Getting Engaged in Iraqi Kurdistan
Valentines Day rolled around, it was our last day in Kurdistan. We had covered almost every inch of the region in a rental car, and Michael wasn’t acting anything other than how travel photographers act in remote regions of the world, a steely-black-eyed determination to capture everything there was to capture on camera.
He appeared out of the Sulamaniya Market with a fake rose he’d bought from a little boy which was my first indication that he’d forgotten about Valentines Day. It was slightly romantic, and to be honest I’m way more thrilled with the ”hanging with Kurdish elders in the largest Souk in the Middle East” romance than “chocolates and champagne” romance, if you catch my drift.
We continued as we always had done together- pursuing the wild terrain like New World explorers, the hills and valleys that might have never been seen by tourism, me navigating a map and (just to make it 21st century) a GPS app that saved us more than a few times.
We headed out towards Hamilton Road, one of the said most beautiful places in the Middle East. The road was constructed in the early 20th century as a shortcut from the Mediterranean cities of Beirut and Alexandretta to India. It was known as an engineering feat for it’s navigation through impassable terrain, and Michael was absolutely dead set on getting up the road so “we can find a mountaintop and chill.”
Since when did Michael “chill?” He is German and one thing I know for certain after 4 months of living in Germany that “chill” is not part of the Deutsch vocab. Something was terribly fishy.
I decided to interpret it as ”Nobody has photos of this place so we need to get there before the sun goes down” which was a totally justifiable considering we were in the middle of nowhere.
“Um. Ok. Let's.. chill."
Like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, families out picnicking, waterfalls and other natural wonders (not common in this part of the world) gushing, Hamilton Road was vast and glorious. For a minute I thought I was back home, driving on the 1-15 to Colorado from California. A fleeting pang of homesickness came over me and then, as it always does, mercifully drifted off.
Much later, after two failed attempts at listening through Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Probably not a good idea to pop in an audiobook about the Indian prison system while driving through unbeknownst territory) we jimmied and swerved through herds of cows clogging the streets and I was beginning to wonder. Were we ever getting back to Erbil?
"Hey, Michael, do you mind stopping on this bluff here? We’ve been in the car for ages and I need to pee.”
As if the world was about to end, “YES I DO MIND,” he replied and flung around another corner like a wild Frigate bird in heat, me and the poor camera equipment with him. Ok, I give up. Not gonna get in the middle of a man and his sunset.
Just as I’d written him off as insane, he stopped the car, jumped out and ran around to my side. Dropping to a knee, sweating and slightly awkward, he pulled out a little box, looked up at me and I said, “What are you doing on your knees??” Right then and there, at an improvised spot between the borders of Iraq and Iran, overlooking the most stunning valley in a tiny village called Chnarnon (it's true… CHNARNON), he asked me to marry him.
For both of us it felt strangely normal because we already knew we were going to be together.
“We met in Antarctica, we traveled the world together, I just wanted to wait till we were in an equally unique place to ask you to marry me.”
And that, well, that it surely was.
I’m so glad it was CHNARNON!
We made it back to Erbil just in time to celebrate Valentines Day with the rest of the Kurdish lovebirds, fake rose in one hand, outdated map in the other, and all the love in the world billowing out of that little rental car.