The young Kurdish woman, a border worker, walks me down to the launch on the Tigris River, I look out over the water and shallow canyon that 10,000 years ago gave birth to animal domestication, agriculture, complex hierarchical societies, in a word–civilization. She hands me my passport, says good luck and I step into the launch. It slowly glides across the river, the two or three other men in the boat talk in Kurmanji and generally ignore the clueless American, rendered in their native tongue, merikik. As we draw to the far shore the difference between the border sites operated by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Autonomous Kurdish Region is obvious, the former is huge with multiple buildings, paved roads and two restaurants, the latter is several card tables set on the pebbled beach of the Tigris. Two young members of the internal Rojava security force (Asayîş) search through suspect bags, they look at me, smile and return to their work. Oddly, at a border crossing, I feel, for the first time ever, welcome. There are a few large tents set on the beach to cover the overheated who are waiting to cross, and that’s it. I had been given a contact name and when I mentioned it to one of the Asayîş she waved me over to a man who arranged passage for me up the hill to the original Syrian border facility by car. There I met my contact and was served the ubiquitous sugared glass of tea. A beverage that by this time I had drunk enough of to not just stretch my bladder, but to break it. I sip the tea and he calls a translator to help with our discussion. I introduce myself and what I hope to accomplish in Rojava—some sense of the institutions that the Kurds have implemented since the stabilization of the battlefront; including the local assemblies, how they interact with the militias, the executive councils, and some of the new institutions — schools, universities and infrastructure that the PYD and their allies have built. He abruptly asked what I needed, after which I just about dropped my tea, and then mumbled sheepishly, ”A car? A translator?”
He nodded and indicated that the PYD could provide that. He did want to make clear several things, first the PKK and the PYD are two separate and non-contiguous entities. Next that what is happening in Rojava is a direct reflection of the ideas and philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan (pronounced in Kurmanji, Ojalan, you fucking heathens). I nodded, noting the twingy feeling in my gut of hero worship, then reminded myself that this hero is buried so deep in a Turkish prison that they probably won’t let him out after he dies.
I was given a car and driver and sent to Amuda, to make contact with folks at the cantonal PYD media center. The next three hours were spent driving across Rojava, a really unique mix of mountains, plains, agriculture, oil wells, villages and people. The Asayîş check points were entertaining, the soldiers would look at the driver, then at me and say, ”Thank you,” or nod. My tattoos raised an occasional Kurdish eyebrow. The folks on the street were wide-eyed, and silently kind.
In Amuda I met with the media folks and they asked me what I wanted to do, I set out my ideas and goals (once again) and they decided to send me to Kobani first thing as the weather looks like it will rain by the end of this week or the beginning of next. The roads are a mélange of asphalt, dirt, and in one or two places gaping pits left by ISIS car bombs. Therefore a good solid rain can really stop movement on the roads. Finally, the media people sent me to a house for journalists run by the YPG — communal living — but not a problem. At the house there was a smattering of journalists, some folks from the Netherlands helping to revamp a local hospital. There is a CNN crew here trying to make some kind of story out of Rojava, and since there is currently no huge amount of bloodshed here — it’s obviously not a great way to sell advertising. I have been listening to them prepare a video report for the past half hour in which — basically nothing happens — oh, and a YPJ militia woman gets asked pointed, burning questions like, ”Do you want kids, or to stay in the militia?” Devastating. I always wanted to listen to a CNN report being prepped. One off the bucket list.