Bay Area artists and musicians rally to free the hikers detained in Iran
Before their ill-fated excursion, Shourd said she'd heard from multiple westerners and her Arabic tutor that Iraqi Kurdistan was a safe and enjoyable place to visit. "It's often referred to as 'the other Iraq' because it's a semiautonomous region designated as a no-fly zone by the U.S. government," she explained. "It's actually a part of the Middle East that has a very positive fingerprint from the U.S. government because they helped protect the Kurdish people from Saddam Hussein. So Northern Iraq is not a dangerous place for Americans or westerners to go, and no American has ever been killed in Northern Iraq, which is just phenomenal after a decade of war and occupation."
She said Bauer, Fattal, and MeckFessel were all enthusiastic about the trip, and after researching it online, the four felt they had enough information to travel there. "We ordered a special Lonely Planet guide of Northern Iraq, and a friend of ours who went a month before we did borrowed it and lost it, so we didn't have the Lonely Planet guide," she noted. "But we still felt we had enough information about it to travel there and really believed we had nothing to fear."
Shourd credits her fiancé and her friend with helping her through "every minute of prison," even though she was alone in her cell for 23 hours a day. At first she wasn't allowed to see them at all, but after some time had passed, guards allowed her to visit with them in an outdoor courtyard for 30 minutes a day. Later, that brief time together was increased to an hour.
"There's no way I could have maintained hope and maintained my own sanity and the strength that it took to get through every day of isolation and depravity and uncertainty and fear," she said. "The emotional strength that that took, and the discipline that it took, really Shane and Josh and I all created together in the little time that we had, through the unconditional support and love we had for each other."
Since they didn't speak Farsi and the guards spoke very little English, it was difficult to communicate basic needs, and Shourd described the experience as being surrounded by hostility.
"Whenever I just started to slip away mentally, Shane and Josh would bring me back, and the knowledge that they were going to be there for me was the only thing that got me through 410 days of solitary confinement," she said. The three thought up activities to give themselves something to look forward to, like marking time with small courtyard celebrations and special food they saved to share together or discussing topics in an organized format. "We had almost like a curriculum that we followed of study, and sort of intellectual exploration," she explained.
They were only allowed to have pens for one month — that was the easiest month, Shourd said. But the rest of the time, even though they weren't permitted to write things down, they were allowed to read. "Books were our lifeline. We read the same books in concert, we took turns reading books and passed them back and forth when we saw each other in the courtyard. And we would memorize dates and memorize poetry and recite poetry to each other and test each other on dates," Shourd said.
"Josh would give me math problems to do in my head because he knew I was trying to get better with algebra. We had a dictionary that we passed back and forth, and we would make stories from words in the dictionary and tell each other these really intricate fantastical stories that we came up with. Anything to keep your mind busy."