Photographs and narratives by ROBERT LEUTHEUSER from and of his travels through Kurdistan and the greater Middle East. Published in conjunction with his photographic website

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20 October 2010

Heroes Arrive Unexpectantly

14 October, Bersirin, Rawanduz District - Iraqi Kurdistan

Bordumin poured a thick yellow-brown liquid on a rag tightly wound around the end of a stick. Crouching, he reached forward and dabbed the most putrid of open sores teaming with worms on the pathetically thin dog curled as in death near the oak tree. The dog did not protest; it only feintly acknowledged. Borduman repeated, then poured more of the potion of motor oil and salt over the dog's bared and festering shoulder and side of the head, swathing it around with the stick.

We were in deep in the Zagros Mountains east of Rawanduz, 15 kilometers from a major border crossing into Iran. Fully loaded transport trucks race down the narrow and winding road, one of which doubtless hit the shepherd's hapless dog days or weeks before. I had seen the dog from afar earlier in the afternoon, giving it only scant notice as the anarchic flurry of construction activities on Serwan's new house begged more attention. But after a new load of fresh and rotten cinder blocks had been dumped and tossed into unruly piles, Serwan and his makeshift crew of cousins turned to plotting out a grid where he would plant trees. It was then than Borduman and I saw the dog.

The name Bordumin means “bombardment.” He was born in the nearby village of Bersirini in 1974 during an aerial bombing of the village by Saddam Hussein's forces. Yet another of so many rebellions/armed conflicts/wars between the Kurds of northern Iraq and the Iraqi central government. This one followed a failed declaration of independence by the Kurds and preceded the orchestrated and unconscionable abandonment of support for the Kurdish military efforts by both Iran and the US. Once again, as during millennia past, the Kurds found themselves to pawns in greater politics. Sometimes blameless, sometimes not. This time not. Bordumin's next younger brother (7 brothers and 5 sisters in all) was named Shadamin, which means “happiness.” No bombs were falling when he was born.

When Bordumin showed me the dog my heart sank. After a few minutes of staring at it, I tolf him that if I were in America and found a dog like this in such misery with no seeming prospects for recovery, I would shoot it to put it out of his misery. Bordumin briefly considered what I said then walked off across the field. I thought he was going to get his gun, which of course he had as did most in this part of the world. I wandered off wallowing in the turn of events and didn't want to be anywhere near.

Twenty minutes later he came back and treated the dog. I was properly humbled. We watched in wonder as the dog slowly stood up, his rear left leg painfully useless. Bordumin nodded, then motioned for me to come with him. Far behind the dog followed. We went to the nearby roadside stop where Bordumin purloined a large fistful of bread scraps and an insecticide dust surely long outlawed in the States. The dog ate greedily and allowed Bordumin to dust him, then limped off to at least the hope of another day.

Heroes arrive unexpectedly.

April, 2012 Postscript:
I returned to Bersirini to visit Serwan, Bordumin, and other friends. The spring grasses were vibrant, seeming to grow on bare rock as well as on the steep and thinly soiled slopes. I asked Bordumin about the dog. He told me that he saw it again 3 months after his treatment and it seemed fine.

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