Pre-referendum insights in the Kurdish Region of Iraq and my take on Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations, Kurdistan

“When I told people I was going to Kurdistan, I got blank looks, a curious expression, ‘Where exactly is that?’ the expression seemed to say.”

— Bourdain’s opener to No Reservations, Kurdistan.

Church ruins; Kirkuk

Sitting on my mother’s couch last October, I saw what is now my current job listed on a teaching forum. I had the same reaction:

“Wait… what is Kurdistan?”

Fast forward to today. Eight days before an independence referendum that locals hope will yield the birth of a baby nation — a unified…


Walking in the door last night to where I started several months ago brought a massive wave of relief, accomplishment and joy over my wrecked shoulders and filthy backpack. Somehow, I had my arms, legs and spirits fully intact. Today, I marvel at also having a bug bite collection that is uniquely my own — a souvenir you can’t buy.

Island camping — a place you can collect many unique bug bites. Palawan, Philippines

There were times I thought that maybe I should quit traveling (okay well no, but it sucked) like when I was robbed in Cambodia, or when I came down with a sinus infection and hellish fever while laying on a…


a reflection of character

“If I went on a date with a girl and her car was as messy as yours, I’d be OUT of there.”

“Well, lucky for you and I, we aren’t dating.”

“I’m just saying, it’s a reflection of character.”

“That is absurd, it isn’t. A reflection of character is you getting mad at me for not closing your car door with the palm of my hand to avoid finger prints.”

“What if a man just wants to take care of his car?”

“Your car tells me that you’re anal and attached to meaningless, external subtleties; my…


10,000 steps with my kindred Chinese spirit.

The trek up Emei Mountain was, in a word, humbling. Humbling because you never realize how out of shape you can truly feel until you climb a 10,103 foot mountain… of STAIRS. Humbling because of breathtaking, foggy cliff drops next to temples. Which, I’ll note, are built into the path of the climb and only accessible by foot. They seem to magically appear out of the foggy abyss, offering refuge from the thick of bamboo and deciduous trees. My knees fall to Buddha each time. Mostly because they can’t take anymore stairs.

Shit you not. 10,000 of them.

Reportedly, this mountain has 150 monasteries. 150- and…


Trains offer glimpses of a China I’d never see otherwise.

I love sleeper trains. In what other setting would a Chinese cop, a mattress salesman, an engineer/backpacker from New Zealand and myself be brought together, playing cards and drinking vile rice wine while stumbling over language barriers and cultural divides?

“By Chinese standards, your boyfriend looks like a beggar,” the cop said when I showed him a picture of Mateo. Compared to my hair, Mateo’s is nearly as long and twice as thick. The reactions are simply unparalleled.

Step back about three hours, and my new kiwi friend and I were just leaving the dining car to squeeze our way…


I’ve never loved and hated something so fervently as I do China. It’s a place that can bring you unrivaled joy and suck your soul dry minutes later. Like an abusive boyfriend who takes you on a sunset cruise just before beating you to a pulp (perhaps a bit too graphic, but it’s my mood and I’ll blame the day I had in China).

My mixed emotions swirl like a tornado — one moment hating Chinese people for their utter unconsciousness and lack of respect for human beings, the next moment hating myself for complaining. After all, I chose to…


an unpublished memoir of my polluted days from Chengdu, 2013.

I take a drag. I feel the head rush, but it isn’t pleasant. I remember why I don’t breathe here. The inside of a bus has little air to offer apart from its polluted domain: the industrious, overpopulated city of Chengdu. Another drag. I witness a Chinese girl nearly broadsided by my bus and the one next to it. She stumbles to and fro to evade the honking robots around her. She walks on, unfazed by her daily commute. Another drag. The deceptive yet ominous melody blaring from a street…


why I hate itineraries

I’m never caught up, really. On sleep, on work, on postcards… I think it’s the tax of living everywhere and having a plan so little of the time. I read a questionably attributable quote once that said something like:

“To do great things you need a plan and not enough time.”

I’m not sure if I have much of either. But in the spirit of trying, I plan to catch up on my writing and put it somewhere. Some things I intend to share are long after the moment has passed, and have simply been collecting…

Jillian J. Stenzel

Collector of Experiences most recently in Kurdish Iraq. Now in U.S.A.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store