A Serendipitous Encounter

A couple of days before leaving Adelaide I needed to go to the local covered shopping area called West Lakes, to sort out my phone deal. While I was there I decided to get some lunch from one of the many food stalls. I was checking out one stall when the man behind the counter engaged me in conversation about what food I was looking for. He then asked me where I was from and then I asked him the same question. He said his name was Kasem and that he was from Iran and then quickly added ‘but I’m Kurdish.’ I told him that I knew a bit about the history of the Kurds and that I had visited a Kurdish refugee camp in eastern Turkey. He was very interested and wanted to know more so I told him this story.

In 1991 Saddam Hussein was attacking the Kurds who lived by the mountains on the border with Turkey. Thousands of the Kurds fled into the mountains and into Turkey. Hundreds died from exposure, especially the young and the old. When I saw this on TV I had a sudden urge to go out there and see what could be done to help them. Friends in my church at the time collected money to help me do this with the hope that it would be a recce to find out how we could give ongoing help. I flew on my own to Eastern Turkey where I met up with an American missionary who knew the area. I then made my way into the mountains where I found myself totally unprepared, emotionally, for what I found. Other agencies were already there and the Americans had just began to arrive. I saw families burying their children and old people in mass graves dug by mechanical diggers. The mountainside was covered with groups of people in all types of shelters from plastic sheets to reasonable sized tents. I met a Kurdish man who was one of the elders in the village he had fled from. He spoke good English and took me into his tent to have tea with his family. He then showed me around the camp and told me the horrific. story of how they came to be there. It was very moving and I had a sense of deep pain and also frustration, wondering how we could help. When I finally decided I had to leave to get back to where I was staying in the valley I realised I had left it a bit late. On speaking to an American soldier who had just arrived with his unit he told me it was too dangerous to go down now as it was getting dark and there were various armed factions around in the hills. He proceed to put me in his machine gun carrier and take me down to the valley. I was very grateful.

By the time I had got back to UK the Americans had bought in lots of supplies and medical aid. They had also created a ‘safe haven’ in Iraq and the refugees were being returned to their villages.

I still have the photos and film from that visit and the memories still move me.

When I had finished my story the man shook my hand and said something like “thank you for caring, we sometimes think that no one cares about us.” He then proceeded to give me a plate of food and hoped I wouldn’t be offended if he gave it to me with no charge.

It was quite an emotional encounter for both of us. He introduced me to his younger colleague Hassan who was an Iraqi Kurd and also to another young Indian lady Akshata who was working for him. I had a brief chat with the Indian lady about my father’s connections to India which interested her greatly. We exchanged photos and FB names and they asked if they could follow my travel blog.

Who could have thought that a visit to the shops could turn into such a lovely encounter.

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