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Showing posts from October, 2013

A journey down the Tigris

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Fifty years ago, wooden rafts called keleks regularly plied the Tigris River, carrying people, livestock, and cargo – with loads up to 35 tons – from southern Turkey to northern Iraq. Built from logs lashed together and made buoyant by inflated goat skins, a fully loaded kelek could travel the 250-mile distance from Diyarbakır, Turkey, to Mosul, Iraq, in just six days.

Today, the rafts' long, heavy wooden oars push slowly through the brown, flat waters of the Tigris as they traverse northern Iraq. Sometimes their bottoms scrape the riverbed, the water levels low enough on a late September day for a tall man to stand waist-deep in the middle of the river. It takes a full day of hard effort to row eight miles.

When a last-minute invitation arrived last month to join the environmental group Nature Iraq as they paddled, floated, rowed, and (sometimes) towed a trio of traditional boats down the Tigris River from Hasankeyf to the marshes of southern Iraq, it was an opportunity I couldn&#…