Wow. What an absolutely incredible experience this summer has been. I was incredibly blessed to work with amazing individuals with a passion for development work and gain invaluable work experience. I was challenged on both a professional and personal level. Iraq is facing challenges that are protracted and extremely complicated. Having the opportunity to see first-hand how the country is responding was absolutely incredible. My last week in Iraq was a blur; after spending twelve weeks in country, I was ready to get back to the United States, but I knew I would miss the staff and the interesting work taking place.
My last week in Iraq, I went to my last salsa night with a the A2J staff members. They surprised me with a farewell cake in the shape of a law book complete with sparkler candles. The cake caption was complete with inside jokes and a thank you. On my last night in Iraq they also gave me some gifts that were hand crafted in Iraq, including a gold Fatima hand (called khamsa in Arabic) necklace. Even though I was the youngest staff member in Erbil (by at least a decade), I worked with genuinely great people and developed close friendships; I will definitely miss them!
It was certainly an interesting week to leave Iraq. I was scheduled to leave Erbil, Iraq on August 9th. But, the United States began its major air strike missions near Erbil on the 8th. So, Emirates Airlines stopped flying into and out of Erbil, and my flight out of Iraq was completely cancelled. Tetra Tech DPK had to find me new tickets through Turkish Airlines, one of the few airlines still operating in Iraq. I was scheduled to leave at 3:45 am, but then the airlines decided to post pone all flights until daylight. The rumor on the ground was that the airlines had to postpone because the major US air strikes were being conducted at night. Finally, at 10:00 am I departed Erbil for Istanbul.
My summer in Iraq was incredibly rewarding. I learned about development work, legal aid, and Iraqi culture; my Arabic improved and my passion for the Middle East only increased. It was truly an incredible summer.