Having crossed the border, we were left to wait at a government compound that also served as an immigration center. From a small kitchen in a space shared with two holes—the bathroom—there emerged a guard in sandals who must have doubled as the compound's chef. For the three of us he brought out food enough for thirteen. Three large bowls of white rice; a pile of flat bread the diameter of a large pizza, stacked six inches high; peppers and tomatoes stuffed with boiled meat; freshly cooked kebabs. A stew of white beans and shredded chicken was for lack of space placed atop the kebabs. Dropped dismissively on the table as well were a couple heads of lettuce, fistfuls of spring onions, and a half dozen sliced tomatoes. Hamilton had been similarly overwhelmed: "On another tray are many dishes, of deliciously seasoned stews of vegetables and fruits and the choicest flesh of gamebirds and lambs—the latter having been specially killed for us." On this day, nothing had been killed in our honor, but a can of spaghetti, a gesture of understanding toward the Western palate, was offered as a side dish. Refilled water bottles were added for the sake of presentation.
On either side of the border, as far as one could see, Turkish and Iraqi truck drivers were also taking their lunch or afternoon tea. They did not have kebabs, but probably a cold version of the white bean stew and certainly the flat bread, which was made differently, I would learn, in each Kurdish city. Instead of dining on plastic tables as we were, the drivers ate on aluminum doors that folded down on hinges from the sides of the oil tankers. Our trip across the border from Diyarbakir had taken five hours. The trip from Zakho, the first real town beyond the border, to Arbil would take another four. An oil truck driver making the round-trip from a refinery in Turkey to northern Iraq and then back to Turkey, with a stop somewhere near Kirkuk to pick up crude, could take anywhere from three weeks to two months, with most of the time spent waiting.
Uphill and down, stretching over the plains, Turkish and Iraqi oil trucks stood in line. For the drivers in Silopi, on the Turkish side of the border, the most dangerous part of the job lay ahead. Scores of drivers, from as far away as China and as near as Egypt, had been kidnapped since the beginning of the war. Many had been killed. American truck drivers contracting with coalition forces traveled in guarded convoys and were also paid handsomely for the risk. A Turkish driver down from Ankara would drive by himself, perhaps with an old pistol on the seat beside him. This afternoon, however, boredom, not danger, was the order of the day, as cabs sat empty and drivers lingered, eating around their trucks or on blankets by the side of the road. The small truck cabs were old and dusty, with the company's name or country of origin painted on the side in letters now chipping and peeling. Some men chatted with friends, some rolled dice on makeshift tables, and others simply sat on their haunches watching nothing go by.