Monday, February 22, 2010

Life’s little beauties

When mummy and daddy are not there…. Life is not over for Erbil’s orphans

In life we do not always know what we want, sometimes we are too carried away looking for our own comforts and what makes us happy. We forget of what we have, and more importantly the people that surround us. Only when they leave our lives do we realize what they meant to us and learn that their place in our hearts will never fade. Once they leave the things around us mean nothing, the beauty of life disappears and we do everything to forget them, but they can never be forgotten.

We all have people in our life who we love and cherish. But recently experiences and incidents in my life made me look into this in a deeper way, in fact, much deeper.
With a group of friends we decided to take a trip to the orphanage in Erbil, I must say it added depth to the ocean of feelings I had inside me.

Of all the children, one in particular caught my attention, little Rozie*she was the first one I saw; actually I was outside when I saw her first. Rozie was on a sofa, she had the curtains in one hand pulled to the side and the other hand on her cheek as she looked outside the window from the three story house, her and her 10 to 15 friends live in, she is about three years old, and as soon as we walked in she ran to welcome us. Her large smile showing her milk teeth, her hair messy but cute and then there it was, shiny eyes that told me the world is okay.

This little girl’s eyes were full of hope, tenderness and warmth. She was not alone. All the children were beautiful in their own ways; they are talented, energetic and vibrant. They are full of life, yet somehow somewhere deep there ought to be a wound, and it is evident.

The children have all the toys they need, all the room they need and all the food they would want to eat. But they do not have the one thing that a child needs the most—the feeling of security, they do not have access to a mother’s chest to put their heads on at nap time. Nor can they fall on the ground laughing because Daddy is tickling them.

Children are the most precious gifts in this world; they are also the most innocent and harmless. If there is one thing that children do best it is making us smile in our most distressful days. They know nothing of the world and its sadness. They are not concerned that the Kurds are the largest stateless nation, that Israel and Palestine have been in war for so many years, the economic crisis has left countless number of people jobless, and the world is coming to a place where people kill others in the name of God.

Their world composes of two people—Mummy and Daddy. For the beautiful smile to appear on their face all they want is a toy to be amused with and a hug.
How sad is it to be separated from the person who carried you in their womb for nine months, how despondent would one feel not to be able to see the other half who contributed so that you can appear in this world?

What angers me the most is that the children in Erbil’s orphanage, most of whom, have parents who are living, but they have been abandoned. The common stories are ‘the parents got divorced’ or ‘the mother got married and neither parent wanted the kids’ or ‘she was not wanted in the first place’. These are excuses that reflect something in our society that is lacked- family planning.

Be married for six months and if people do not see a ‘baby bump’ then something is wrong (though I must admit this is changing to a great extent now, which is wonderful news!) some couples do not divorce because they have children, and priority is given to the kids first. I cannot agree with this alternative. Nor can I accept that children become victims to the lousy decision making skills of adults.
There is nothing that the what so called ‘orphans’ lack--Other than lots of hugs--Our day began with a few friends who had raised some money; we made our way to the shops 9AM sharp and bought some gifts (though we all know ‘things’ can never bring happiness—but sometimes it is necessary--) and yummy goodies. We were then off to the orphanage, I must say it is a beautiful, modern area. There are six houses for boys and girls. They are both divided into 0-6 years; 6 years to high school; and then high school age and above. Boys separate and girls separate. It was organized.
Above: the girls busy with the shopping first

We began with the primary school girls first, somewhere at school when we went, we did painting, drawing, making jewelry, putting together jigsaw puzzles (which they were so fast to learn!! Must take 300 pieces this time!!) counting, writing and eating!
Busy with the puzzles...

The babies next door were noisy, but if it were in our hands we would not leave the front door. It was the most touching experience as Lava, age 4, cried and cried when we left. “You say you will come back but you won’t” she told one of my friends.
And Rozie, well her voice is still in my ear: “let them go, but you stay…” her words are soft and precious, just like herself.

(According to one of the kids, I have long hair that requires brushing)

I am happy that we made a visit, because I know their life is not as bad as I had first thought or imagined (the other orphanage before was a misery in itself). At the same time, the visit affects every day of my life, every move and ever decision. I was inspired by every child there.

Rozie comes to my mind every night before I put my head on the pillow, I wonder if she is okay, I wonder if she is hungry or if someone hurt her today (the social workers maybe). I wish life brings her success and happiness, she has a long journey ahead, and I am sure she will be a strong young woman one day who will have influence on those around her. That I am sure of.

I put Rozie's picture on the blog a few times and kept deleting it... something inside me won't let me put her picture, as much as I like to. If you get the chance visit her... she will be happy to see you... I am sure!!

Ashna putting up an illustration on Ama's bed, they made it together.

Above: The kids busy with their new possessions....

Above: Ashna, a few of the girls and I-- an attempt to entertain little toddlers is harder than one can imagine.

For some it was the first time they had held a pencil in their hand...

The games room is on the second floor.

*Names of children changed for ethical reasons

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Elissa lands in Erbil

And she lands on Kurdish soil....!!

Above: With Foreign Relations representative of KRG- Mr. Falah Mustafa

Above: Elissa in the VIP section of the Erbil International airport

Lebanese singer Elissa arrived in Erbil International airport about 5:30 to 6 PM today, for her conert tomorrow night. I did not go to the airport simply because they over exaggerate on the security and it takes a real fight to get these 'pop-stars' so say two words.

I was told* that she said the reason behind her visit was the stable security in the region, her love for the nation and her eagerness to see Kudistan.

For an average Kurdish girl, I am pleased that she is here and we are proving to the world that the Kurds are no different to any other nation in the world. Despite the costs of the tickets many reservations have been made, and so many others are willing to go but the $200 USD (for the peasants at the back) and $500 USD (for the kings at the front) still remains the reason why so many will not make it tomorrow night.

As for her new CD, there are two songs that I seem to be listening to non-stop around the clock, and I just can't wait to see who is next on the list to visit the region.

*Pics: thanks to S. Hamed and Q. Khidhir
*told by a reliable source who was there!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day in Kurdistan...

My amusement in Valentine’s Day no longer exists, (you can say I do not believe in it). But I should not be biased, so I thought I would write to you, my dear reader, about Valentine’s Day in Kurdistan.

Yes although it’s a rather new phenomenon here, it is celebrated!! Outside the three major cities it is rare to find people who know much of a special day dedicated to intimate companions, in the city it’s a different story (and Suly more than Erbil for sure!).

At university, it is become a tradition that every year a party for valentines is made, even if it falls on the holidays, it takes place on the last day of Uni. In the past two years I haven’t been able to make it to the valentine’s party (this time last year I celebrated in the icy cold winter days of Vienna and this year, I was just not in the mood for any sort of celebration). At the completion of the exams, the Uni cafeteria* was decorated by the Student Union in such a way that it was transformed entirely and the mood of Valentine appeared. I hear activities, song and dances carried on for a long time.

Basically, young people, whether they are at our University of any other college in the region, the day is gradually becoming a big phenomenon. Whilst it does not fit all aspects of the Kurdish culture, I still believe it is a positive change as it brings something worthy into the culture- one of love, appreciation and respect, better than hatred and abhorrence.

February 14th is actually becoming a day where young people look forward to it—friends exchange roses, sweets and friendly texts remaining them they are there for one another. At the same time, there are people who do not even know a day of such exists in the world.

I still believe Kurdistan, if it were to celebrate a day for lovers, then the day should be one that reflects one the varies well-known lovers in the Kurdish literature; like Mam u Zin, Shirin u Farhad and Wali Deewana and Sham. Just how did Saint Valentine reach the mountains of Kurdistan?!

*Cafeteria in the University of Kurdistan is not just a place for eating food and sitting around a table. We have ate, mourned, cried, laughed, played, talked, fought, argued, and danced in it. Let us say it has the ability to be transformed into almost anything.

*Please note all pictures were taken from S. El Kaisi—with much appreciation- all rights respected

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My day in Erbil's Zaytun library

I have driven past the library many times but never took the opportunity to actually go inside and discover what was beyond the stunning modern building. Since I finished my exams, and as a stress relief I thought going to the library maybe the ultimate option.

Proudly I walked through the beautiful library but sadly not as many people as I wished were there. With an infrastrcture like this, I am optimistic for the future,
books and reading must become part of the culture, and gradually with a library like this it will. (I am planning to take my little orphan friends to borrow books from the children's section in the next couple of weeks) !!

An outside view of the library
The library is designed as a large modern style blue building. The atmosphere is quiet and graceful in the middle of nature; the study rooms and halls are surrounded by glass and overlook the serene view of Park Sami Abdul-Rahman.The mammoth two floor building consists of two study halls, seminar and conference rooms as well as computer and internet laboratories.

The American corner of the library

Mr. Zahir Abdulla, Director of the library

The film or stage performance hall is an extension to the library which can sit an audience of 350 people at any one time; it is specifically designed for on-stage live performances.

There are also additional sections that reflect on the Korean culture, one area is designed like a museum with the work of the Korean Zaytun military put on display during their time in the region. The American section has videos, movies and books from America to introduce the American culture to the Kurds. I borrowed Hillat Clinton's 'Living History' book and will start looking through it tonight. I must admit there are no resent publications, but it is better than nothing!

The Korean Zaytun section of the library

Books donated to the library recently,

Every seminar room and hall is named after a particular Kurdish personality. The dust has picked up in some of the rooms in the library, and for sure the books are waiting for readers. For now the Zaytun library is still in its primary steps in a journey to being the largest, most beneficial and used library in the Kurdistan region in the near future

The internet and lab room

* All pictures were taken by me for the purpose of this blog only and not for other uses. Please respect this right.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My hours at the Erbil Nursing home

Above: Poora Golizard, she has been at the nursing home for 7 years now.

So what do a group of 20 and 21 year-old Kurdish girls do in their spare time? If you guessed writing or going for a walk you would have probably been right, but no, not this time. Shopping? Again No. Gossiping? No. Not us! Bowling? No. Cooking? No. (You wish!) Spending time with friends? (YES!! But certainly not the type of friends that you have in mind)

Let me tell you, the most recent news is that the triplet friends(that is Bewar, Ashna and I) will begin the weekly visit to the nursing home in Erbil to voluntarily spend time with our new friends, most of whom are half a century older than we are. The experience is enjoyable, but the lessons that we learn just by siting with them and being involved in their conversation are beyond what words can describe. There is a big contrast to the orphanage that we had been so attached to before. But we like change!

This week was preliminary- it was tears and laughter. Sitting in the garden under the warm sunlight with a group of my old friends I learn Some of these ‘oldies’ are in love, others have met in the nursing home and are now married. Some hate one another, others flirt with each other.

Their conditions are better than what you may expect. Whilst their health and medical needs are met, the place they live in is as old as they are and the garden is very small. I noticed they lack activities and a daily program to keep them occupied.

Today there were 42 of them— almost all of them over the age of 60. I saw it all; hatched backs, wrinkles, and even the sloppy kisses that we all dread. Their lives can be turned into a comedy television series or a soap opera but their abilities should never be underestimated. I realized each one of the ‘Dada’, ‘Poora’ and 'Mama' (What Kurds usually call the elderly, the terms refer mainly to aunty and uncle) have their own stories, you cannot hold back the tears as they share their pains, their wounds, their sacrifices and exhaustion in life.

So who needs young friends when you can be friends with the old? I must admit though, since my first visit my view and thoughts about life have changed dramatically. Whether we like it or not, you and I will also be old one day and I just wish there will be someone who will come, sit with us under the warm sun, see our wrinkles and listen to our stories.

Some of my old friends can’t eat sugar, others are forbidden from salt and of course oil is a ‘no! no!’ for most them, but still, next week I will smuggle in some homemade sweets, I know they will like it!

* Fellow reader!! If you by any chance have ideas of activities (even games) that are easy, accessibly and do not need much materials for older people ((‘Older’ meaning 60+)) then please let me know. In the two hours a week I would like to do something exciting and different with them, other than sitting and listening to the endless stories. I have been looking for the heavy metal balls that aim to land close to a specific target (can't recall the name of the activity)… It would be very convenient and enjoyable for them. Unfortunately I haven’t had any luck so far. I want them to stretch some muscles and have some fun!

*There is going to be an article on the nursing home in this week’s issue of the Kurdish Globe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Elissa in Kurdistan

I almost had a car crash today as a large billboard promoting the party of Lebanese singer. It was a surprise, but not unexpected!

After the first two concerts held by Lebanese singer Najwa Karam and the vast success it brought (and money of course!!) posters and advertisements are now on display in Erbil promoting the concert of another Lebanese singing icon- Elissa.
From living here, one thing that I have observed is that the culture of parties is emerging in a great way. The people, especially in the cities (and Sulaimaniya ahead of Erbil) are willing to go out and enjoy their time in parties and concerts more than ever before. The world of celebrities has become more and more appealing to the new generation in particular.

Usually such concerts are targeting a specific group in the society, but attract the attention of almost everyone, and until her arrival it will be the conversation topic of every men, women; young and old.

Above: The advert promoting Elissa's concert/ party in Kurdistan, Erbil

As a young Kurd, it makes me happy to know that even Arab singers are welcome to give concerts to Kurds and it just proves that we are just like any other nation in the world… It is even more delightful to know that these concerts are the first of its kind in Iraq. The well-off families from Baghdad and other areas in the country normally make arrangements to attend such events.

As for Elissa, with the concert set for five days after Valentine’s Day (19th of Feb), her romantic songs and slow voice will attract many young couples, and, with no doubt there will be a full concert hall.

With dinner provided, prices range from $200 to $500 per person, depending on how close they are to the stage. For a one night’s event it is a heavy price tag for most households, but many have already made their bookings.

* The rumor that is now emerging is that the ‘hot’ looking Haifa Wehbi will be next in the list to hold a party in Erbil. And let me see, the Kurdish guys are already saving up!! :D

PS. Keep an eye on a next blog entry as I visit the Erbil Nursing Home tomorrow. I know, one day Elissa and the next the nursing home… that’s how it is over here! We have a little of everything.