2011
04.18

SYNOPSIS:

A ten-hour bus ride from Basra to Baghdad.  Instead of boring you with that, an introduction of the people in our group.  This is a long, long entry, sorry!

Disclaimer: I am putting myself in the hot spot, describing the characters in our group – it’s not like describing some people I meet for a few hours along the way whose path I will never cross again…  I am describing the group members, flattering or not, to convey an image of our makeup.  If I cause any offense, I apologize.  Except in the case of Geoff, I am using first names only, or less.  Should anyone from the group find their characterization out of line, please feel free to petition for a change.  I will take it under advisement, but can’t promise anything.

Overall, we were a great bunch.  Over the last 16 days we got along and had no major fights or incidents; but we had our characters.  What else do you expect of 11 people who choose Iraq as their vacation destination?!  We fluctuated between seven and eleven group members who came along for as short as 3 and as long as 16 days.  At all times we had leader Geoff Hann, plus four Iraqi crew members with us.

Geoff the Fearless Leader is the heart of this tour and others going to Iraq, Afghanistan, or other crazy and remote places on this planet.  He has been doing this for over 30 years!  The stories he can tell of travel adventures could fill volumes – perhaps, some day he will get around to writing them down.  I wish he would tell his jokes in American English!  Half the time, I am lost with that British accent…  He currently is love struck and does not like to reveal his age.   The energy he has, however, beats what is displayed by us younger group members any day.  At times, he gets carried away into doing silly things like buying blood-red belly-dancer’s underwear for his beloved woman.  And if you ever look for him he most likely will be out shopping for one thing or another.  He is great fun unless he loses his temper which he will do at a moment’s notice if it is in the interest of his group:  Yelling at border guards, or arguing with police escorts or unreasonable hotel managers must count among his favorite pastimes.  If ever you consider going to some of these off-the-beaten-path places, go with him, you will not regret it!

Here is his websitehttp://www.hinterlandtravel.com

We had four guys among us and six women.

There was Henry the Giant; 1.95 meters tall with a thundering voice to go with his size, traveled with us for three days.  Blond, loud, in his forties, and Swedish – those were his outward signs.  He used to be an engineer of sorts and in that capacity was a member of the UN team which looked for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as early as the 1990s.  That’s the last time he had been in Iraq.  He was the only group member who had ever been here before.  He returned as a free-lance photographer with his partner Pauline to write about changes in Iraq between then and now.  He had a huge camera bag and intimidated us with his cameras which he pointed at us at every expected and unexpected moment.  We are not sure where these photographs will end up, but we might find out sooner or later.

Henry’s partner in this project, Petite Pauline, was a small Dutch woman in her thirties, with a forever but somewhat fake smile.  She seemed to be the most unlikely reporter to write about the Middle East as her ignorance was blatant and embarrassing under any circumstances; but for a reporter the gaps she displayed of basic knowledge of Middle Eastern culture, religion, and politics, were simply inexcusable.  She walked around with her notebook and scribbled down just about everything.  Both Giant Henry and Petite Pauline seemed nice, but a bit of an enigma.  Perhaps, we just did not have enough time to get to know them better?  We were not too upset when notebook, cameras and the people behind them disappeared again after three days.

Similarly opaque was Helge the Hippie from Norway. He had arrived a day after most of us since his original flight to Baghdad had been canceled.  He stayed in a single room and nobody really seemed to get close enough to him to find out much of anything.  He was in his early forties and in his main life he was a teacher of sorts.  His long, blond ponytail seemed to point to a hippie past.  He was in Iraq to start a documentary on how people would react to foreign non-combatants or some such thing.  He was on his own planet.  When all of us crowded around a tour guide, or listened to Geoff telling us something about the spot we visited, he was off shoving his video camera into some bystander’s face.  He would not talk much to any of us unless we directly approached him.  He was a pleasant fellow, but when he left after 9 days, it did not make much of a difference.  I hope his project will be a success.  I will look for it if I can find it.

We had no shortage of teachers!  Lady Kristine, from England was a retired teacher.   Lucky her!  At age 50 she retired and decided it was time to travel the world.  For 18 years she has been on the road at least twice a year.  Much of her travels take her hiking into the wilderness or on nature adventures.  Tall, athletic, full of energy, and fit as anyone half her age, she was radiating loveliness.  She is the epitome of what I picture an “English Lady” to be.  Her husband happily supports her adventures.  She knew he would not have wanted her to go to Iraq, so she told him that she was going to “Mesopotamia”.  He nodded in approval…  When only days before the trip he found out that this was code for Iraq, he was not amused!  But she went and enlivened our group with her giggles, her boundless energy, and her kind nature.  That she was among the few who left the group after only 9 days and made all of us sad.  She was one of a kind.  Many more happy travels to you, Kristine!  We were lucky to meet you.

Women from England come in all shapes and forms…  There is our Prima donna:  Primadonna, or BW as we called her, is very concerned about her public persona.  She is a self-centered, self-described business woman with 30 years of experience working in the Middle East who cannot afford to have her image plastered all over the internet or on some idiot’s website, like mine.  Therefore, you shall see her only in unrecognizable guises.  BW stands for a fine German word:  Besserwisser which describes someone obnoxious who always knows more than everyone else, or who thinks they do.  It can also stand for Bitch-Woman.  You get the picture.  She is the opposite of Kristine’s tall, athletic and fit.  I will leave it at that.  Picture somebody who will interrupt constantly, who will dismiss anything and anyone who contradicts her infinite wisdom, who will speak for the whole group, even Geoff, and tell us what to do or not do.  And this is just the beginning.  Couple it with hysterics over smoking, mood swings and outright impossible behavior and you wonder how this woman has gotten to this point without being strangled by anyone who has known her for longer than two weeks.  It took all of my restraining powers to not engage in a daily fight with her over her behavior, her unsubstantiated claims, her blatantly wrong statements about things she knew nothing about and it took most everyone else’s effort to just keep as much distance away from her as possible and to let her rage, or vie for attention to her heart’s content without getting entangled.  Me, me, me is all she knows.  Amidst all of this, Primadonna has a few moments of clarity in which she realizes that she is out of control.  She will apologize profusely and within five minutes continue on her old and trodden path.  In many ways she cuts a sad figure.  There is no doubt that she is successful in her little world, but at what a price!  Why is she here?  She is writing a book advising people on how to do business in the Middle East, how to behave, what to wear, and what to do…  That we all got along was not thanks to her but it is people like her who provide us with stories for years to come.  Thanks, BW.

It took an angel like Alma to room with her.  Alma, our Mother Theresa, is also from England and rounds out the picture of English ladies on our tour.  She also started out as a teacher and for many years now has worked as an independent consultant advising schools on curriculum and special programs.  She is a quiet woman with lots of people skills and the ability to work around a dinosaur like Primadonna without getting crushed and without starting open warfare. Alma has traveled the world on her own just like Kristine, and been to many places.  She is married without children and in her late 50’s.  She has a great sense of humor and lots of stories to tell.  In her room she mainly had to listen to Primadonna’s business affairs which are of course much more important than anyone else’s business.  I am sorry I could not spend more time with her.  Alma balances out our crazy bunch and seemed delighted to be in Iraq without any other motive than having a good time.  She and I suffered under the heat and often laughed about our equally red faces.

And then there was my roomie, Rosalie the Star of Iraq.  Originally from China, now in her forties, she emigrated to the States about 16 years ago and is working in the computer industry making enough money to support her costly hobby, photography.  She is not kidding when it comes to photography.  She walked around in Iraq with a camera bag of over 20 pounds containing three of the largest cameras I have ever seen in an amateur’s hand plus all the brushes, lenses, and gadgets a photographer could imagine.   But then she is no amateur!  Her photographs from all over the world are first-class prize-winning images; simply unbelievable.   Interestingly, it was not her cameras that drew the most attention, but the fact that she was Asian.  Iraqis, especially men, particularly our soldier escorts, were flocking to her, begging to be photographed with her, and at times inappropriately propositioning her.  She was like honey attracting bees.  As a roommate she was perfect.  We both were busy working on our photographs at night and in the morning and she made sure that despite all the sleep deprivation over the last two weeks, I would be up and about by 5 or 6 AM.

Equally serious about photography was Kulvinder the Engineer.  Also in his forties and with an Indian heritage, Kulvinder had a camera almost as impressive as Rosalie’s.  No wonder that the two of them put their noses together the entire time.  Kulvinder had traveled with Geoff to Afghanistan before.  He was a delightful man, friendly and kind.  With Rosalie he shared his interest in photography and with me he shared a little swig of whiskey using that as an excuse to hang out in our room until late night hours.

And finally, there was Roberto, our “Baby” from Italy.  With only 28 years he was by far the youngest among us.  Most of the time he lived in his own world – plugged into his MP3 player or sleeping stretched out on the last row of the bus.  But when he woke up, he stunned all of us with his encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary history and his near photographic memory of world geography.  You would never have guessed that with that intellect he was working as a train conductor.  But what a great job to feed his passions:  Learning and Travel.  He manages with overtime and shifts to get 50-80 days of vacation per year.  At his age, unmarried, and without encumbrances like children or a mortgage, he has seen more of the world than people twice his age.  What a great addition to our group!

Good night.

7 comments so far

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  1. Cool~~ Thanks god for being your roomie~~ You are so sweet to everyone~~

    If the BW was not with us, how could we have such special memory? !

    BTW, I forwarded your blog’s link to Kulvinder without your permission 🙂

    Have fun~~ Enjoy your trip~~

  2. Great cast!
    I think I can come up with a pix for Prima Donna, I had a few of those under my brushes!!!

  3. Elaine and I talked and we want to know if roles were reversed, what would the members of your tribe write a description about YOU in thier blogs? ; )

  4. I’m ready to sign up for a tour with Geoff (just checked out his website) but I will have to make sure certain present clients are not on my future trip.
    Thank you for this spirited and funny description. I hate to say it, but people are still, ultimately, more interesting than Mesopotamian ruins, although you are doing a fantastic job with them too.

  5. What a great set of portraits! I don’t need to see the pictures, the words are priceless. That you had a patient, forbearing woman along on the tour is probably more surprising than that you had so many type A people along. Most of the placid types are happy to stay home. That your guide Geoff handles all these folks is a testament to his skill as a guide.

  6. It can’t be done – if I want to live… ET

  7. we all want a proper picture of Prima Donna