Jack Serle

Oh to Hell with it all, it’s a question of infrastructure you see

In Kurdistan on January 8, 2012 at 4:29 PM

In 1991 Saddam Hussein had his nose well and truly biffed and bloodied by Uncle Sam and friends. The Kurds had the temerity to choose that moment to declare themselves autonomous from Baghdad. Saddam, broke and running low on bullets, decided to cut them off from all government funding. Perhaps he hoped starvation would do what his army failed.

As a consequence of this issolation, crippling UN sanctions and an idiotic civil war Kurdistan spent the years leading up to the 2003 occupation very much on its uppers. What little income the nascent Kurdish government could get was gleaned from black market trade throughTurkey, Iran and Syria. The ramifications of this penury are writ large in the woeful state of Erbil’s infrastructure.

Most apparent for a chip and pin addicted Britisher is there is damn all electronic banking meaning the economy is almost entirely cash based. Without the credit and debit system all mobile telephones and most internet connections, more or less, are pay as you go affairs. This therefore required Hack here to trek out into the rain this evening to purchase some more phone credit. Leaving the relative warmth of a drafty house and brandishing an umbrella in one hand, the other stuffed in an overcoat pocket, I set off on the five minute walk to the shops.


Erbil is a city being built up around the ears of its inhabitants. As construction booms the city authorities struggle to keep to their end of the development bargain. If they care at all that is. Pavements are in short supply. While not given a thought during the dry months the sogginess of January has turned the road-side tracks of compacted soil into churned mud gutters.

Despite wearing a stout shoes the claggy unctuous texture under foot soon turns to a sucking glue. The kind of sticky deposits usually confined to a Glaswegian’s aorta soon begin to form around my feet. Stomping it off only makes it worse and the shop is reached in an ungainly gait reminiscent of a rickets suffering Welshman.

Beyond the banking system and paving shortcomings there is little to no provision of sewerage. Water is drawn from an aquifer I understand but not exactly guaranteed clean by the time it reaches your tap. This of course will come as no surprise to UK readers given prevailing opinion in Britain considers even French water to be most likely hygienically unsound and certainly morally dubious.

Bottled water is in cheap supply however and I therefore endeavoured to grab some while acquiring more illusionary phone credits for prank calling the President of Kurdistan’s nephew (my next door neighbour but one).

Gaining my load and filling my phone I make my way out and back. This time I take care and judiciously choose the least adhesive side of the street. That water is not potable is not the extent of the sewerage inadequacies. Streets are not properly drained and adequate sewers are a distant pipe dream.

Baked dry in the sun but when the rain comes a treacherous bog

While the streets do not overflow with effluent the runtish, waif descendant of Cloaca Maxima cannot contain all the turds. When rain comes, and it does at this time of year, the streets do fill. My mind elsewhere it was with a deal of consternation that a vile white Land Cruiser ploughed through a particularly lake-like puddle showering me in goodness knows what.

“Oh you utter bastard!” I bellowed after the four wheel drive cur. Realising the futility of such a shout I shook myself down and glowered at a nearby tree. Were the driver Kurdish his language skills would not cover my profanity. Were the driver an expat the exclamation would fall on deaf ears as well. The average expat in Erbil cares less about the grievances of an umbrella wielding Kurd than he does about the remarkable colony of pubic lice cultivated during a three month stint servicing the wells of West Africa.

I trudge home carrying a heavy bag, beneath an umbrella and with leaden feet of clay. I closely resembling Frankenstein’s monster. My mind lingers on the what forms of physical, mental and dental tortures I would perform on the Land Cruiser’s driver. As the happy image of a red hot poker and power drill hover in my mind’s eye I hear the clatter and clang of locks and bolts.

My neighbours already view me as some kind of decrepit foreign heathen who doubtless hosts decadent parties involving lascivious beverages and few clothes. The shambling, grumbling, aromatic hulk moving up their street, giving a splat with ever step, doubtless fills them with dread. Perhaps there will be an upside to my company forcing me to move out of my comfortable if empty house into another, spartan abode.


I fling my possessions to the floor as I walk in the door and put the kettle on. The Land Cruiser retreats from my minds’ eye.

I set down to document the injustice that has befallen me. I type my password and wonder: what the folks at home are doing now? Bollocks to the lot of you! Balls I say to you all with your counter-revolutionary creature comforts, like kitchens without cockroaches.

I imagine this invective directed at you, reader, matters not a jot as you recline in your palatial ivory tower. Doubtless you read this snug in your comfortable, centrally heated, double glazed home. Perhaps you are making use of your high speed, wireless internet connection to scan this text before wrapping yourself in a fur to enjoy a hot ginger infusion by the fire. Followed maybe by a light supper with him afterwards.

You should heed my words though reader. For now I am mired in Kurdistan’s infrastructural inadequacies. For now I am moping in Mesopotamia with wet socks. But soon I shall return to Europe and when that day comes, Britain beware.

All you smug types merrily slurping on something hot and wet best be ready to kowtow till your forehead turns blue. When I enter London triumphant and establish a mighty Republic and be elected El Presidente for Life with 113% of the votes, you’ll be sorry. When I return and establish dominion over all of the ketchup, and level Battersea to build my own personal Bouncy Castle, then you’ll be sorry. You’ll all be sorry.

Image authors own, all rights reserved


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