Friday, 29 July 2011

Chapter 28: Kurds and Survey - Good Morning Kurdistan

Saturday 26th May 2001

I was awakened by the sound of car horns emanating from the street. The room was brilliantly lit by sunshine and already hot. I rose, pleasantly relieved to have finally reached my destination. My work colleague, who I had found at a swimming pool the previous evening, intercepted me in the hallway and promptly introduced me to the workings and idiosyncrasies of a Kurdish bathroom.
After a cautious shower I met him in the kitchen to reacquaint over a breakfast of flat bread and yoghurt. I sensed immediately that weight loss would be one of the many new experiences I would encounter during this visit.

He suggested I stay at the Chwa Cha Hotel; premises which were situated in Erbil that had been approved by UNDP to provide accommodation for international staff. At thirteen dollars US per night it could be an inexpensive interlude until I found rental accommodation within Ankawa itself, he recommended.

After breakfast we walked a short distance along dusty concrete streets to our office which turned out to be a regular Kurdish home positioned a few blocks away from the main UNDP offices. On the way I couldn’t help but notice that the streets had no signage and as far as I could tell no names.

On the way up to our room on the second floor my colleague led me throughout the ground floor introducing me to many of the local staff engaged on the project. I was acquainted with the messenger boy, the cleaner, the draftsperson, a secretary, a geologist, a surveyor, two engineers and the national project manager. The messenger boy, in this fossil fuel soaked country, was cooking a small pan of breakfast over a tiny portable gas stove as a woodcutter would cook his breakfast over an open wood fire in a forest.

With the introductions to the local staff dealt with I was led up stone flagged stairs to where the international staff were housed. I was overcome with pride to find my name and title already attached to the door of my office, although the faded, dusty paper suggested it had been placed there six months ago when I was first expected to arrive. After a brief greeting with the international project manager I was shown to my desk and the main briefing began in earnest.

I was told about the Oil-for-Food Programme established by the United Nations, under Security Council Resolution 986, to protect the welfare of ordinary Iraqi citizens affected by the international economic sanctions imposed in the wake of the first Gulf War. Revenue was derived for the programme by allowing Iraq to sell oil on the world market, a portion of which found its way to funding the United Nations Development Programme’s Electricity Network Rehabilitation Programme (ENRP). My colleague went on to say that UNDP/ENRP was mandated to address the need for basic humanitarian levels of electricity supply throughout the northern governorates of Iraq namely Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah (population 3.5 million). It seemed the governorates of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah were cut off from the national grid and had to rely on two hydro power stations whose generation capacity was insufficient to meet the demand, particularly during drought conditions. The governorate of Dohuk still continued to be linked to the national grid but received limited supply.

UNDP’s role in northern Iraq was unique in that it engaged a team of international consultants directly to implement ENRPs obligations which were the basis for our involvement.

My colleague then explained to me the organisational structure of UNDP/ENRP pointing out the key personnel. Gradually all the names, terms and abbreviations which I had been subjected to over the past six months became clear. Finally he added our small project to the mix, enigmatically named Z70, and its role in the overall scheme of things. We were to build mini hydro power stations in the mountains enabling small remote villages to have access to an electricity supply. 

It was explained to me that in my capacity as a cross governorate international surveyor I was responsible for training and supervising the three teams of local surveyors and draftspersons in each of the three northern governorates, to establish site control at each of the selected locations and produce data and drawings for the feasibility, design and construction of the small schemes.

As the contract was for three months on, and one month off, my next break I duly figured would be September.

Finally, as the briefing was drawing to a close my colleague offered me a warning, “but the two most important things to remember is, firstly, don’t touch the local girls and two, make sure you get a land-mine induction from UNOPS.”

I was well aware of the temptation contained in the first warning having seen an abundance of pretty jet-black haired young girls the previous night strolling the streets wearing merely T-shirts and jeans in the hot evening air. I asked what the consequences would be if the first warning was ignored.

“You could end up dead,” was the terse reply.

The second of my colleague’s warnings, I thought, needed no further explanation. 

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