A Night at an Amusement Park in Iraq (VIDEO)

Iraq can be a hot place. The afternoon sun beats down with an intensity that makes you want to wither up into a little ball. Or just chill and do nothing. Not the best combination for traveling, if I do say so myself.

Let’s rewind for a second. It was my first full day in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region and I was pretty miserable. As I wandered the streets of Dohuk (also spelled Duhok or Dahuk) I saw a pretty dead city. And for good reason…it was miserably hot out (about 45 Celsius or 113 Fahrenheit). Wiped and unhappy by 1:30pm, I retreated to my air-conditioned hotel room. But I couldn’t stay here all day. I mean, I didn’t travel all the way to Iraq just to hang out in a hotel!

Dohuk

Dream City

I had a plan. I’d spend my evening at Dohuk’s star attraction, an amusement park by the name of “Dream City.” I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “but you didn’t travel all the way to Iraq to just go to an amusement park, right?” Well, as they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans…errr, when you’re in Iraq, do as the Kurds?”  Point is, “Dream City” is the evening thing to do in Dohuk.

About 4:30pm, I set off on the rather long walk to “Dream City,” located on the outskirts of town. As I arrived upon a seemingly endless parking lot, surrounded by knock-off Western outlet stores, I saw the not-so-gleaming gates ahead of me, complete with a faux Donald Duck and Micky Mouse statues to give the place a nice family feel. After passing through the obligatory security checkpoint (in some ways, Iraqi Kurdistan feels a bit like Israel with the endless security checkpoints) and paying the 1,500 Iraqi Dinar (IQD) entrance fee (about US$1.28, rides are priced separately) I was greeted with…almost nobody!

Dream City

It was a fairly modern amusement park, with your typical sort of “State Fair” attractions. A tilt-a-whirl, a ferris wheel, one of those free-fall things and a pretty epic looking roller coaster flying a German flag over it’s highest point (alas, it was broken down). But it was still a rather empty place. It didn’t help that rides required a minimum number of people to run. It was early still, though, and as the hours became later, and the sun continued its descent in the sky, this park soon became crowded with families enjoying themselves!

Roller Coaster

Enter, Friends!

“Hello! Where you from?” asked a young man in a t-shirt with an American flag splashed across it. He was accompanied by an even younger guy (his brother). We got to talking a bit but English was not their forte. Though oddly enough, Spanish was (sort of). These two brothers (18 and 16 years old) worked for an oil rig that was run by Spaniards. They worked every single day and had only received the day off because there was a fire and they couldn’t go to work! Let me say that again…they didn’t get days off. The fact that they were there today was an anomaly. Thanks to their bosses, we had another common language we could speak!

Between their smattering of English and Spanish, a friendship was born. “Paisano!”, I was called for the rest of the night (it means “civilian” or “one from the same country”). And my new friends simply insisted on taking me on a few rides!

Carnival Rides

First, the Tilt-a-Whirl, which, in this case, was set up as a discotheque, complete with  people standing up and dancing in the middle of the Tilt-a-Whirl as it was spinning and tilting wildly, thankfully, while maintaining their balance, lest numerous folks be severely injured! I was so taken by what was happening that I filmed it the next time it went around, which you can see in my video from the evening below.

Next it was on to the Ferris Wheel, where my new friends proudly showed off the views of the park and their city. “Work, there!” said the older one, pointing towards the mountains off in the distance. They had a long drive back to their jobs tonight, which was close to two hours away. I certainly didn’t want to keep them, but they insisted on showing me more!

Ferris Wheel

We were all hungry, so into the arcade/game room we went. Amidst the rows of arcade games and ping pong, air hockey, foosball and pool tables was an eatery, run by the park’s sponsor. My new friends watched what I picked out before getting the exact same thing and then paying for all of us.

Before we parted for the evening, the elder one insisted on one last ride. He pointed to one of those “hammer” things. You know, the ones where the two different sides swing in opposite directions, ultimately spinning around completely? You spend a lot of time upside down. I sat down, pulling my harness towards me. As the ride went up and up and up and I suddenly found myself facing the ground with my entire body weight pressed up against that harness, I panicked every so slightly. See, nobody had checked this harness, that was now the only thing between me and falling to my death…

Fortunately, we returned to the ground in one piece, my heart finally settled out of my throat! It was now 10:30pm and it was time for my new friends to start their long journey home. As I looked around on the way out, the place was still packed. Packed with young couples and their children. Families out enjoying the cool weather. It was about as far from what you would think Iraq would be as you could possible get, the first of many times in this trip that I’d experience that!

During my walk back to my hotel, still beaming about the evening, a man passed by. “America?” he asked me in passing? “Yes,” I replied. “I love you!” he shouted back at me. And thus ended the first day in this strange land. I’d gone from a miserable afternoon to one of the greatest evenings in my life.

“Dream City” in Video

Read More About My Adventure in Iraq

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16 Responses to A Night at an Amusement Park in Iraq (VIDEO)

  1. Jeremy Branham October 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Seems like a typical amusement park but not a typical experience! Very interesting that these Iraqi kids worked for an oil rig and spoke Spanish.

    Whether it’s Iraq or a state fair, wondering how sturdy these rides are put together is a concern regardless of where in the world you are. :)

    • Aaron October 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Exactly. It was a totally normal amusement park in a seemingly totally normal place. Not exactly what you’d think you’d find in Iraq! But it wasn’t the amusement park that stood out to me… it was the wonderfully socially experience I’d just had, my first real taste of the warmth of the Kurdish people.

      And, uh, yeah…the sturdiness of the rides really hit home while I was on that hammer ride! I’d be willing to bet that they probably don’t have the same sort of regular safety inspections that we have… Heck, you hear about those occasional accidents at State Fairs here too due to lax safety inspections.

  2. Leslie October 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Wow, looks nice! Never thought to go to an amusement park in Iraq…

    • Aaron October 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

      I know, right? I wouldn’t usually visit such a place in another country. But considering that it’s the number 1 thing to do in Dohuk… Northern Iraq in general doesn’t have much in terms of sightseeing. It’s more about experiencing the people and culture!

  3. Charu October 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Well, you’re braver than I would ever be, of course. That tilt a whirl would have made me gag!! But all said, very cool post. I’m so glad your night turned out to be a night to remember.

    • Aaron October 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

      Haha braver about going on rides? Many cultures consider it rude to turn down offers of hospitality so part of me felt like I had no choice. (Then again, I turned down many, many an offer for cigarettes while I was in Iraq, where I was given a strange look when I said I didn’t smoke). I also really like amusement park rides and I’d like to think it’s tougher to get hurt on a tilt-a-whirl than it is on one those hammer things, when I really was kind of freaking out about the lax safety standards…

  4. Caanan @ No Vacation Required October 5, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    All the “fun” of having the dance floor spin without any booze. I could have saved so much money during my formative years!

    • Aaron October 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Hahahaha! All for less than the cost of one drink too and probably about as high a probability of injury! :-P

  5. Maria October 6, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Glad you made a few “festival friends” – I’ve written about this phenomena, the spontaneous friendships born of travel or waiting in queue outside your favorite music venue back home. Sometimes they last, sometimes not, but always worthwhile experiences.

    I had no idea there was an amusement park in Iraq at all. Great find and I really appreciate learning of it. Drive’s home the point that just when you think you know something… you don’t. :-)

    • Aaron October 6, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

      Haha you’re right about this “Festival Friend” phenomena, though in my case it’s usually “Travel Friends.” I meet loads of amazing people when I travel and we become great friends for like 2-3 days. And then we part ways. Some do stick though. The entire reason I went to Iraq was to visit a friend that I met traveling!

      Amusement Parks are all the rage in Iraq, at least in the northern Kurdistan Region! They’ve faced a lot of hardships and these parks provide a chance to come together as a community and have a little fun! And my entire time in Iraq was chock full of moments where the reality didn’t even remotely match what you’d expect it would be. Just goes to show how much we allow the media to shape our beliefs…

  6. Shane October 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I do like amusement parks and fairgrounds in foreign countries. People are enjoying themselves and very open to a chat. Perhaps it is because it is one of the few occasions when the locals are just as much a tourist as we are and we are all on the same wavelength. Our experience with the security was slightly different from you though – we managed to accidentally walk in to Dream City without paying via a side entrance.

    • Aaron October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      You know, I never thought about it that way but it’s true! The two brothers I met at Dream City were tourists themselves. My experience with them though was quite the norm for my time in Kurdistan though. Hahaha how did you accidentally walk in without paying? I never saw a side entrance.

      • Shane October 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

        Doesn’t surprise me at all. Very nice people, the Kurds.We enjoyed their company and invitations to tea well into Turkey. I’m not entirely sure how we found the side entrance. We were taking a short cut from the big department store/supermarket. One minute we were walking through an industrial estate looking for a way out without tracking back, the next we were beside the dodgems.

        • Aaron November 1, 2012 at 11:19 am #

          Ah, see, that’s where I failed! I just walked along the main road till I found the main entrance, past the giant department store thingy. But yes, I can’t say enough nice things about the Kurds. The human interactons BY FAR were the highlight of my time in Kurdistan!

  7. Curious Nomad February 7, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    Great experience! Thank you for sharing. I’m curious to check out northern Iraq as well.

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