To be honest, I was annoyed. Very annoyed. I usually don't let things that are out of my control bother me, but for some reason this time I couldn't help it. Maybe it was because my 4am flight, for which I arrived at the airport the standard two hours early, got delayed 3 hours. Or maybe it was because mosquitos ate me alive while I tried to sleep on the hard, not-so-clean floor of the Erbil airport. In the end, despite never having felt unsafe (or even uncomfortable for that matter), I think I was just ready to leave.
Despite the troubles leaving, my time in Iraq was interesting, if nothing else because it was decidedly uneventful. I worked, I ate, I slept, I touristed a bit, I worked... you get the idea. The best part about the whole trip was the opportunity to meet, and work with, some of what has to be Iraq's most genuinely nice people. Hardworking and honest, each had their own unique story of how they got to where they are. Some were from Baghdad and escaped the violence while others trace their ancestry to before Christ.
One of the latter, our office manager who speaks a mixture of Kurdish and Arabic at the office and Aramaic at home, was kind enough to take me to a beautiful restaurant the night I left. Wave after wave, the food came and went, all accompanied by the most delicious bread you've ever tasted. We sat outside, in the cool darkness of the manicured lawn, watching young Iraqis smoke hukka and old Iraqis drink raki (I don't remember the Kurdish name for it, but it is the same as Turkish raki). I could barely see my food, but it really didn't matter. Hummos followed by grilled lamb followed by fresh vegetables - they all went down happily and easily.
To all of our Iraqi staff - I salute you for your patience, your perseverence, and your dedication to re-building a county desparately in need of help. You all are the future of Iraq.