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So you might be in your twenties or thirties, but suddenly it’s like university all over again.’ The ensuing parties are legendary, she adds.Once, employees used their savings to hire Iraq’s famous cellist to sit on the rooftop and play for their barbecue while the guests drank vodka Martinis and beer, singing and swaying so hard they fell over.’ The best gatherings are held by French NGO employees,’ she recalls, although she is quick to note that party nights are funded by their own salaries, not the NGOs themselves.
‘Your name’s not on the list,’ he says, frowning at my provisional driving licence. He’d put my name down three days ago, he says – well ahead of the 48-hour guest list cut-off. Twenty minutes of animated phone calls later, and we’re through to the next round of a rigorous four-step security check that will eventually see us arrive, retying our shoelaces and slightly dishevelled, at Erbil’s United Nations bar.
Otherwise you’d just be on your own in your room, far away from home, with all your thoughts.’ She’s not exaggerating: I catch up with Jess*, a 28-year-old producer from Canada, at Divan Erbil hotel’s no-expense-spared Cinco De Mayo-theme party.
Think commissioned firework displays, discarded piles of Louboutins, breakdancers and DJ sets.
For many young charity workers and journalists posted to cover the war in Mosul there’s only one way to switch off from the horrors of their day jobs.
Corinne Redfern spends a night on the town in Iraq It’s a Thursday night in Erbil, and I’m being taken on a bar crawl.
All day they are seeing babies who have had limbs blown off in air strikes; teenage girls who have bled out from sniper bullets…
everyone has lost friends on the front line, but those guys see the absolute worst of everything.’ Jess nods at the mention of the French, but believes UK staffers could show them a thing or two.‘Your colleagues are often the only people who understand what you’re going through, so you need to be able to offload with them in an environment outside of work.I’ve honestly never seen people drinking in an unhealthy way – there is so much psychological support provided to ensure everyone finds a healthy way to deal with life here.‘What I’ve seen in my clients is that when people live in a highly stressful or traumatic environment that requires them to be “on” at all times, then in the long term that adrenaline can become addictive, and lead them to seek it in other ways when they’re not working, too.That’s one reason why a lot of expats in war zones may have more sex – or perhaps cheat on their partners. ‘These behaviours can become exaggerated and accepted when you’re with like-minded individuals for sustained periods of time – such as coping with a day on the front line by passing around a bottle of whisky, or having sex as a means of getting some physical contact when, really, all you might need in that situation is a hug.’ It’s something I see on a regular basis in and around Erbil and, speaking to 20- to 30-year-olds I meet here, reflects how many people feel.’), so to find herself in a city of gleaming new bar launches and apparently limitless alcohol left her feeling confused – and a little misled.