My first three months in The Ocelot

I’ve been writing a monthly dribble for a mate’s listings magazine back in England. Here are the fruits of the first quarter.


The first words of what I hope will be a regular column for Ocelot are these, as I typed, deleted and retyped several strings of nonsense before settling on this cowardly introduction. I promise to endeavour to improve, but you’ll be the judges of whether I succeed. I’m Luke, and I have a confession. I’ve known your editor since school, and I’ve been asked to write for his esteemed organ on the basis that he likes the cut of my jib in emails (ok, Facebook updates). We spent many a wistful hour ducking the attentions of teachers whilst puffing on fags in a cafe named Charts, down the road from our public school. Yes, I’m afraid I’m Gideon ‘George’ Osbourne to his David ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron. Heaven help him, and indeed his readership. He’s asked me to steer clear of the controversial, so I shalln’t wear my politics on my sleeve and make any jokes about the failure or success of our Chancellor of the Exchequer. Just before Christmas last year, a couple of dozen of us alumni of our former alma mater (I hope you’re picturing us amongst Gothic spires, the comforting sound of leather striking willow our soundtrack) got together for a twenty year reunion. As you can imagine, everything was different but the same. For sure, most of us were carrying a little extra timber. I seemed to be the only one unencumbered by marriage or children. Those partaking of tobacco were fewer, but I’m happy to report there were no new recruits to the filthy habit. One girl had somehow pulled off the Wildean trick of appearing younger as we scream towards 40 than she did as we confidently exited our teens. But our minds remained refreshingly similar and we sunk into old conversational habits, but with new topics. So, rather than have something to say about being almost 40 in Wiltshire, I will be channelling the sixth former from Gloucestershire….even though I’m a teacher in Iraq. And I’ll take the advice of almost every report card my parents received for next month’s issue; ‘Must try harder.’


Ah, March. The month of spring springing and the occasional bothering of the thermometer at 15c or more. I know that will be something of a welcome back in Blighty, should it happen. Here in Iraqi Kurdistan (Kurdle Burdle as I prefer it), it warrants an entire month off for the institute that I work at (sadly, unpaid). The Kurds love the equinox, and celebrate it as New Year, or Newroz. Last year I flew mum over for her 80th birthday present (would’ve loved to see her friends’ reaction to that bit of news) and we got in the crush in the mountain city of Akre, where bonfires and torches were the only thing marginally more important than taking photos of the daft English sod and his mother dressed up in the local garb. This year, on behest of a friend who wants something a bit different for her radio show, I’m off on an adventure. I’m heading into Turkish Kurdistan (Kurdy Wurdy) to record my quest to find some Kangal dogs, a mastiff-type monster that I accidentally came across whilst looking for pictures of a different Kurdish dog. I was bought up with wolfhounds, so it’s natural for me to be attracted to these herd protecting dogs, but I am absolutely not coming home with one. Not this time, anyway. But I need a name for the project, and I can’t get away from puns. So far I’ve got “For The Love Of Dog” and any other God-based bullshit and the even more tortured “Kangal Ruse”. Help me out, please?


Here I am, on my little adventure that has been broadened to include a hunt for Van cats as well as Kangal dogs – I’ve found some puppies living semi-wild in a cave, you can see the cute little sods above. Still need to find an adult.
I found them in a village called Hasankeyf, 7 times the capital of Mesoptamia and once home to up to 70,000 living in caves along the banks of the mighty Tigris, an important staging post on the Silk Route. A rich history, no doubt, with cunniform writing on the cave walls, a Byzantine era Roman bridge, a 700 year old mosque – the delights continue and it’s a wonderful relaxed place to throw a couple of days. You should visit.
But you’ll have to be quick. It’s going to disappear unless something is done urgently. The Turkish government is pushing ahead with plans for their latest dam, the Ilisu which will submerge it and one of the most important Mesopotamian sites. Other dams in the region have of course brought prosperity, with the flooded valleys fine for fish, the irrigation perfect for cotton. But malaria has increased tenfold and countries downstream are angry at perceived water theft. It’s a crying shame, and an environmental catastrophe.