And today in Iraq we went to church, made wishes by tying knots in sheets and skirted along the edge of Mosul, arguably the most dangerous city on Earth (yeah this bit was quite scary).
Driving south out of Dohuk we travelled through flat arable land and semi-desert to the small village of al-Kosh which is unusual in
in that it’s 100% Christian. The village itself was simply lovely and one of the only places we’ve been here that has actually felt genuinely old thanks to its mud wall gateway, narrow streets, houses with little courtyard gardens. I was walking a little ahead of Toby and Iraq and was basically kidnapped by an old couple who forced me into their house to drink coffee and eat biscuits. It was a struggle to escape without having lunch there. The highlight of the village though was the old monastery built into and around a system of caves high up on a honey coloured cliff face above the village. The amazing thing about this small Marion island of Christianity in Iraq was that despite being just 30 odd kilometres from the violence and mayhem of where killing Christians is almost a hobby, the war hadn’t touched the village at all. Mosul
It was somewhat reluctantly we left here and continued onto Mar Metti or St Matthews Monastery, which at 1650 years old is the oldest church/monastery in
. Like the one in al-Kosh this one was also set like an eagles nest way up on a cliff face. Unlike the al-Kosh monastery though this one was huge and once (well 1000 years ago) it housed over 2000 monks - today there are seven although this is up on the two Monks of a few years ago. Getting to Mar Metti was something of an adventure. We had to pass very, very close to the suburbs of Iraq - in fact we could have walked from the road we were travelling along to the city outskirts in about 5 minutes. Had we realised the road went quite so close to what is possibly the most dangerous city in the world we probably wouldn’t have bothered; as Marion kept saying “What are we doing? Driving by Mosul just to see a church. I never even go to church at home”. She did have a point! The security through the area we drove through was shared between the Kurds and the Iraqi army and was outside the full control of the Kurds. The look and atmosphere of the place was radically and instantly different. It was immediatly much poorer, much dirtier, much more desperate and, frankly, much, much more scary. This was exactly the Mosul you see on TV. There were road blocks everywhere. Driving through one town there were army road blocks on almost every street so they could check who went in and out of each and every quarter of the town. Everyone at the check points said we were safe here, but stopping for a kebab for lunch just didn’t seem all that appealing when you could see down the hill into Iraq itself. Things weren’t improved much by the fact that the driver hadn't been here before, didn’t seem at all certain of the security situation himself and was a little worried he'd take a wrong turn and in a kilometre or so end up in Mosul itself.... When the road finally turned north again and re-entered areas fully controlled by the Kurds the people of Mosul could probably have heard the sigh of relief! That was definitely a close enough view of the 'real' Mosul ! Iraq
From Mar Metti we drove north into an area of lovely hills covered in olive trees and grape vines to a place called Lalish, which is the holiest place in the world for followers of the Yazidi faith. There were several pyramid shaped temples here and a number of cave like chambers below them. As there are only 500,000 Yazidis in the world and it wasn't a holy day there were few people around but a nice man showed us around and explained how we could make a wish come true by tying a knot in a sheet. I think we all wished not to have drive back the way we came! Our wishes came true because it was a simple drive from there back to calm and collected Dohuk!