Friday, December 24, 2010

The story of the Malls in Erbil

My dear (most loyal) reader*, I have great news for all the Kurdish men out there! Are you ready?

Foreign businessmen were quick to realize the weakness of women in this country and for all your delight, the creation of malls has been (and continues to be) high on the agenda.

Here is the story in Erbil. We (the women, of course!) had Naza Mall and we thought we were really lucky. Then came Rhein Mall, and for us girls that was equivalent to paradise. Not too long later it was followed by Hawler Mall and, let's be honest, our expectations with the quality of the goods were not met. Soon came Maxi Mall, and that compensated for the previous disappointment.

Above: Majidi Mall, known for the Big Clock and its large parking area (By the way, Mango is here too!)

Then there was the big bomb, Majidi Mall--that's when we thought we had it all. But little did we know there were other surprises up the sleeves of businessmen. Sofy Mall was next--the daughter of Majidi--but still we liked the former just a little bit more. Businessmen realized that we became harder to please, then came Family Mall. With no sarcasm, it really did exceed all expectations and set the bar sky high.

Above: Picture of the new Family Mall, right next to Erbil's largest theme park- Family Fun!

Above: This is a picture taken from high up one of the new builings, cross the road is Sofy Mall (See the red sign?) Dear me, all the places I go just for the sake of this blog :)

The story continues--Ankawa Mall, Tatlisias Mall and Banu Mall are all currently in the making—and I won't be surprised if on this early Friday morning there are people sitting on round tables planning for the next big Mall in Erbil.

Above: If you don't believe me, here it is Ankawa Mall - in the making!

Above: Banu Mall, under construction today, but be sure to drop by in your next visit to wil be open.

You see, every new mall is one step above the previous. If you followed the above story closely you will realize we have progressed far up the ladder in the shopping world. Today in Kurdistan's capital shopping is not about just buying the necessities to live life, today it is about fashion, quality, enjoyment oh and how can I forget – designer brands!

Don't be surprised if you hear these conversations:

Friend A: "Haven't seen you in a while, I miss you"

Friend B: "Well let's catch up!"

Friend A: "Why not, we'll meet up for coffee,"

Friend B: "Great! Where?"

And here it is, the big 'where?' I remember four years back there really was nowhere, (other than the few places that were overcrowded and you just didn't feel comfortable to go without a father, brother or a male cousin). Today, it's a different world.

When I see these things taking place, it makes me happy. I know it is not a life that all classes of our society can indulge in, but it’s fulfilling to know that we have the facilities and services that other people in other corners of the world are enjoying.

Having said all this I still think we shouldn't miss out on having sweet Kurdish tea at the Chaykhana (tea house) and don't be too carried away with all the malls, because believe me there is no better shopping (cultural) experience than Erbil's very own Qaysary Bazaar.

The negative side of this is that almost everything is made in Turkey, Syria, China, and every other place in the world, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING, is made in Kurdistan! This frustrates me!

* AKA: My shopping partner, Mum!

My "Memoirs" column in the Kurdish Globe this week looks into this issue of the new malls more in details, see:
All pictures were taken by me! EXCLUSIVELY and SPECIALLY for this blog. Loyal blogger to loyal readers!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My history through their pictures

There she was, a simple French woman showing me my history, picture after picture; page after page, she was teaching me things that our young girls and boys should be learning at school. She was showing me what it really means to be a Kurd, rather weird considering she was French, and I was a Kurd.

She opened the first pages, there was some writing in French that I couldn't understand, and she posed the question, what looked like the first line to the thick, colourful book. "What does it mean to be a Kurd?" She asked pointing at the writing bolded at the top of the page. This is a question that is now embossed in my mind. As I wrote well into the night after my meeting with them, I kept asking myself the same question. "What does it mean to be a Kurd?"

Could being a Kurd mean we speak Kurdish, then again there are some Kurds in Turkey who have lost the Kurdish language but remain to be Kurds, maybe their sentiments of the Kurdish identity is deeper than yours and mine. Could it be about the religion or a religious sect? Again no. I know Yezidis who have strong Kurdish sentiments, I also know Shiite Muslims who feel just as much Kurdish as a Sunni Kurd. I have Christian friends who hold strong Kurdish values.

A simple question of our identity took my imagination past the height of our mountains and beyond the limitless sky.

Let's get to the point, my dear reader (yes- I am referring to YOU -Mum!!!! ) throughout my life (young life I should say) I have always considered myself as lucky to have had the honour to come across great people, amazing personalities and inspiring individuals. They each have taught me a lesson in life, and I have taken from the experience of every person I have met – people who change the world in the smallest deeds that they do – these are the people who I look up to.

This time I met a wonderful French couple (Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera)*. My knowledge of Kurdology (I don't know if the word actually exists, but I am going to be using it from now on!) comes from the books and articles I have read and the childhood stories I've listened to on my father's lap. This type of learning experience was different.

Mrs. Kutschera patiently took me through every single page of section 1 of the book they have put together, with her husband commentating on certain historic information when necessary.

Sometimes when they spoke my arms began to shiver and my eyes filled with tears – I still don't know if they were tears of happiness or sadness. But what I do know is that I was inspired more than ever before by my own people.

Above: Mrs. Kutschera shows a picture of a Peshmerga she has taken back in the 1970s.

You know what? I saw pictures of Kurds in the mountains learning and studying outside. The black board was probably no bigger than some of our television screen at home; it was held high by two large tree branches cut off. I saw pictures of the Peshmerga and their families – living in a cave. I saw a picture of a biologist, sitting on a mountain top with a small microscope. There was a picture of students doing an exam under a tree outside, sitting on the ground.

Everyone in the pictures look equal. No one is better than the other. From their faces I could tell how transparent their hearts are. Mr. Kutschera tells me that he went to the houses of villagers where he was greeted warmly, even at the absence of the husband. I felt so honoured as they described the way Kurds treated foreigners, even in the most difficult days in their history.

Mrs. Kutschera restores some of the old pictures people have to add to the online photo library of Kurdish history.* You can see some of the pictures that are now online at although the ones in the book are exclusive and indeed, each picture tells a thousand words. The book (which is in three sections, beginning from the first photograph taken by the Kutscheras in 1971 to 2011) will be published in four different languages.

I discussed with Mrs. Kutschera of her willingness to visit schools (young children in particular) once her book is out so that she can explain to them the history of the Kurds through pictures she had taken over a four decade period (to speak of her first hand experience; her encounters while living with the Peshmerga, sitting and talking with Kurdish leaders). I don't see why we can't have the elderly ex-Peshmergas go to schools and speak to students about their past experiences (now that's an idea!).

We have a rich history and there are so many stories that need to be told before it's too late. The other day, I wished I had hundreds of primary school students with me, listening to the stories given by the Kutschera couple!

Above: Mrs. Kutschera shows me the online photo library of Kurdish personalities and history, by January she promised to have thousands of pictures loaded on. Take a look-

As the Kutschera couple spoke, I somehow wished to have lived through those moments. I sensed how it felt to be there. I looked at the Peshmerga smiling – while living in the worse possible conditions – I saw a picture of a shop, but the shelves were empty, the man had almost nothing to sell. Mr. Kutschera points at a picture, he tells me 'this is the last picture of peace in Kurdistan' I look at the caption, only to realize it was written "1973". I immediately recall an interview I did not too long ago with Bayan Abdul- Rahman, she spoke of prosperity and development in Kurdistan. One of the key points she emphasized repeatedly is having solid, uninterrupted peace. She said with "continuous peace" we can prosper not just with infrastructural development but also economically, socially and politically.

I really do hope that this solid peace that is now apparent continuous in our part of the world, so that we can build more. There is a lot we need to do. There are villages that need services, there are people out there with spectacular talents that need to be recognized so that they can develop. There are thousands of young people who would love an opportunity to continue their studies, there are hospitals that need to be renovated, there are issues that need to be addressed through awareness and there are is a future for this nation waiting. I believe it is a sensitive time for us, but I can't be more optimistic about the future of this Kurdish country (yes, I use the word country, why shouldn't I?)

As for the Kutscheras, 40 years ago they took pictures of the Kurds in the mountains with film-strip cameras, writing the information on paper with pens. Now they bring their laptop to a luxuries hotel lobby area, connected to the wireless internet in Erbil. They are publishing their book in the region's own capital city and taking pictures of shopping malls with digital cameras.

The times have changed, and so have we. But I have one wish. The way Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera described the Kurdish people was beyond what I can write in words. Their eyes said it all. I hope we remain to be such noble, loving and warm hearted people. We have been hurt enough to know that it is not okay to hurt others!

*Kurdology – Coming from the word 'ology' meaning: A combining form, "the science or study of" and 'Kurd' – a member of the largest stateless nation in the world, but will someday have a country of their own!

*Mr. and Mrs. Kutschera have the same first name (Chris) so to avoid confusion I refer to Mrs. Chris Kutschera as Mrs. K and to Mr. Chris Kutschera as Mr. K.

*If you happen to have pictures that date back for some years, please do let me know so I can forward your details to Mrs. Kutschera.

-Pictures in this entry were taken by me! Sazan M.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December in Erbil

New Year is around the corner – I really find it hard to believe that another year has gone already – but people in Erbil are already in the spirit. My cousin came back with a Christmas tree (I will answer your question, don't worry, YUP she's also a Muslim!!). So it seems like in some people this time of year is a celebration for all and not for the Christian community only. Ainkawa (area in Erbil with the majority of residents being Christians) will soon shine in colours, lights and decorations. Most houses have Christmas trees and are in the Christmas spirit*.

Soon there will be tickets for New Year parties. Some will sell for hundreds of dollars and others at affordable prices. Phone companies will make millions. Simply because we are nation who like to greet each other in special occasions- friends, family; far, near and even the uncle's next door neighbour!

We are a Muslim society, and to a degree maybe a conservative society too, but the acceptance of different cultures and religious really makes me proud to be living in Erbil. The pictures here are of Majidi Mall in Erbil- decorations, candles, gift wrapping, ribbons, stockings, Santa and the big Christmas tree too!! It's all there for people's enjoyment.

I must point out that businessman are not letting the Christmas season pass without empting some pockets. The picture below is of a new candy shop (from Turkey this one) you have the chance to fill a bag of goodies (for a sweet tooth like me, it is OH SO GOOD!) with your own choice for about $14 for half a kilogram. I think this is the first of its kind in Kurdistan, the price is a little hefty but I am thinking it's only because the whole is new, soon when more of them are around the city prices will decrease (or will it?!). Anything new is welcome here. That's the sense that I am feeling right now.

From a distance it catches the eye...

A little closer and it catches the heart...

A little more closer and it is irresistable...

And when you smell it... who said lollies were bad for you?!

*During this special time of year, my condolences are with the families who lost loved ones in an attack against Christian communities in Baghdad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sar-u-peh or Kala Pacha!


This blog entry may contain disturbing images for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sar-u-peh, Kala Pacha, Bacha, or what ever you like to refer to it as, I just call it the Sheep's head. Here is the story, I went to Khanaqeen during the Jezhn (Eid) break with my family and I discovered more about my own people and culture. The one thing that really got my attention from the trip was in fact the Sheep's head.

The learning journey began on the first morning of Jezhn as I watched a group of women sitting together in the yard cleaning and cooking ‘Sar-u-peh’ after an animal was sacrificed. Not the perfect scene for a predominantly vegetarian person, but squeezing my eyes together, and winching my nose there was a beauty in watching the women laughing and talking in a circle in what appeared perfect group work activity. Each woman had her own duty in cleaning the head of the sheep, “This is the ears, that is the eye and oh the most delicious part is this, the tongue” said one of the woman with her sleeves pulled right back well beyond her elbow as she pointed with her blood stained hands.

Above: This is when she was telling me 'and this is the tongue'

As she continued pointed to the different parts trying to familiarize me with her family’s favourite meal all I could think of was how once upon a time (before he knew about cholesterol) this was in fact one of my fathers favorite meals. Another woman started teaching me cleaning tricks and techniques (for when I cook Sar-u-peh at home- as if.) I politely nodded my head and began brainstorming excuses of how I could skip dinner that evening.

Above: Burning the skin. No, sorry let me rephrase- above: This is the sterilization process.

Meanwhile at dinner time, everyone sat on the ground forming a perfect long rectangle, I watched from under my eyes how all the attention seemed to be on the sheep’s brain. As a guest it was typical that everyone insisted that I eat a large portion of it – their way of saying “you’re special”. After my courteous refusals the younger cousin on my right elbowed me whispering “just take it and pass it to me!”

When you sit with a large family having Sar-u-peh then etiquette doesn’t exist and there is no such thing as knife and fork. I listened to the sucking sounds of bones, gobbling of the eye balls, and crunchy sound of the ear cartilage (or was that a different cartilage?).

Above: Oh so clean! - yeah right -

As I kept quiet eating my salad and plane white rice I knew I was acting like an alien to all the others. But I witnessed quality family time. As I watched this large family make all sorts of jokes, laugh and talk during the long dinner it was better than any five-star open buffer dinner experience I have ever had in my life.

Above: The brain* (I don't think any additional comment is necessary)

I wish I could tell you how it tasted. I am sure it is nice but I will let that for you. Apparently there are various restaurants that sell Sar-u-peh in Erbil and I am told that you can even eat it at breakfast, and by the time the sun rises they are all sold out. So next time you come to Kurdistan, you know what to try!

This is a section from this weeks 'Memoirs' column in the Kurdish Globe, see titled 'The Sheep's Head'

*All pictures in this blog were taken by me, except this one. unfortunately I didn't want to look so much like an outsider to friends and relatives by taking out a camera taking pictures of what they thought was 'normal' food. So I resorted to Google for an image of a cooked sheep's brain.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The city that never stops growing!

My dearest most loyal reader…

I haven’t blogged for so long, it is not because nothing has happened, in fact the opposite is true, a lot has happened and I was just not in the right state of mind to sit and write. But here we are, yesterday President Talabani was announced as Iraq’s President for a second term and just around my house the first meeting was held in Erbil because of President Barzani’s initiative two days prior– all Iraqi leaders and politicians were in Erbil. Below is a picture from my balcony of the cars on the same road of Martyr Saad palace, where the meeting was held.

I realize I have more than one follower (yes!! Mum you’re not alone!) and that gives me enough encouragement to post some of the pictures I have taken in the past months or so and give a brief update about the city that never stops developing.

First of all J.A, a Lebanese friend who was a close follower of my blog from Dubai is now living in Erbil with her partner, I am glad the blog gave a ‘little’ insight to life in Kurdistan for her during when planning to move to Erbil. After her arrival we took a small journey through real Kurdish life and documented parts of our day.

J.A discovered the Persian Qurmay Sabzi for the first time- full of healthy greens.

Our day began in Shansheen restaurant around noon. Not the best food in Erbil (specially if you suffer from high cholesterol levels) but certainly a real taste of Kurdish culture, in particular with the seating area on the floor.

The pictures below are of Mala Hamid and his little treasure shop of old Kurdish antiques in Erbil’s Qaysari bazaar, of course for J.A and I it was like discovering a chest of diamonds, except these ones were more special. It is like a small museum of its own. Mala Hamid answered some of our questions and gave us a brief history of his little shop. If you happen to be in Erbil, pay him a visit and don’t hesitate to have a Pyalay Chay (tea) with him and take the effort to look through the small bits and pieces he has in his little corner store.

A 60-year-old anklet made by Jews that lived in Kurdistan, in Mala Hamid's antique shop

Mala hamid such a great man- loves what he does for a living**

The view from the top of the citadel, I remember going in the same place this time last year (actually have blog pics of it, if you like go into the archive) and it looked nothing like this. They are building the other side as well, this will look spectacular in the near future once completely finished. It already does!
And J.A manages to find little tiny Kurdish Klash,
Who said nature is not the best medicine? Hair straightening, skin clearing and even mind relaxation herbs and natural medicine in the Qaysari bazaar.

Sometimes I realize I feel like a stranger driving around Erbil. Once you live here you will realize if you don’t visit a particular area at least twice a week the next time you go there you won’t know it’s the same place. The city is literally a big construction site. I took these pictures just on the way from home to uncle’s place. I do have one fear and that is the quality of the buildings in the long run. With this city everything is unpredictable, you don’t know what crazy idea will hit the mind of any person tomorrow and a new project will begin construction work next week.

I saw this when driving past, they are a new set of shops near Ainkawa that I haven't had the chance to discover yet, but will give you an update of how it is once I make an effort to visit it
The new Noble Hotel just outside Ainkawa

Construction is ongoing on the Gulan Tower

I am aware that in the Bakhtiary area a large piece of land is dedicated now to a women’s swimming pool, sports facilities and beauty center. Not too far away the first and finest movie theatres is being created and the list just continues… what amazes me is the speed at which all this is taking place (and I will admit sometimes a concern emerges from this as well).

There are cities around the world that are always noisy; there are cities that never sleep, and cities that are always glittering with lights; there are cities for lovers and cities for shoppers. Around the world there are cities offering the finest cuisines and others the best limousines. My city offers affection and love, my city is the city that never stops growing and is somehow always smiling. Erbil has become a special part of me, even though I am not originally from here, though I feel it’s a city that can be home to anyone and any person and anytime- not many places in the world are like this.

Since the last time I blogged I have discovered a new leisure pursuit. Watching Oprah and cleaning Sawza (greens). Believe me there is an art to separating the greens. I have seen women sit together and talk (gossip!) while cleaning or separating the edible from the ummmm un-edible^? though I have never actually realized what they really do and how they separate them, but believe it or not it's fun. I tried, and I think from the picture it looks right.

All clear! All clean!
I mean there are three different groups and they all look different – right? The one on the right is the rubbish... is it supposed to be rubbish?
People this is how it's done*. You know I think you're just supposed to just take the yellow leaves out and wash it.

While the camera was in the kitchen I thought I would show you something else exclusive to Kurdistan. These are little touches that make this place so wonderful.

Pomegranates in a bowl on the kitchen table. Let me tell you: with a little bit of salt and a nice big spoon watching the speeches of Iraqi leaders could never be more fun and interesting!

This is Naana Teeri, (search for this in a cloth and large plastic bag on the fridge of Kurdish households). Basically it looks like dried bread which is really thin. It is almost magic how sprinkling this with a tiny bit of water makes it softer and fresher than any bread you can imagine. Only Kurdish women can make this the way it should be. Try it the next time you are here!! Trust me!!

I couldn’t skip these two pictures. I am so proud of my new KURIDSTAN handbag, though I am really upset that it is often so difficult to find Kurdish souvenirs around the city, which is also rather surprising. This bag came from Naza Mall and if you think its cute then look at the picture under it.
The perfect handbag!

I hadn’t blogged as I was busy at home as well as my commitments outside. But one of the main reasons was this little angel here. The newest edition to the Mandalawi family– Baby Hunar! Who came to visit us for a while.

*Thanks to M.M. for this picture. And yes I did clean all those greens and washed them too – and I must add to that ate them as well.

** This one was taken by J.A. didn't need any begging - Zor Supas!

All other pictures in this blog entry was taken by me.