Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 through the eyes of Kurdish girls...

Like young woman in all corners of the world, Kurdish girls too have dreams and ambitions for the upcoming year. A group of friends shared their thoughts and dreams with me:

Lara Aziz“For this New Year, I wish that I'll succeed at school because I want to be accepted in a Medicine school in France. This is my biggest wish for 2010, and I will do my best to make it come true. I want to prove that Kurdish Girls are smart and they are able to have a big career.”

Narin Bahat“I feel that 2010 is going to be wonderful; I will be able to discover many new things around me and make new communications. I expect more political, economical, educational and social developments in Kurdistan. I hope to see so many happy, optimistic and excited faces on the streets.”

Ashna Sharef “First of all I hope to witness an end for women’s inequality and pain in the entire Kurdish society. And for myself, I hope to graduate and become an active member in Kurdistan and help to develop this beautiful nation.”

Reveen Muhammed“I wish Happy New 2010 to all the people in Kurdistan, I hope that this year will bring joy, peace and prosperity to all Kurdish people and I want to see Kurdistan flourish more and more in 2010. My dream is to become a painter as I have a passion for art, I wish to continue this passion into the next year as well.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Brit in 'Jli Kurdi'

My new British friend makes Kurdish clothes

It was an entertaining experience, when Jessy, 14 from the UK came to spend the Christmas holiday in Kurdistan with her grandmother who happens to be working here. It is her first time in the region, and the first thing she wanted to do was buy ‘Jli Kurdi’. We bought the material, went to the tailors and the second day this is what it looked like on her.

So proud of our culture!!
I am so glad that foreigners enjoy the experience of staying in Kurdistan, and it makes me proud and happy to have young people from the developed world come and be our guest!

Kurdish Santa!!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

It is Christmas day once again, and the atmosphere in Erbil demonstrates just that!!
Ankawa is primarily known to be the Christian suburb in Erbil, but Muslims and other groups make their way to Ankawa in the evenings just to enjoy their time and get into the season’s fun spirit. The streets all over Erbil, and Ankawa in particular, are brightly decorated, at night the city sparkles with light. Text messages are going though with both ‘Merry Christmas and a happy New Year' and Muslim Kurds are visiting their Christian friends to wish them the best.

What is amazing about living in Kurdistan is that we all celebrate special occasions together, a Muslim myself, but I am in the Christmas mood and spirit. The other way is also true, when Jezhn comes we celebrate with our non-Muslim friends.
I know Muslim Kurds who have put up a Christmas tree in their house- “it’s for the mood of the season” they explain, “and the New Year”, now that is acceptance and co-existence!!

Many of the shops and malls have been selling Christmas decorations since for the past month or so. The shops are all decorated, and it is not rare to find a Christmas tree in almost one in every two public places you may visit.

I just wish Santa came to our house too :( and that some snow falls to complete the feel.

* Picture from M. Kurdi -- Majdi Mall in Erbil, on Christmas day

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Breakfast of a KING in Kurdistan

There are often the simple things that we do not normally think of when we are home (but miss them a lot when we leave… even for a few days) one of those is the first meal of the day- breakfast!! No matter how rich or poor you are, I believe every Kurd has the breakfast of a King.

Not much of breakfast fan myself, but whether you are in the city, or the village (even better) breakfast has its own unique taste.
The yoghurt is fresh, and no matter how much yoghurt you have tasted, the one in Kurdistan has a completely unique taste. Believe me, I am not much of a fan when it comes to dairy products, but this is something that one must try when coming to the region. Now just imagine that perfect tasting yoghurt with freshly baked bread to dip it in- from the bakery to your plate. Warm, soft and has a special scent to it.

If you are in the village and prefer eggs for your early morning meal, than it comes from under the chicken to your plate (that does not sound too ‘nice’ but for those egg fans out there, I guess fresh eggs must taste better than the usual ones). For those who like Milk, then it’s from the cow to your glass (not too sure about the health risks there!).

The bread in the village comes in extra large size, but it is also very slender, it dries and then dampened with water a few minutes before any meal. Within minutes, it is soft and ready to eat.

Not long ago we stayed at the Mergasoor village for few nights, I must admit, the honey came directly from the bee hives. And as for the tea… you ought to ask for more- that is all I can say!

So no matter where you are in Kurdistan, city, village, home or the local restaurant; you are sure your day will be a delight, as every morning you will wake up to a breakfast of a KING.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My time spent behind bars

My journey in Erbil’s women’s prison is one that will remain with me for a long time.

I first went to the female’s prison with START Social Development Organization for the Jezhn (Eid) occasion where we gave the women in the women’s shelter and prison some gifts, as it is also the annual campaign of ‘anti-violence against women’.

For the second year now the event has become an annual weeklong celebration, campaign and activities held by government and non-governmental organizations in the region. It is a time of year where major focus is dedicated to women in the Kurdish Society, and it was through this that I met the most vulnerable women in our society- those who are in shelters, because they are under threat from violence and women in prison, the majority of whom have ‘supposedly’ committed a crime.

As for the women in the prison, I had a chance to speak to a few of them individually, when I left I knew this was not the last time I’d set foot into the prison. Less than a week later, (in fact less than two hours ago) I was back there, but for a different purpose. I knew some of the stories had to be listened to and written for others to read and realize what there is hidden ‘behind bars’.

Each story is a tragedy of its own, each women with a story and each case can be turned into a novel of its own. Some are victims, and others guilty. I realized most of them do not belong in the prison but maybe in a shelter where they can be kept safe, I also learned a group of these young women were not guilty of committing crime but they are victims of ancient cultural traditions that remain in existence in some areas of the region.

I must admit I was proud to see the good food they are offered on a daily basis, they have air-conditioning and heaters, television and bunk beds to sleep on; but at the same time there are many things lacking such as sufficient number of professional staff. Unfortunately, many people do not realize the importance of working in such places. Many of the women need to have workshops to keep them busy and others classes for reading and writing.

One thing I found fascinating was for one second that I was in the prison I did not disrespect or judge any of the women as criminals, in fact the respect and love they received from me was like any average women I see in my everyday life, because I was sure that behind every crime and every story there was a deep reason and regret. Today I realize I was correct.

Read the next issue of the Kurdish Globe for an in depth report of life for women behind bars.

START Social Development Organization:
Women’s prison in Kurdistan
Erbil prison

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Najwa Karam lands in Erbil

After much security barriers and question and answers finally got through to the Diva. After more than hour journey of patience she was behind a blind wall in the VIP section of Erbil International Airport just before 6 PM this evening.
She was sitting calmly on a majestic chair, with a surprisingly humble voice (taking into consideration the singing voice she possesses). From firsthand experience I can say she definitely has sweetness about her and has a rather friendly presence.
She did not provide a press conference although she did express her delight to be in Kurdistan, in exact words she said “Erbil el Habiba”, or the ‘beloved Erbil”, she also hoped her visit will open doors for other artists to also visit the region.
I had no opportunity but I wanted to ask her about her roots and background, as some argue she has Kurdish blood within her, and the fact that her husband was a Kurd. It would have been to see what she says regarding the secret of why Kurds seem to like her so much.

Generally, personally I think she is one of the greatest Arab voices there is, and if there is any Lebanese artist that I respect it is her, simply because of her music, choice of songs she sings and more importantly behind the pretty face is a strong personality!!

* all pics were taken by Sazan M. Mandalawi

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Najwa Karam in Kurdistan!!

A lot has happened in the region (Especially Erbil), but it is all good news and development taking place as usual. The latest hot gossip is about the renowned Lebanese singer Najwa Karam, the reality is that this is no gossip and she is actually coming to Kurdistan to hold two concerts in Slemani and Erbil on the 3rth and 4th of December.

She is one of the Arab singers who has many fans in the region, some assume she has Kurdish blood in her. Posters, television and radio commercials and the newspapers are bombarded with adverts of the BIG event that people are all eagerly waiting for. I for one, am counting the days until she finally arrives—it will show to the Arab world just how welcoming and warm Kurdish people are.

I have no doubt she is better than many of the well known Iraqi artists who have not set foot into the region after the fall of the regime to hold any concerts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween in Kurdistan

…and so Kurds go trick or treating!!!.

October 31— Yes Yes Yes!!! it’s Halloween!! The ‘Halloween’ culture is pretty new here but somehow popular, in some suburbs children actually go around asking for sweets and treats… gradually the occasion is becoming familiar with the people here, especially the children.

The kids in Naz City seem to be well aware of the night and collect bags of lollies from each building; I can imagine how sick they feel now with all the candy.
For the first time, I celebrated Halloween last night with AKFA (American Kurdistan Friendship Association)—it was a very memorable night full of smiles and laughter.
I had my own scary Halloween trying to find the venue—in the dark driving through the ex-Korean/ ZAYTOON camp is not fun at all, but it was all okay in the end and we managed to find our way through.

(Above: the judges in a secret discussion to give the names of the winners for the best pumkin)

Once there, the nice food (frankly, anywhere when rice and meat is not the only option the food will surely be nice) and the friendly people made the evening extra special. There was prizes for the best dressed, and the best pumpkins as well. Did not participate in either one of the two—my artistic side is… let’s say not so good!!

Another eye catchy incident was the number of American men in Kurdish Clothes; I must admit I found it so attractive. Harry Shoot and a few others were in the traditional Kurdish clothing, it showed their love and respect to the Kurdish Culture—another proof that there is a close friendship between Americans and the Kurds.

Meanwhile I will continue to indulge in my much loved Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter- candy in a crunch shell. Not from here. Sneaked a small pack out from the American troops… I don’t think they’d mind.

Trick or treat?? – treat for me…

Happy Halloween!!

(This was written two days prior to being loaded on the BLog, because of lack of net access) :) -- no harm done!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

My morning with local Kurd who takes care of 60 mentally insane men

Yesterday was another of those influential days in my life back in Kurdistan that I won't forget . You know, one of those days that you consider a turning point in your life—or rather a day where you keep turning in your bed and can't get to sleep, only thinking  about what you saw earlier on. I will definately view the world from a different perspective... I hope you will too. Our society does not always have a good or respective view towards a group of people who are marginalized, but I hope this will open our eyes and widen our understanding to accept people who are... different, but they have feelings and emotions; they too, need love and attention just like you and I.

Above: At my arrival, I see this mentally ill man sitting a few meters away from Mama Najat's chaykhana (teashop), he later tells me that this is one of his special 'children'. This one was a teacher, but under the Saddam regime he was tortured for being a Kurd, he went through a very difficult time and when he was set free, not long after, he became, as Mama Najat says: 'crazy!' -- mental retardation or in Kurdish slang he has become "Shet".

I have been in a chase to find this man for over seven weeks, I received a phone call early in the morning of where he might be located and in less than an hour I was there.
As you can see from the pictures, for certain reasons I was asked not to leave the car (by Mam Najat himself), although the pictures were taken outside.

Mama Najat, a Kurdish man and owner of a small teashop takes care of about 60 mentally impeded men. He provides them with their medical requirements, food, and even shelter if they need.

Mama Najat’s personal financial status is low—his income comes from the small teashop he has owned for so long—as he says, half of what he earns is spent on the men he looks after and the other half for his own 12 children at home.
Whilst I was there he had taken one of mental patients to the doctor for a surgery in his stomach, not only did he pay for the procedure but he took this patient, stayed until after the operation and then brought him back to the room in his teashop where they all stay.

Above: A room just behind the teashop, where the men can stay, this is a picture of one the men who he takes care of (this one just had an operation).

How many people in the world commit to this job…?

“I was sixteen, when I sold tickets for people who came to see movies in the Sirwan Cinema, years later I bought the chaykhana across the road, then added a television, a video and brought films on video tapes. All sorts of people came to my chaykhana, even the crazy people” he begins his story, “those who were poor I gave them food, and cared for them. There were a lot, many of them died, and the rest are here with me.” Mam Najat tells me his story, as I sit and closely observe the facial features of this man....

“In 1994, when the situation was very unstable politically and economic wise, I would come to open the shop in the morning and sometimes there was more than 40 of them at the door waiting for me.”

Mama Najat’s concern and thought towards these mentally insane men has touched his life in many ways. “When I sleep at home, my mind is with them, I wonder where each of them is spending the night; if it rains, I worry about if they are cold, do they have shelter? I ask myself, is someone hurting them? Are they feeling secure…? These are all thoughts and questions that haunt me till I see them in the morning.”

Above: Mama Najat in his small teashop-- he puts old films for the locals to see.

He sees in these mentally unstable and insane people an individual who deserves to be respected. They are marginalized people who are discriminated against by society, and often not even considered to be "normal humans" but are refered to as‘shet’ (crazy). Despite the difficulty he has endured in his life, he is constantly laughing and smiling. As he speaks, I learn this man is far from the globalized world, he is not doing this for his own benefit, with no thought of an award or recognition, his hopes and dreams is for these mentally impeded men to have a place and food to eat every day, after he dies.

Above: Mama Najat in his humble teashop-- his life revolves around making tea and looking after mentally affected men who are insane,

Posing to take some pictures (Below), Satar, one of the mentally impeded men spends time with Mama Najat, he smiles for the camera, informing me that he wants a wife, in Kurdish he remarks “zhnm awet”. I wish I can assure him a wife and provide Satar with some happiness.

Words can not express the feelings and emotions I went through in my journey to meet Mam Najat in person after I had read a four line "DID YOU KNOW" section about him in one of our local magazines, I am so proud that we have Kurds with such a heart. These days, people do not look after their mentally impeded brother or father. These are total strangers for Mama Najat- an outcast in our society, but for him, they are complete individuals...

Please take note that these pictures are taken by me—they are just to see and not to be used for other purposes- Thank-you

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rainbow in Hawler

So many people wing and whine when Erbil is dusty, yet no one speaks when it rains, and the weather is beautiful—two days ago it was unbelievable, actually it has been for the past week or so-- even saw a rainbow—luckily mum took a few pictures, knowing there is nothing I enjoy more than rain...

The view from the balcony was breath taking; it was very cold but with a gentle breeze; fairly strong rain refreshed the atmosphere… and continued for a while.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to Uni

As the curtains to the study year 2009/2010 open, it is only normal I write a special blog about the University of Kurdistan- Hawler (UKH). It is exciting to know once again we can wake up every morning and leave home to go to see out bigger family.

Indeed, we are a big family at UKH, because there are not many students it is always the same faces, personalities, groups and even the same tables in the cafeteria. Going back to see students and staff is always an experience that is cherished close to the heart.

What is unique about UKH is that the culture inside the Uni is different to other governmental universities in the region. It is an open minded culture; students are free to practice their views and values. UKH is the only governmental English teaching university in Erbil, whilst all the staff are foreigners and have completed their degrees in countries such as the UK, Australia and the US the students are a mix of Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups present in Iraq.

I am sure ten years down the track I will see many of our current students with high qualified jobs and they will be change makers in the Kurdistan Region and wider Iraq.

They are all individuals with dreams and ambitions in life- this is what makes UKH different. Looking at my peers each person is inspiring in their way; you can learn something from each of them. They are all individuals capable of great accomplishments.

As for me, my emotions are mixed, I guess once we have set foot in the final year it all becomes reality; it was only yesterday when we were first year students; now we are ‘last’ year students. I begin to think of the next step ahead, not only the intense studies and stress of the next two semesters but also what will follow the 9 months.

We will be the first lot to graduate from UKH, and the first lot of students in Iraq to graduate from an English teaching university.

Not long ago I was in primary school dreaming and thinking when will I ever get to Uni, and here I am today setting foot into the final year… Dreams do come true.
I am so glad I had the chance to study in Kurdistan—in a culture and environment of my own kind. I wonder if I studied in a foreign country- I wouldn’t have been able to fit in and be involved as much as I am here. For me, it is a privilege to be a student at UKH- I am confident I am receiving education of good standards, I am enjoying my time being a student and more importantly I am in a position where I can look for a bright and open future ahead.

Meanwhile all our focus is to get the best possible results this year, make the most of our time and … think of the graduation!!!!!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kurdish Village girls

I had the honor to spend the Jezhn break in Mergasoor and visit areas close to Barzan; having spent all my life in a city, and never living a village or country life I came to realize just how ‘girlie’, frail and delicate we, the city girls can be.

Apart from the house work of running around cooking and cleaning for the guests who continuously walk in and out the house, these women also do the men’s work in their small farms or look after the animals, if they have any.

I was proud of the fact that I can cook rice, eggs and potatoes, after what I have seen I feel foolish and… let’s say not so proud.

We were invited for dinner at one of the local houses-- in the two hour span they knew we were going to be their guests that evening the girls had cooked all the difficult foods that Kurds have-- including the dreadful Yapragh. We (the city girls that is) on the other hand, with two days before hand notice and following cooking methods on a few cook books other than the salad nothing seems to turn out right!
One thing that amazed me the most is that if these people had a dish washer it will not wash the dishes as clean and as fast as young women can.

Meal after meal, the girls tuck their long Kurdish dress under the rope on their waist, pin the sleeves on their shoulders and wash the dishes better than three working dish washers. Then there is us, the pitiable city girls- wash the dishes one day and go on about it for the next two days. Did I mention one person uses the detergent and another washes it away with water, and usually a third person would also be helpful to remove the wet dishes from the rack so it gets out of the way.

In the city, in almost every second street there is local salon-- and I assure you they make better money than many businessmen in Erbil.

Whilst we are all about makeup, dying our hair with multiple colors and now even manicures are becoming popular. The village girl on the other hand, needs no layers of foundation as her skin is naturally smooth, she posses the natural beauty that looks more dazzling because of the natural environment she grows up in. Her hair does not need to be dyed in three different colors to look good, because the natural Hanna she uses gives extra shine and strength to her already eye-catching long black hair.

A typical girl who has grown in the city would most likely be well educated and go to a university. This does not undermine the intelligence of a village girl, who from life’s experiences—something you cannot gain from reading thick books and highlighting all the important details.

Show a city girl a cockroach and she will scream her lungs out- literally. On the other hand, the bravery a village girl posses is immense, she can confront a wild animal to protect the family’s herd of sheep.

Finally, village girl or city girl? You be the judge, but keep in mind even though they may not go to the best English speaking universities or might not be involved in the train of globalization that is apparent in city life; a village girl in Kurdistan is a young woman that must be respected and admired in her own rights, because if not worse, we are certainly not better than she is!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jezhn is here!!

Jezhntan Pirozbet!!
Happy Jezhn/ Eid

We broke our last fast today and it was officially announced on national television that tomorrow is Eid-el-ftr or Jezhn—in Kurdish!

Had a chance to drive around Erbil with mum late this evening, the atmosphere and spirit of the Jezhn festivity is evident around Erbil. People all appear very excited, music in the cars, people dressed in fancy clothing, people running around for last minute shopping, mothers planning the food for early morning, little kids excited for the Jezhnana and most importantly the spirit of giving and sharing is what I most appreciate about the Kurds during this special time.

Last night it rained in Erbil and the weather is SUPERB—a great welcome to the Jezhn celebrations, so happy to be living here and experiencing this wonderful occasion. Living years away from home, we never really noticed what Jezhn was or even felt the occasion—it was no different to any regular day.

Finally, happy Jezhn to all—for all those living abroad, I wish that next Jezhn you can celebrate back home in Kurdistan(weather you like it or not—hhhh)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

09/09/09 at 09:09 PM

09/09/09 at 09:09 PM

I had to blog today, for only two reasons, because it is a very special day- this day will only happen once in a life time and I was so glad to be living it..!!
I made sure it was special and unforgettable, as I went for a blood test—needed some check ups and I had been horrified for weeks until finally I made the decision to go, I could not dare have a test in Erbil’s Medical Road (share3 atuba) so instead I went to the new MDC (Mediya Diagnostic Center) opposite New City in Hawler. And boy am I glad I made that decision..

I admit I am a baby when it comes to needles but I made it through without a scream—(but some tears) the important point is that I am so glad that there is such clean medical center in Erbil, that you feel confident going into, knowing you will get what you want and you will be looked after very well.
I felt I was in Australia or any other developed country in the world. The place was very clean and tidy, the people were very nice (most of the staff were females) and the medicine and materials needed for the tests have all been imported from overseas.

Guess what?? I even got my favorite caramel chocolate once I was done giving the blood samples.
Once again, there is no place like home, no place like Kurdistan!!!
P.S I am getting my pet squirrel from Mandaly later this week, so follow up for pictures and a blog entry on that. Already excited, even though I have never had a pet squirrel before!!

(hope I can make another entry on the 10/10/010 at 10:10 PM) we shall wait and see..)

First Birthday

First Birthday

I do not really know how many regular readers I have; hundreds or just a few, but during the last year I have had just over 1000 visitors to my profile page, and I am over the moon about that; if 10 of that 1000 read one of my pieces it gives me the encouragement to continue writing for another 10 years!
This month I celebrate exactly ONE YEAR of blogging— exactly one year ago I decided to start a blog about life in Kurdistan- through the eyes of a Kurdish girl. I focused on the beauties of home.

I must admit I did not blog often, and there is no excuse as to why, for me this was a big year, I began a weekly column with the Kurdish Globe, started volunteering at the START Social Development Organization, and was active with youth activities in the community, above all that I have this blog that I update with something new whenever I have the chance. I sit and think how lucky am I to do all these things which I enjoy so much, here in Kurdistan. I have come to realize and be persuaded from my heart that despite all the difficulties we face here; we still lead lives that is filled with color, enjoyment everyday there is something new and interesting that is happening.

My wish for my blog this year is to write more- one entry a week (at least) and add more pictures with each entry (must start carrying a camera with me where ever I go). Other than that I hope all you readers ([MUM]!!) keep reading.
So Happy Birthday to my blog—that is, my ‘ONE-YEAR-OLD’ blog; as we say here in Kurdistan inshAllah sad sal

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kurdish man's best friend...!!

So the old saying goes: “Dogs are a man’s best friend”, that, my dear reader can be applied anywhere in the world, but one would only be foolish to acquaint a Kurdish man’s best friend with a dog. From much thinking and analyzing and with living experience with Kurdish men, I have finally completed my list. So what would be the best friend of a Kurdish man? Surely not a dog, nor is it gold-- like their female counterparts.

Being the eldest and the only girl in the family, the love I earn from my father is boundless, yet I must admit, at times there are two, as a matter of fact, now three others in the house who I am disgracefully jealous of—the attention and love they receive from him is as if they were born years before I was.
This morning, like all other mornings he’s awake at least forty-five minutes earlier than the time he needs to wake up for work. It takes my father a quarter of an hour to make breakfast for Shalan, Dalan and baby Xapan (or Xapo). They are on a healthy diet; orange, apple, cucumber, tomatoes and only red capsicum and ripe dates.
They are also picky and do not drink tea, so instead they prefer cool water; and how can I forget that the bread must be minced thoroughly of equal sizes, if measured, the dimensions would probably be exact; this should first be soaked in a little bit of water and a pinch of sugar to sweeten it up. All this fuss and these three eat like birds. Amusingly, that is because they are birds!!

If he is not at work, or writing then his time is spent with these three small birds; he cares for them, feeds them, lets them fly around the house freely (pooping wherever pleases them) and he is a doctor when they break their legs or wings. The cages are cleaned every day, with fresh food. They sing to him, they sit on his shoulders; they nip on his hands and flatter their wings. When he is feeling angry they calm him down, when his joyful they complete his happiness, and when he is tired they are his remedy to unwind. After all, they are his best friends!
Prior to taking any family trip that will last few days, there is always a warning “do not bring too many things—there is no room” as soon as a I enter the car I see the guests are there before me, the back seats are put down to make room for two cages- and I realize one again I will be deadened the entire journey with the endless tweeting sounds coming from the back. It would not be as bad if we had two sets of 2 year-old twins at the back.

A story that runs in our family is of a man from Mandaly, and lived in Baghdad; he was deported to Iran in the 1980s with the many other Kurds, under the Hussein regime. His house, belongings, money, documents and even clothes were confiscated as he was forced to leave his house and dropped on the border of Iran. He refused to leave his house if he could not take his bird with him. He insisted, the bird, too, had to be deported with his family making the point he was part of the family. Having no other option the authorities allowed him to take the bird along, two decades later the old man died and so did the bird, but the message is that the love and connection is plainly as strong as iron.
Any person can reflect on their father or grandfather polishing a cherished gun or a small sword reminding them of ‘those days’, but fortunately today weaponry is not the best friend of the Kurd, but it remains a hobby or a favorite past time. Many Kurdish men have also a hobby of collecting rosary—in all their shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Some of them have very specific stories behind them, others made of simple beads but some men cannot leave the house without the rosary in one of their hands.

Posing the question to some friends about the best friend of a Kurdish man, one reply was ‘eeer… his AK-74’ another one said ‘dancing’ and a few others suggested nature. All proposals seem to be appropriate associations!
I would not be naive to believe a young Kurdish infant performs his first dancing steps from the time he is still in his mother’s womb-- that is, the traditional Halparke dance. As much of a professional dancer you maybe, it is incomparable to the way a Kurdish man dances; the way the feet, shoulders and the rest of the body liaise in the traditional dancing is remarkable. But to disseminate a Kurdish man with only dancing you will be underrating his many other talents.
The guys working in the Globe prefer driving over 25 minutes to outside Erbil to literally be in the middle of nowhere to work on the paper instead of the local office around the corner to many of us—this is because the other is surrounded by green scenery and oversees some trees and bushes.

Finally a Kurdish man’s best friend all comes back to nature. In nature he uses his AK-74, in nature he observes the birds, in nature he enjoys to read and work, in nature he plays music and begins to dance on mountain tops and it is in nature that he finds his inner happiness. Nature is their medicine!

Sazan M. Mandalawi published issue 223

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan in Kurdistan

The taste of starvation

“Hungryyy!!” that is me winging and moaning in Ramadan, as the students eat their salad sandwiches, that is, if I were in Australia, in Kurdistan the story is different—in fact, very different.
The most festive season on the Muslim calendar is this holy month of Ramadan; and how glad I am to spend this time of year in Kurdistan. Whilst the weather is not really of good help and the hours are very long, still, there is a special taste that cannot be felt or experienced abroad.

I remember in high school if you said ‘I am fasting’ they would feel sorry for you and offer water, ‘I can’t have water either’ would be the general reply. Many would not understand the logistic explanation as to why we deprive ourselves from any food from sunrise to sunset, despite the fact that the forty-hour-famine was popular at that time-- many young people took on the challenge.
Personally, I am enjoying the time of Ramadan back home, in Kurdistan. There is a tendency of a particular sentiment that is difficult for an average person to realize, unless they have lived abroad.

No one would imagine that fasting can be enjoyable—but in Kurdistan it can be. The fact that people all of the sudden become closer to God, begin to pray with consistency, the young wear veils and covered up more and the curtains around the restaurants are all signs of respect and value to this holy month.
Many people have come to believe that the development and advancement that have come with the phenomenon of technology and democracy means that we abandon our religious values. Nevertheless, whilst religion remains a personal decision it is sometimes worthy to celebrate events such as Ramadan, as a wider community. It is by no means a political matter, but a cultural theme that creates vibrancy and connection amongst different people in our society.

There is something special about the small dish of soup the neighbor brings for you right before you can finally eat at the end of a long fasting day; the sound of the Quran on television as the family prepares the dinner table; the uncles and aunts who have come to break their fast with your family; the daunting hours in the early morning waking up to eat as a family. The aroma of mother’s cooked rice during the evening prayer before and the unity of the entire family before having a piece of date to break your fast is a rare sentiment to experience living abroad.
All this on one hand, but the most important on the other; any Muslim will tell you that praying in the holy month is unlike any prayer in any time of the year-- there is a feeling of purity and inner sanity.
In Kurdistan you do not have to sit and explain to anyone why starving yourself is not foolish and how there is a purpose behind it all. Just as you step foot outside the house you can feel the sentiment in the atmosphere that people are fasting, even those who do not fast for their own reasons there is respect towards those who do choose to fast, for example, no one eats in front of the public during the fasting hours.
Ramadan is not just a month to lose weight; we become better individuals with the ability to think of others who are not as lucky as we are. For a month we can feel the pain of the poor, the grief of a family with no bread for dinner, the agony of hunger and more importantly to not take any simple aspect of our life for granted, and begin to think of others.

What is amazing about Kurdistan is that those that you least expect to fast are actually fasting; they are or not, that is not the point, the point is that people respect a time of year as a society and community.

In reality the actual fasting is only two weeks, the first week is filled with excitement as it is just the start, the middle two are a little tiring, the final week is when it reaches climax and ends with a blink of an eye as people begin to prepare themselves for the ‘Jezhn’ celebrations to mark the end of the holy month.
In Kurdistan, during Ramadan, you do not just taste hunger and starvation but an array of sensations from the unique family bond, the prayers, the sound of Quran; the atmosphere outside the house, the generosity of the people and the general respect and attitude towards this special time on the Muslim calendar.

Must admit, all these sentiments does not conceal the stomach rumbling sound, but it does reduce its irritation. Meanwhile, Four days down, 26 to go… Ramazantan Pirozbet!

by Sazan M. Mandalawi- published in

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kurdistan's nature is the best medicine

Nature is the best medicine..

Laying down under the shade of many trees and looking directly up into branches that lightly sway, the gentle sound of water flowing, and a breeze making you shiver just a little. Whilst some say laughter is the best medicine, I say the better medicine is Kurdistan’s natural beauty.
The sticky and sweaty afternoons, the sizzling sun, and of course the dust storms is all too much to a city that is overloaded in cars—taking a trip from Erbil all the way to the Iran border of Haji Omran and back at the end of the election week was definitely a mental and psychological revitalization, if it were possible a brain scan of before and after would reveal a great transformation.
I must admit having lived all my life in major cities, and being used to the noisy environment of hectic life with office hours, traffic lights, students loaded with overdue assessments and catching up with the latest catastrophes the world is experiencing on Aljazeera and CNN life can be congested compared to our small bodies and overworking brains. Being driven through mountains, trees, and certain geographic features of the landscape that cannot be unraveled by the naked eye, one must believe the existence of a great kind above who has put all this together.
The 16 hour trip from sunrise to … well, moon rise was not the typical Kurdish picnic just lagging behind the Erbil checkpoint with loud music till your ears pop and return home with stitches because of all the dancing, it was what I call a recovery, five star, end of week paradise that I recommend to all those living a frenzied life with a daily routine in the city.
It was an experience of everything; from drinking the Sheikh’s water in Haji Omran (that is known to be good for the kidney); to tasting the core of edible wild flowers and eating handpicked ripe, juicy and unwashed berries; seeing divine insects (that is, other than ants and cockroaches) and losing a contest of ‘who can leave their feet the longest in the icy cold water.”
It is amazing the amount of water that flows through Kurdistan, literally some flowing from nowhere, walking through flowing cold water with colorful rocks, plants of all types and surrounded by green leaves and plants for as far as your eyes can reach in all directions has become one of my favorite hobbies.
I noticed the people who live in those areas are politer than we are, and thankful for everything they have, I realized our wants has exceeded our needs and when we have what we want we seem to continue to want more- selfish and snobby is what we turn to be. Looking outside the window into the full moon on the way back home I reminded myself of how young people, like myself have become too carried away with submerging our live with what is going on in the rest of the world; what is newest mobile phone; the top rated YouTube video; what type of bear Obama drink in the backyard meeting and how many million will Mrs. Jackson inherit.

Whilst I am all for the development of technology and progress of society, has it reached out of proportion? If it has not today, then tomorrow it will explode off proportion. Before birds were used to transport letters, now they are hunted for a sport; there was a time when lovers wrote with feathers to each other, then there came a time when they make up and break up by a text message. Visiting a friend to see how life is treating them and what is their latest development is now unnecessary- after all there is always facebook! People used to celebrate the food they ate, the taste it has and indulge in the flavors, whereas today we have become image conscious.
Visiting Kurdistan’s natural beauty, makes you yearn for a simpler life that is trouble free, away from the chaos of the world and the stress of what has to be done by tomorrow. A day spent by flowing waters, waterfalls, trees, mountains, and moments shared with those you love ought to be the best medicine.
As you pack for this weekend, do not forget the spare batteries for the camera and extra sandals—incase one flows away.

by Sazan Mandalawi- published in the Kurdish Globe (August, 09)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My ink-tipped index

Of all the great things this election has meant to me, the dark blue ink of the tip of my finger will remain a memory of my first vote for years to come. As a matter of fact the blue inky tip of the index finger was a symbol of the democracy that Kurdish people seek to achieve. It was a representation of hope, unity, justice and freedom. It was something unique with profound symbolism. That is exactly why as I voted yesterday I compressed it as deep as I could into the bottle—hence, in attempting to write this piece, it is unavoidable on the keyboard.

July 25 finally arrived, after months of preparation, discussions and despite all confrontations and forces working against this democratic process, election 2009 definitely received the attention and concern of elections in many developed democratic nations. The ink-tipped index finger was an image that exhibited to the world the democracy that is taking place in the Kurdistan region.

After spending years of my life abroad I never imagined my first vote will be back home- in Kurdistan. Having to sign next to my name, receiving the voting papers and then taking five or six steps towards the ballot box was all slow motion in my mind. In those few minutes so much and so many things took my attention. Having already made up my mind of who to vote for, it was simple marking off two ticks, although for me, there was a meaning much deeper than just a tick.

Looking onto the paper I could not perish the images of the Halabja Genocide victims or the Anfal, the Peshmerga martyrs and the image of the many elderly women I had seen during the election campaign- mothers of martyrs and victims of injustice. I remembered the days when my family fled this country, fearing our life; I remembered the years my father, uncles and grandparents spent in the mountains, so a day like this could become reality and not just a dream. I felt gratified and appreciative of the fact I had the responsibility on my shoulders to elect the next government and President of our nation despite a horrific past.
As I placed the voting papers into each of the two boxes, I felt I was a citizen of this land, I felt my voice was important; my ballot was one more to the hundreds already there, although it is this idea that many individuals make up this great society that made me smile and take a deep breath before I pushed the second paper into the long plastic container.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, the Kurdish people were suppressed; they were victims of genocide and discrimination by a regime that knew no better. Today for that exact nation to be able to hold elections that to a large degree are free, transparent and democratic is a demonstration of the heroic and valiant nation that it is. Despite all difficulties, to be able to stand on its own and experience a day such as July 25, 2009- is indeed something every Kurd should be proud of.
The culture of democracy is certainly appearing in the region. Many elderly people guided by one or more of their children were making their way towards the ballot box, some could barely stand upright, probably the first and last time they will be alive to vote; with no pressure on them to go out in the hot weather to a local voting station, and despite their weakness they saw it as its their duty to express their voices.

The scene of families going out together to a local school was in every corner of the region, it was a day where everyone was equal; Kurd or Assyrian; Muslim or non-Muslim; woman or man; wealthy or poor; young or old. This image was clear just by observing any voting venue. That exact nation who was suppressed and victimized gave rights to all its citizens to vote-- even criminals behind bars were given the same privilege as those walking free.
A number of officials made their way to the voting stations along side their partners, this was observed in nearly all Kurdish channels, it gave many people the courage who had not yet voted to also take their wives or daughters when they went to the ballot box later in the afternoon.
During this election process it was an opportunity for Kurdistan to show itself to the world as a democratic nation, which is taking progressive steps towards becoming a region of great opportunities.

For a young Kurdish girl, who was eligible to vote for the first time in her life, I could not have lived a happier or prouder moment such as that of the hot Saturday of July 25; it gave me another reason to be optimistic for tomorrow, and the future-- I could see a brighter light ahead and a future that looks promising in many ways.

C. Sazan M. Mandalawi published in the Kurdish Globe ( July 09

Saturday, July 25, 2009

JULY 25!!

Voted for the first time in my life today. So far the process has been smooth, with very little problems, as some people's names have not returned in the voting stations. Other than that, all has been great!!
Prior to making my vote I was watching Kurdish officials making their votes on TV- it was all broadcasted live in our local and satellite stations which was great! there is full day covery of the election in Kurdistan.

I was happy to watch PM Nechirvan Barzani cast his vote along side his partner, Erbil Governor Mr. Nawzad Hadi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani all came to the polls with their partners- in my opinion was great and a big step for Kurdish Culture, it gave encouragement for other normal men in the Kurdish society to go to the polls with their families.

The atmosphere in Erbil has been superb during the time of the election campaign; now we all wait for the election results; it should be interesting. I am very proud that international supervisers and people were invited, Kurdistan opened its doors for all to make sure the elections were fair!! There will be no excuses and no one will have prove to say the elections were not run well- there was transparency, accuracy and fairness.

At the election rally

As I write today, I have blisters in my feet, my face is red as a ripe tomato because of the sizzling sun, my back hurts because I have been on my feet for hours, I have a round patch around my eyes because of the sunglasses. I have been pushed, shoved squashed and squeezed yet I feel deep contentment as I spent another unforgettable day of my life in Kurdistan in one of the elections rallies in Erbil.
I was in the Franso Hariri stadium where Presidential candidate Masoud Barzani gave a speech to thousands of spectators and Kurdish singer Zakaria Abdulla concluded the night with some of his top hit songs. It is rare that we spend a day and there is so much to write of, yet it is difficult to chose a starting point, no matter how much I will try to express the sentiment and atmosphere in the stadium it will never reflect the reality and the inimitable experience.
Of all the thousands of people in the stadium I cannot remove from my mind the image of the elderly woman who had made her way inside the arena gates and onto the pitch, waving a Kurdish flag in each of her hands, folk singing in an almost yodeling tune in support of her preferred presidential candidate. She was just one of the many elderly women who had made their way into a swarming and crammed stadium. The tears in her eyes made me feel the wounds of her experiences, the suffering of her past and the contentment of the present moment.
The red, white, green and yellow colors were swaying in all directions like ocean waves; women, men and children; the rich and the poor; the old and the young; the Badini and the Sorani-- there was no difference, all I could sense was Kurds celebrating a day like today together. Kurds were rejoicing a moment that our grandparents were only dreaming of and the generation before us sacrificed their lives for.
The smile would not leave the face of An Ex-Peshmerga who had lost both his legs and was guided by his wife into the stadium on a wheelchair, he pushed himself this way and that way, waved the flag, sang along, clapped and would dance if he could. Nor would the smile abandon the cute face of a child with painted cheeks and Kurdish flag headband.
The crowed did not look comfortable; all falling on each other but it did not prevent the chanting, screaming and singing becoming louder every second. From a distant the stadium looked like an overflowing cup with young people sitting on the edges in the brim. The cheering was loud, it was unique and many of what was said indeed was funny but all for a good purpose-- in support of the election rally.
Few of the fights and citizens doing the impossible to get a clear glimpse of the VIPs present gave the evening an enthusiastic and a fanatical mood with lots of energetic vibes from young and old people. As the celebrations came to an end, the clever ones began to leave before the official completion to avoid being jammed in a crammed crowd. Although the slogans, support and the singing continued as groups chanted with flags and posters through the busy streets that surrounded the stadium well into the night.
The fact that there are a large number of lists participating in the elections as rivals or competitors is to a great degree a healthy competition. There has been no law that has prohibited any list or presidential candidate to nominate themselves in the election process. This has already put pressure and responsibility on the winning candidates to gratify the public and fulfill their duties favorably in fear of the elections after this. Steadily Kurdistan is taking steps in fulfilling a healthy and democratic government; the fact that supervisors have been invited from abroad is also a bonus that reflects the amount of transparency and fairness that will be in this election.
I am very proud, as a young Kurdish girl to be witnessing a day like today in Kurdistan. Nevertheless, my small condemnation is that I wished to see the Presidential candidates and the head of different lists to appear in the public with their wives or daughters in the campaigning process; immediately there will be a revolution in the Kurdish culture in regards to women’s status and roles in society. Although I am confident it will not be long before a step like this will take place—maybe the candidates will broadcast victory celebrations with their families for the public to witness.
Now I know why I left behind foreign land and came back to Kurdistan. I am here because I want to experience moments like this, the feelings I had in the middle of the stadium I would not exchange to any paradise place in this world. It was indeed a day that I was proud to be still living to see and experience.

by Sazan M. Mandalawi Published: June in Kurdish globe (

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kurdish bags- my version of Gucci

You cannot say you have been to Kurdistan if you have not visited the Erbil Citadel and the Bazaar that surrounds it. In that area one in particular catches your attention from distance due to its unique colors and really it gives off vibes of the Kurdish culture and folklore even from great distance away.

Any typical girl will tell you an expensive and worthy hand bag is always a good investment; and no one will say no to the renowned designer labels such as Gucci, Chanel, Dior and what have you can never compete with the original handmade Kurdish bags that are a true reflection of the Kurdish culture.

It was always on my mind to have one made especially for me, the dream came true. One of the few shop owners in the Bazaar who sells hand-made Kurdish carpets, wall rug, bags and other Kurdish folklore was more than happy to ‘custom’ design my hand bag. “Remove this, keep this, shorten this, lengthen that, sew here- but not there” the person running the shop will even listen to the colors that you chose- the choices are limitless, but RED is obviously the most desired choice. The end product is definitely a treasured piece and an every use- what better than a hand bag that is hand-made, with your own initials on it, a true reflection and representation of the Kurdish culture.

I just wish people supported this local industry more, and even more importantly appreciated the effort and hard work that goes into the process of creating these small but very meaningful treasures.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life in Kurdistan

It has been a while...
In simple words: Life in Kurdistan has been busy.
The weather has been great (so far) it is expected for these few months to be a busy time of year.
Earlier in the month, I invested in some good books at the Erbil International Book Fare, it was definitely a proud moment to go and see so many people purchasing books of all subjects and languages. This was the second book fair in Erbil, held in the beautiful Martyr Sami Abdul Rahman park. Its an amazing feeling, just stepping into the large park brings in an internal feeling of contentment...
It's a busy time of year for all as examinations are around the corner, soon is the three month summer break, and the hot weather is approaching!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Missing Kurdistan...

Miss home.
I wrote it in love hearts everywhere I went in Vienna. Even in this cold weather and continuous snow for over three days now the streets are free of any traffic problems, the trains are functioning as per usual, kids are going to school, shops are full, electricity is not cut and having a warm shower is still possible over the view of white snow from your apartment bathroom.... life here is simple, it is beautiful, but something is not right. I miss home. I miss Kurdistan.

I sit, think and wounder why this is so. You walk in the streets and no one bothers to look at you, where as often walking near the citadel one can feel like Miss Universe with all the stares. Everyone is busy with their daily routines and busy lifestyles. In Kurdistan people care and watch over for one another. That in itself is a great feeling of security. This does not exist here, my uncle is living in this apartment for three years now and only knows nothing about the family living opposite to him. In Kurdistán so often the neighbours are like a second family. Simple things like this contribute greatly to life...
I have taken the opportunity to speak to many Kurds living here in Vienna, it was unfortunate that so many are distant from one another. All of whom express their resentment of the °loneliness° here, (what they call 'ghareebi'- living far from family and relatives). We do not feel this distance in Kurdistan but when living in a place this far in a different culture, surrounding and environment then it is normal to feel this loneliness, to such a degree that you do not feel the other joyful aspects of life.
Notice the frozen lake in the background!!! - absolutely beautiful....

Care for a picnic...?! We could have done with some rain and snow in Hawler this year

Above: My little cousin Hanas. First time I see her in my life, it is hard to think that I will leave them behind... they have become so attached because they have not had close relatives visiting. The little one begins to cry when I say I will be leaving... :(