phase “All is Well.” Kirk texted that to me at one point during my adventure!
Job gives us insight into spiritual warfare, which I absolutely believe in. Satan gets permission to torment Job. Job suffers, not because he deserves it, but because God allows it. It is one of the hardest to understand books in the Bible, but so good if you can let its lessons sink in. I’m reading the John Macarthur study Bible and I love his extra teaching and insights. This is his description of the Background and Setting of Job: “The book begins with a scene in heaven that explains everything to the reader (1:6-2:10). Job was suffering because God was contesting with Satan. Job never knew that, nor did any of his friends, so the struggled to explain suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until finally Job rested in nothing but faith in God’s goodness and the hope of His redemption. That God vindicated his trust is the culminating message of the book. When there are no rational or, even, theological explanations for disaster and pain, trust God.” Job contains some of my favorite Bible verses: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him (13:15).” I pray for such faith! “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another” (19:25-27). Though He subject me to 24 hours of painful international travel, I will not dismay! Ok, I’ll dismay, but I’ll realize as I recount it to Kirk and my mom how He saw me through it at every step…
It was clear when I landed Erbil in the evening. I was the happy optimistic traveler with time on her hands! No need to sleep! That’s what the long trip home on the plane is for! Checked in at midnight, went through security, and found a comfortable chair in a café that took my last remaining American dollars for coffee, water, and some potato chips. Watched most of the movie “Temple Grandin” (another highly recommended one—both movies mentioned in this update fabulous recommendations of Jeff and Allison Cabalka!)…until my computer battery died. Noticed my phone was almost dead too. Tried to get PIN from Kirk in case of need for money but he was already asleep and didn’t want to bug him. I was unconcerned. Headed West, remember?
Went to the gate and was so excited for the opportunity to fall asleep in my window seat when they announced the flight was delayed. Uh oh! Did some uncomfortable falling asleep in my seat until 5 a.m. when they said the plane should be landing at 5:30 a.m. Submitted to sleep on the floor like most of my fellow passengers at that point and woke up around 6:30 a.m. Problem noted! Dust everywhere. No visibility. Ah, institute Plan B! Quick call to Kirk with dying phone to get PIN. He calls bank while I go to Duty Free to look for charger. Duty Free guy suggests I beg Café lady for charger. She has none, but she’ll let me plug into her Western power strip. Enough juice on phone to receive PIN from Kirk. Trip to ATM to get admission fee for lounge to continue search for charging options. Lounge guy lets me in for free. Nice Business Guy #1 sees me looking to charge, says I got no options, but, hey, use my portable charger! Nice Business Guy #2 gives me the code for the Wi-fi. I really like Nice Business Guy #2. He’s in this story a lot…until I had to say goodbye to him. Nice Business Guy #1’s portable charger is now dead too (thanks, American woman!) so I head back to nice Café lady. I plug right in by her cash register and order juice and coffee with the lounge admission money I didn’t need. Everything is almost fully charged when Nice Turkish Airlines Guy Who Speaks English comes to tell me flight is cancelled. I like this guy too and wish he were in the story more also! I am providentially positioned by my charging needs closest to the Turkish Airlines counter where he directs me ahead of the crushing crowd.
I am joined in the crushing crowd by Nice Business Guy #2 who enlists the help of Nice Business Guy #3 to help me fight crushing largely male Middle Eastern crowd who are not that interested in lines or personal space. Meet Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife who also helps me. Turkish Airline (not so much English spoken here) plan is give them a cell phone number to call you on when they have a flight plan, go get your luggage, and go get on a bus to unnamed hotel. I retreat to a quiet area to call United Airlines for different options. Option #1 is a $5000 change to my itinerary leaving at 4 p.m. Seems like an expensive option to me, especially with the air still thick with dust and me having no confidence any flights are flying today. I resign myself to Turkish Airline plan. I just want a shower and a nap! Have I mentioned yet that in Baghdad we women needed to be much more “covered” (or “encapsulated” in some translations) than we actually need to be in Kurdistan? I started this journey almost 24 hours prior. There had been a lot of sweating. I have on my best transition from covered to less covered outfit, but it’s still more clothes than I would like (can I tell you how much sympathy I have for those women with no options in this area!!!!) and my pants happen to be white. See silly optimistic traveler comment above. Have I also mentioned that since Kirk was staying and I was going that I had the extra bulky luggage?
I retrieve said luggage and find Nice Business Guy #2 outside. Alas, his company is transporting him to a nice hotel. He directs me to the Turkish Airlines bus and I notice Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife. We are pretty much now in no English zone so I figure I’ll just follow people I recognize! This is a secure staging bus, so we are transported outside the airport and dropped on a curb. No other bus in sight. Spot Nice Turkish Airlines Guy Who Speaks English (alas, for the last time!) and he asks “what are you doing here?!” Good question! He directs us back about a block or two to another bus. Remember clothes, luggage, sand, heat? We arrive at said bus. Underneath luggage space is full. Funny Iraqi guy says “I’ll help you. This is Iraq, not Canada Air.” One of the funniest lines of the day. We pile on the bus, drive to who knows where, and get out at a not so lovely hotel. There is no English signage, no Turkish Airlines representatives, and, once again, not a lot of English spoken. They escort me to a room with Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife. When I shake my head, they say “just for wait.” Nothing to do but make conversation and I learn Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife are on their honeymoon!!!! See, another’s situation could always be worse! There is little on the bright side at this hotel, so I suggest to Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife that we go to a different hotel. Their gift to me: translation! My gift to them: a nice room on the first night of their honeymoon! The new bride likes this idea. Meanwhile, there have been lots of phone calls and texts between me and Kirk and Dr Hiwa in Sulay, utilizing their knowledge, help, and language translation. They suggest some hotels. They are too nice for Nice Arab Iraqi Man Who Speaks English and His Wife to accept so they beg me to come with them to a different “nice” hotel that they know. I told them I didn’t want them to have to worry about me for translation all day and that I would prefer to find a hotel where English would be spoken and we said our goodbyes in the lobby.
By this point, Kirk and Hiwa have found a hotel for me and are sending a taxi driver who speaks English, so I make myself comfortable in the lobby for what turns out to be a good 90 minutes with five of my new Arab Iraqi friends who work at otherwise not so nice hotel. One of them is actually a patron who is a petroleum engineer who speaks English. He is very concerned for my welfare. They all could not have been nicer. Tried to get me numbers to Turkish Airlines. Tried to get me a cab. But I notice a very well dressed man sitting there patiently. He gets escorted to a room. He obviously has the same assessment as me and comes back shaking his head. I notice his Kazakhstan passport and figure out he speaks Kurdish (and Turkish and Uzbek and German—failure from my German heritage!), but not English or Arabic. Dr Hiwa speaks all three so I call him and have him tell my new friend my plan and ask if he wants to join me. He could not have been happier. Our five new friends put us in the cab that Kirk and Hiwa sent and we pantomime a lovely conversation all the way over to the Sheraton. He, of course, pays for the cab and we part ways to our lovely rooms for much anticipated sleep!
I take off now yucky clothes, skip the shower, and fall dead asleep. I wake to realizing I need to work on the next plan. Turkish Airlines’ “we’ll call you” plan seems a little sketchy to me at this point. The two contact cell phone numbers they had given me are turned off (they were sleeping too). The local office was closed. I called an international number and talked to an Indian friend who I could barely understand who told me that I was scheduled on a flight out on July 12! I called my knight-in-shining armor husband Kirk and asked him to please call United again while I took a shower, got dressed, and went begging for a charger for the electronics that were dying again! Praise the Lord, he got me on a flight out tomorrow through Frankfurt that requires an overnight and gets me home 48 hours late, but it gets me home and it did not cost $5000! I’m in a clean, lovely, safe place, I ate my first meal in 24 hours, and my phone and computer are charged! All is well!