Transport was a problem is this nick of the woods. The minibuses known locally as Coasters only ran on the major routes and share taxis were slow to fill up such was the price of fuel, consequently they were thin on the ground. After last nights rain there was not a cloud in the sky and I eventually got a share taxi to Amadiya, a small town to the north. Fortunately one of the boys had a bit of English and was able to explain that one of the roads we used had been built for the exclusive use of Saddam to service one of his palaces in the mountains at Inishke. I saw the ruined foundations of what had been its guardhouse and transport complex, and later the ruined Ba'ath Party HQ, a concrete blight which ominously overlooked Amadiya. Great jaggy mountain ranges sat either side of the town, itself perched on a table top hill with only one road in. The boy explained that many of the villages on the way were Christian (beer adverts tended to be a good indicator!), with many new collective houses for returned refugees. He also told me that he had been studying in Baghdad but had fled back home, his village church had been destroyed 3 times by Saddam too. The boys in the taxi did their best to look after me and upon discovering that the only hotel in town was shut for the winter (I would not have even known it was there anyhow) they took me back down the hill to the village of Kanya Mala, meaning Home Springs. Unfortunately the boy who had the bright pink trendy motel there wanted 40 dollars, I talked him down to 30 but it was still too much. So back up the hill into Amadiya and I was dropped to contemplate my next move over the only kebab and 7UP to be had in town. It was here that I found my first old style ring pull in years and its as well to note here that it summed up this countries attitude to litter, that is the concept simply did not exist. They threw their rubbish everywhere without a second thought, out of car windows onto the street, rubbish was swept one way then the other day after day and picnic places quickly became unfit for picnics. The bin men came round in a tractor and shoveled the detritus lining the gutter half heartedly into an open trailer, it had been spread all around by scavenging cats and dogs, what a shambles.
So rather stuck, there was the simple choice of going back to the resort town of Sarsink or continuing East as was my ultimate intention. So I took the risk of paying 14,000 and probably too much for a taxi to Sheladize via the town of Deraluk, not knowing what to expect, least of all where I would sleep that night. Deraluk was only large enough to line the road on either side of it and was devoid of multi-story buildings, it obviously did not have a hotel to offer. I regretted not making the fuss to stop there all the same, there was a spectacular river in spate gushing out from a cleft between the Kurejar Mountains to the north, it passed straight through town in a torrent and made quite a sight. Eventually Sheladize appeared similarly low key and my worst fears were immediately apparent, no hotel. Even without winter weather and political uncertainty, sleepy Sheladize probably didnt get too many visitors so I was soon surrounded by a throng of inquisitive locals, luckily one of whom turned out to be the local English teacher. With the light now fading I had an on the spot decision to make, pay 100 dollars for another taxi to Diyana or stay the night with friendly Khather. After feigning reluctance of course I accepted, no contest, and I was assured an entertaining evening into the bargain. Khather was a jolly fellow and was obviously genuinely delighted to meet me, I had met the likes of him before and had a lot of respect for these guys. Guys who had learned English the hard way through listening to the radio and endless hours of lonely study. Imagine, not only had the guy nobody to practice with but he had never been to an English speaking country in his life, and probably never would. He told me his one venture abroad had been to the Turkish border town of Chukurca, where his family had fled Saddams tyrrany against the Kurds for 3 months in 1991. Europe and the UN had helped out but predictably not the Turks. Khather reminded me that 180,000 people had been killed similarly in 1988, the time of the Halabja massacre with chemical weapons and here was a guy who had lived through it all. These were too decent a people to imagine having suffered such hardship. Though Khather was married he didnt have any kids, a situation which was offset by his co-habiting brother Fakhri who had 5 wee sweethearts. Khater's wife was predictably aloof and appeared only to serve us with a hearty meal of mincemeat, heated tuna chunks and fried egg served on the traditional large silver floor tray. It was a new challenge to eat fried egg one handed with only folds of flat bread whilst sat cross legged but it went down a treat, as did the conversation. Rest assured I had found a new brother and we men stuck together and slept in the main room together, a very strange set up I presumed was normal and not just for me. I pitied the poor wife and kids in the next room who no doubt went without heat and the pickings of the food for our sakes.