This is the blog of journalist, Lonely Planet author and photographer Stuart Butler. It features news and travel updates from the regions in which Stuart works, including northeast Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan), Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Iraq day three

Today something amazing happened! The sun came out! Oh yes, you think Iraq is all sun baked desert well not so. Up here in the north it rains, and it rains and then it rains again. So taking advantage of this rare glimmer of sunshine we started the day with a walk around Sulamaniya’s souk where we saw cute fluffy bunny rabbits about to be be-headed, chickens being cooked with flame throwers and posters of Adolf Hitler next to ones of Che Guevara which frankly was a little strange. We also found a fantastic tea shop with pictures of Kurdish freedom fighters all over the walls and about a hundred old men playing dominoes and backgammon and Marion, the only girl in the vicinity, wishing she was a man.

A cheery afternoon was spent in prison looking at people being tortured and gassed. The Amna Suraka is an old Saddam era prison/interrogation centre/torture chamber. The current authorities have left it much as it was the day they over ran it and took control of it over the Bathists. The huge complex was littered in bullet holes and inside were very graphic pictures and models of the results of Saddams gassing of Kurdish villages and people being tortured. The odd thing was the reaction of the visiting Kurds and Arab Iraqis who presumably all know people killed in the Saddam era and yet treated it all like a big jolly carnival. Oh, we’re in a torture chamber where people I knew may have died ho ho ho, let’s take some photos, joke about and lock ourselves in the prison cells and climb on the tanks! What family friendly fun all this is!

In the prison cafĂ© (with Wifi may I point out) afterwards we met a big group of Iraqis from across the country who were in town for a conference on blogging and media freedom in Iraq. We had no shortage of invites to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul and Najaf amongst others and they said we could bring friends so if anyone wants a lovely (but possibly quite short) holiday in Mosul do let me know and I’ll pass on your details.

Then we went for a walk in a park and got married! Well, ok that’s an exaggeration but we did get an invite to join in a Kurdish wedding celebration in the children’s playground. All I can say about that is thank god only the women were dancing as I’m not totally sure Iraq is quite ready for my caterpillar dance yet….

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