Saturday, March 13, 2010

The life of Kurdish girls

The key is in our hands…

Four years has passed by since I first set foot on Kurdish soil from a decade of life in exile, and still I am asked two staggering questions: “why would you come back here” and of course “so where do you like more, here or there”.

My answers are almost always the same, and I often understand the reason why people ask these questions. Sometimes as I answer they raise their eye-brows, I can read between their eyes “she’s so naive” is what is going through their head (but that does not bother me). What bothers me the most is when people pre-judge our Kurdish nation with lack of knowledge.

Recently I received an E-mail from an old teacher of mine; I guess from her love and pure care for me, she wrote “I can imagine for a girl like yourself, life is difficult where you are”… excuse me?

There are many things that separate Kurdistan from the European and the developed countries around the word. But believe it or not, life back home, for a Kurdish girl, is not as bad as you may imagine.

In any part of the world what would a girl want?- some freedom, rights- to study, work and earn her income, privileges like her male counterpart and respect. More importantly any girl would want to fulfill her dreams and ambitions in life.
Four years back the numbers of female drives on the roads in Erbil were enough to be counted by fingers. Now, if there is a working car at home then it is all about getting the license before sitting behind the wheel (this is the case with girls in many households).

When girls could not visit the local bazar comfortably because of the staring eyes, like they are aliens from outer space, today malls and shopping centers allows young girls to ‘shop till they drop’ with their friends without a male family member acting as a body guard.
Kurdish girls participate in workshops to raise their awareness and become active youth in their communities.

At a time where there was no place to go but the neighbor’s house for a cup of tea, today Kurdish girls go out for lunch and dinner in restaurants with their friends for a ‘chit-chat’ or go to theme parks with rides, sit in coffee shops and even go swimming or to the gym.

For girls who want to study and succeed in their lives, whilst our education system is not the best in the world, but every girl has the right to continue her education at university level and even continue to a postgraduate degree if she desires (with good marks of course!).

My closest female friends have succeeded in their careers in Kurdistan. I have female friends, who are deputy editors of newspapers, who present television shows, who are interpreters, secretary to ministers and General Directors. There are people I know who are directors and managers of an NGO, people running for parliament, others writing books, playing sport and few who are following their ambitions in the world of art and painting.
Pic: A Kurdish girl learns to play 'ping-pong' in the games room in Uni.

A female student I know runs an entire radio station, another friend is a police woman, and the other is a first place champion in taekwondo. The point is, if there is girl with a dream, in Kurdistan the door does not close and the path is never lost.

True, at times it is difficult to persuade others that you are capable of the job, but once you prove your potentials then there is no force in the world to prevent you from reaching your dreams, and doing the things you love the most.

The misunderstanding about Kurdish girls is unfortunately shown to the world through a media that only focuses on the negative aspects of anything. These days if it is good news then it is no news at all. I wish people could see the other life that we Kurdish girls have in the main provinces.
Pic: Kurdish girls shine with beauty & full of dreams and potantials.

I have worked in the newspaper for over three years now, in the Kurdish Globe I am the only girl when we go to the office-- aside from the editor herself-- and there has never been a time when I have been mistreated, taken advantage of or heard hurtful remarks from anyone. We have our arguments about women’s rights, religion and politics but being a girl has never affected the job that I do. This is what I want the rest of the world to realize!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A place for wise men

So where do all the retired men meet in Erbil...?

Bakhi Shar is the name of a park in the heart of Erbil’s bazaar, near the citadel and opposite the new Nishtiman mall. A large black gate separates the retired men enjoying pleasurable time from the chaos of the outside world on the other side. This is a place where the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of an entire generation gather in one place in the heart of Erbil.

Above: A group of retired men in the 'Bakhi Shar' play some games

The men, some in suits, some in Kurdish clothes, and others in tracksuits are scattered across the park or large garden—some sitting on the fresh green grass, others in chairs, with surrounding tables holding dominoes and cards. Laughter and jokes come from some areas, while others day dream on their own.

Open for over one year now, the park has a section dedicated to sporting activities, and an outdoor gym along with an indoor cafeteria. Originally, a local group of retired men visited Erbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, and presented the idea of the garden. Not long after their visit, the piece of land was assigned for the Bakhi Shar (city garden) where, as they say, “the young cannot come in!” it is assigned only for retired men. There are ex-professors, teachers, director generals, sportsman and even poets etc..

Each of the retired men sitting in their groups--whether talking, or playing dominoes or card games--has a past and history of his own. They come here to share their stories, but it seems like they recall the happy memories more as laughter is a sentiment felt in the atmosphere of the garden.

Above: The outdoor gym in the retirement park designed to encourage the men to undertake sporting activities.

There are few other place¬s specially designed for older and retired men. The venue is also convenient because it is in the center of the city and available to everyone. For some retired men, Bakhi Shar (Baxi Shar) is the only place they go out of the house for ‘fresh air’. Something interesting I found out is that these men are actually knowledgeable, and are indeed a great source of information, each specializing in their own fields and almost all of them are college graduates with degrees and have had professional careers.

Above: Two of my friends are inspired by the wise words of a retired man.

Glad there is a place for the retired men…. In Erbil development is approaching, and it’s fast!!

Showing-off the membership card!

* Article on the retirement park published in issue: of the Kurdish

Come with me and discover Erbil’s Citadel!

March is here!!

In Kurdistan it is the one month of the year that you would like to be in. The color of nature, the mountains, the picnics, the numerous celebrations and how can I forget NEWROZ (the biggest celebration on the Kurdish calendar).

For any guests coming into Kurdistan, and Erbil in particular during this season I thought I would dedicate this blog especially for you.

Dear tourist: There is something great about Erbil that once you have visited, you would want to come back a second and a third time as well—the citadel. The citadel, no matter what major road you are coming out from, will always be seen. It is a great cultural experience, but touring the inside you will be amazed by the architecture, the people, the different sites and indeed you will discover a treasured history of the Kurdish nation.

Above: I sit and observe the vast changes happening infront of my eyes in Erbil. In a year time I will sit in the same place, and I am sure the picture will look very different. The development is too fast to observe.

Four years later, every time I visit the citadel I feel like a tourist (discovering her own nationality and culture). Before going up the stairs into the citadel, there are a group of small shops that have been there for many years- selling Kurdish folklore—the Kurdish Klash (shoes) is one thing that you must purchase before leaving the citadel.

The original Klash is handmade and it takes more than 3 people to complete one pair for approximately seven days.

Above: These Klash come from Hawraman, Mama, in his shop shapes the Klash before he puts them on display for sale. He began making klash in Hawraman with his father when he was a child, and so many years later, he continues the tradition.

Above: Learning to tell the difference between the 'original' and 'fake' Klash. Mama tells me that they took the Klash to China in order to try and duplicated, but they failed. No one knew the secret to the perfect Klash. "It is explicit to the Kurds!"

The Klash on display for sale!

A friend discovers the beauties of a shop inside the actual Citadel.