On Sunday morning, the light poured around the edges of the drapes in my hotel room at 5 a.m. Morning here comes as a command, much like the Azan –the Islamic call to prayer - its echoes bouncing about the city.
This is my first daybreak this time in Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and perhaps soon, the capital of a new independent state.
It is Ramadan now. In other times of the year, Irbil would be up to frantic pace by seven in the morning. But now, with the long, long days between Fajr and Iftar, much of the city slowly awakens and appears. By night, it is bustling like any major city at the peak of its day.
By 8 a.m., the pace quickens, the traffic building into a fast stream of metal and tires. Unlike the United States or Europe, navigating across these streets is a video game experience. Vehicles whoosh by so close one’s hair is tossed about.
Though no one has eaten, or let a drop of water cross their lips since Fajr, the first call at the start of dawn, people here go about life as usual.
Most intoxicating are the shops selling fruits and vegetables. Passing them is to breathe a perfume of peaches, apricots, grapes, cherries, and all of what is gathered in the orchards and vineyards in the valleys not far from here.
I have been to Irbil and Kurdistan before, in 1991, and then again in 2004 and 2005. The difference between then and now is astonishing – a transformation one could not believe a decade ago.
The rough-hewn city of ages past is being overtaken by the glint of glass and bright stainless reaching skyward. It’s everywhere one looks.
Walking alone, my feet shuffled in dust as old as Ibrahim. Then, striding across the polished marble and granite of new edifices, my feet crossed the threshold into this century. The separation between the two eons is but a matter of steps.
Atop the city stands the Citadel, a fortress perhaps 4,000 years old. And atop that edifice flies a huge Kurdistan flag, its sun radiating both the warmth of the people here, and their aspirations for a day when the flag will rise above a state of its own.