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How I Walked for Iraq and Ended Up in a Taxi

May 23rd, 2009 by Elizabeth Block

 

I joined about three dozen strangers, soon to become friends, for my first Walk for Iraq. The walk was to have been 24 km, from Folkestone to Deal, and to have been estimated at about six hrs. Well, that was bad enough – my friends thought 24 km much too much for me - but it took a little longer. In fact, a lot longer!

It seemed that our local guide had cancelled at the last minute so we were on our own – in far-off Kent. Our valiant leader, Yasser, did his very best and he had maps but it turned out that we couldn't walk all along the coast from Folkestone to Dover so in the first hour we had to climb a hill from hell - an amazingly steep series of steps that had everyone, from the young girls, some in headscarves, to the great big Iraqi men in our midst gasping for breath.

Fortunately the weather was with us. We started out in bright sunshine but as we straggled up the steps, the sky clouded and a gentle breeze urged us onwards and upwards. Then we walked and walked to Dover where we collapsed at various pubs and eateries, finally gathering around a sort of dismal urban fountain for the next - and longer - bit - to Deal.

Well, at this point, about six young women decided to take the train. But the rest of us soldiered on, though several people had had asthma attacks and our photographer had injured his knee. Our original group consisted of amazing people of all ages, including doctors, dentists, and business management types, along with a campaigning PR woman who helped establish an award in honour of the late Anna Politkovskaya. Most were Iraqi, except for one young Serbian girl and me, representing my two countries that have made such a mess of Iraq – the US and the UK. (I am American but live in London.)

Anyway, the way from Dover to Deal did not go smoothly. We could not help getting lost as the map did not seem to cover the rustic crossroads we encountered with fields stretching away in every direction. Fortunately, we found a friendly farmer who directed us to Deal.

By the way, I should say that the farmer, along with every other local we spoke to along the way, was amazed that we were walking from Folkestone to Deal. Most said we were mad.

Then came endless fields - wheat, barley, then some cows, just as the farmer had said. What he hadn't said was that these fields were the size of some of Canada's western provinces. We walked and walked, often hoisting ourselves wearily over endless stiles, the walkers all strung out for miles. So this gave us a lot of opportunity to get to know each other and we had some fascinating conversations.

For example, one of the Iraqi doctors was involved in malaria studies so a few of us learned a lot about mosquito habits in Uganda, the current focus of his research. I talked with so many people, all so bright and in good spirits, though as we walked, and the sun began to set - it was now about 7pm – there was some anxiety. But Yasser, ever concerned with our welfare, reassured us that we were not really very far from Deal, our goal.

Well, we finally emerged from the fields and reached a human settlement which we thought was Deal but it was Kingsdown, and Deal and the station were at least a mile beyond, along the coast. One mile does not sound like much but it was almost 9 pm and I, who had been having taxi fantasies for some time, was determined to get one. I was not alone. So we got a taxi phone number from a pub and ordered three taxis, each to carry four of us. Some of the rest, including the campaigning PR woman and her parents actually jogged the rest of the way to the station, though we beat them in our taxis. When the walkers finally arrived, they got a huge cheer.

It is a tribute to the great group spirit that, as we waited for the 9:45pm train to London, spirits were still high. A young girl who had apparently been quite ill along the way was recovering well and everyone shared leftover food and laughed a lot.

This was a wonderfully enriching experience for me personally, to meet so many lively local Iraqis, all so well settled here in London but full of concern about their homeland. And of course I hope that our efforts will enrich the coffers of Walk for Iraq. I want to thank all my sponsors – and I hope that they will join me on the next Walk for Iraq.

 

Elizabeth Block

     
     
       
 
     
 
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