Coyote part 23 "Over the border"
Where are they?
From the previous
If they’d had time to look, they would have seen poplars, cedar and even the occasional oak, but they were kind of distracted with the driving and the weather, they also hadn’t noticed that they’d been watched as they entered the village.
“Samir, my friend” a voice rang out just as he brought the vehicle to a stop, “what are you doing here, in the middle of a storm?” a man was coming towards them, he was carrying a Kalashnikov, but in the villages, if you’re a male, you’re undressed without one, his was slung over his shoulder as he walked arms outstretched towards Samir, “Really my friend, it’s the middle of winter, what in the name of the prophets are you doing here?”
“Mohammed” Samir shouted, not too sure what the man’s name was, but it’s a good chance it was Mohammed as many Muslims have that name, “Sorry to barge in like this”
“It’s Mahmoud” the man joked, “Forgotten me already?” he smiled, “still, you look tired, and what the heck are you doing out here, with your family in the middle of winter?” he already had a good idea what Samir was doing, and he didn’t blame him, but Samir, and Op Mercy had been good to the village, and maybe now they could repay a little. “Come, we have food and tea, you can stay with my family tonight!”
What in the name of the prophet were you thinking?
Mahmoud’s was a simple house. As you entered, you had a small alcove, with a room going off to the left, and another to the right, to the right was the women's room, where they did their daily chores, the small kerosene stove was in that room as that’s where the cooking and cleaning was done, they knew there was always a kettle on the boil, and any excuse was taken for a glass of hot sweet tea, the women were finishing getting the glasses ready as they entered the house, one of them reached out and was almost tugging Sara away, she looked helplessly at Samir as she was being whisked away, he also saw a huge smile on her face, kind of an assurance that somehow, everything was going to be okay.
“What in the name of all the prophets are you thinking?” Mahmoud began to ask, “heading for the mountains in winter, IN THIS?” he waived his hands at the door indicating the weather outside.
“You’ve heard the news?” Samir asked, not sure how much Mahmoud knew of the outside world, they could be pretty isolated up here, in the mountains.
“You mean about Saddam, and the attack on Erbil?” Mahmoud replied, “Yes, I was in Zakho about a month ago, I also know before you say anything” he went on, “about some of the foreigners and the Soldiers having left, but why are you making a run for it?”
“I came from Baghdad” Samir replied, “two years ago, we tried to get out to Australia, we got caught in Turkey, they returned us to here” he reached for the glass of tea Mahmoud’s wife had just brought in, “We were only dropped over the border because we had no passports” he went on, “all the rest were sent back to Baghdad, they would, well. You know what he’s like!” he didn’t need to finish the statement.
Mahmoud was deep in thought, listening not just to the words, but to the heart of the man, Kurds are often slow to speak, but they weigh every word for the wisdom it might contain, and the help it might give. “Yeah, we know alright” he finally sighed, “we’ve paid that price too many times” he stopped, thinking not what to say next, he already knew what he would say, but thinking how they might help. “So now, you fear if he comes back here, to the north,” he didn’t get the chance to finish.
“We’ll be executed” Samir cut him off, “I’ve lost most of my family to that butcher, Sara lost all hers, of course we will, and with the soldiers gone, what’s to stop him?”
“We’ll fight to our dying breath” Mahmoud looked resolute, “he’ll never do what he did to our village again while we’re alive”
“And your home is here” Samir replied, “but I grew up in Kirkuk, my home, and my family are gone, all I have left is Sara, George, and a brother in Australia, that’s why we have to leave”
“Stay with us,” Mahmoud spoke again after they finished their tea, “until the storm blows over, then we’ll take you over the mountains to the border”
In the villages
Onwards, and upwards
They were up and ready as the sun began to show over the top of the mountain, outside was a pristine white world, the snow hung heavy on the branches of the trees. The truck had been parked in a makeshift barn, three sides mud brick, and one side, protected by the trees, was open, there was snow on the ground, but nothing that a decent farm vehicle, or a 4x4 couldn’t handle.
“We were going to be taking petrol over into Turkey” Mahmoud said as he showed Samir ten jerry cans all lined up, “using the village mules, Mind if we put them on your truck? we’ll still send Hafez and Dilshad with you, they’ll show you the way, but they’ll be staying with family over the border”
Samir had a fleeting thought, a verse from the Bible that Sara liked, ‘The lot is cast in the lap, but the plan is from the Lord’ he couldn’t really believe the good luck they were having, Sara wasn’t so sure.
“It’s okay” he reassured her, then turning to Mahmoud, he said, “sounds like a good idea, they’ll know the safe tracks”
“And the roads the Turks are watching” Mahmoud assured him, “The PKK carried out a few attacks recently, not round here, but the Turks are a bit on the ‘jumpy’ side”
Bringing a vehicle back from the villages near the border with a few extra ‘perforations’ wasn’t totally unusual, get too close to the wrong group and they’d ‘open up’ on you, Tariq and Mr James had done it a few times, thankfully no one got hurt.
Half an hour into the drive, they were a couple of kilometers further up the mountains when the came to what seemed like a fork in the road, “Take the one going right” Hafez shouted down from the back of the truck, it was freezing, but they’d both refused to get into the cab, they didn’t want to crowd Sara and George out, they were guests.
“But the one to the left runs closer to the border?” Samir shouted the question back.
“Yeah” the reply came back, “but it’s also being watched, by the wrong sort of people, know what we mean?”
“Got it” he swung the steering wheel and headed in the direction they’d said, not sure how long they’d just added to the journey.
“Don’t worry” Hafez went on, “It’s only a little way more, then we take a left and head for the border, but stay on the tracks, no matter how rough the road gets”
“What about the villages?” Sara asked, “aren’t there some villages round here”
“Especially in the villages” it was Dilshad spoke up this time, “My home one is just round the bend, but don’t stop, it’s ruined and there’s landmines in the rubble!”
“One day we’ll get back and clear them, but there’s so many, two of our village lost their arms when we tried” he replied, “then when the Mukhtar’s only son was killed by one, he forbade us to carry on, that’s when Mahmoud’s village took us in, now stay on the road” the last part sounded more like a command than a request, then again, they understood why.
"And over we go"
Just beyond the village was the river, a fast flowing body of water, ot didn’t look deep, but the water was moving pretty fast, samir stopped the truck and was going to get out, he was stopped by Hafez’s shout.
“I told you not to get out, there’s mines all around”
“But the river”
“Don’t argue” he shot back, “See the line of rocks going across, where the water’s only just covering them?”
“Straddle your wheels along the line, use four wheel drive if you have to, that’s the safe route we marked!”
“Are you” Sara’s question was half out, concern in every word.
“I put them there” he shot back, now get moving, and pick your feet up, the water’s going to come into the cab!”
Samir put the vehicle into four wheel drive and began to crawl across the river, the trick isn’t to go fast, but take things slowly, concentrating on having as much grip, and as much torque as you can muster, and the big Dodge had both, but even then, as they got to the centre of the river, he could feel the pressure of the water as it pushed the big vehicle sideways.
About half way across Samir noticed that the rocks seemed to move off downstream at an angle, he thought it was just the water pushed them further down, until he heard Dilshad shout.
“I told you straddle the rocks” he shouted, “follow them and it’ll take the pressure off the sides, it won’t push us off course, now do it!” Samir turned the vehicle and followed the path.
A few minutes later they were across and the big Dodge was coming out of the river when the two Kurds jumped off the back, one of them, Hafez walked up to the drivers window with a big smile on his face and said, “Welcome to Turkey”
Pacify the guards
“What?” Samir took a moment to get his speech back, “is that it?”
“Sort of” he replied, “we’re in Turkey, but the first border post is a few hundred meters away, in the nearest village, which by the way” he went on, “we’re not going to, but don’t worry, we’ll put you on the right path, our friends are just up ahead, they’ll give you a good price for your fuel, and even in Turkish Lira if you want, though we’re getting our money in dollars”
“But what about the border guards?” he asked.
They both smiled, then Dilshad reached into his tunic, and pulled out a pack of Marlboro, the universal currency that’s even better than money, “what you think these are for?