Monday, December 26, 2011

One small step for Erbil, one giant step for cultural progress: Coffee Shops!

Dearest reader,
Once again writing from Erbil, Kurdistan. Am katatan bash!!!
Two days ago I took you on my journey to mrishk shopping. Today was a totally different experience. While mrishk is not one of my favourite things, what I saw today is top ranking in that list-- with no doubt.

Family Mall still remains to be the biggest and the best there is in Erbil (though I still prefer the old bazaar over any modern building in this city). This is the place where you can buy a piece of jewelry at a price of a house and have the real designer of clothes, shoes and bags. It is also the place where you can be so "modern" and "catch up over a coffee".
Empire Cinemas in Erbil, Family Mall. One of the best 2012 things in Erbil to look out for
Basically a very modern shopping experience, running a little bit ahead of Majidi Mall at the moment, with Empire Cinemas waiting for its grand opening and Carrefour to open soon as well (expected to open tomorrow… but from what I saw today at least a week’s worth of work still remains).
Soon these doors will slide up and Carrefour will be open in Erbil- Family Mall
 My old love continues bigger and greater than before. That is, a love for antiques and folklore. Near the appliances and technology-related shops in Family Nall there is treasure to be discovered. Beautifully decorated and designed is the Daric shop. I won’t write much because some of the pictures I took will explain everything itself, but I truly felt like I was in wonder land.
Daric shop for persian carpets and home decoration - worth a visit
Massive in beauty—and in $$$ too—but the feeling you get being in these shops is superb and this is the first time I see this in Erbil’s Family Mall, probably opened after I left.
beautifully decorated shop....
they do house furniture as well
The owner was very helpful and explained to the magnificent Miss S.I. and I all about some of the pieces. Carpets were handmade, so were the wall display carpets –STUNNING— even the designs on the vases and little jewelry box (I think I tend to appreciate handmade goods so much because I feel they are made with so much love and passion. Or maybe it’s because my fingers can’t seem to be able to do anything more than holding a pen or typing on a keyboard. ). No let’s be serious. Whenever I see handmade pieces of anything I feel the person who spent hours/days or months putting it together.
A shop owner who really does believe in what he sells
S.I. learns about a beautifully handmade carpet, she's pleased!

handmade! S.I. fell in love with this one

S.M. (me!!) loved this one. Notice it is of a samawar - also handmade!!!!!
Today we walked past Robert’s Coffee, opening bam-zuwana (soon) in Family Mall my good old friend, Miss S.I. commentated on what she was seeing: “Can’t believe all the coffee shops in Erbil these days!” this really struck me, because I remember six years back there was not a single coffee shop where girls or woman could go to in entire Erbil.
Robert's Coffee at Family Mall Erbil bam-zuwana -coming soon!
Tut-tut-tut train ride around the mall J
Well let’s not exaggerate there was always the chay khana [tea shop] but believe me this is never a good idea for a female.
still had my chay in a pyala why do I suddenly enjoy tea when I'm back home is still a mystery
What is great about this place is that there are all sorts of people sitting in the coffee shops, I lost count of the ones there is in Family Mall, but they attract old men with their tasbeeh, younger boys with their iXXX (be that iPhone, iPod, and i-don’t-know-what), women with kids, families, groups of girls and boys, and it is very normal to see a two or more girls or women sitting together in one of these shops.

Notice the men, seems like a coffee-shop meeting
One step for Erbil, one giant step for cultural progress! These coffee shops inside the malls means more girls can leave the house without the family acting as a boundary. At the end of the day these malls are safe and it is socially accepted for girls to be there alone. While places like the bazaar can be very intimidating and uncomfortable for a group of girls to be seen there alone.

I also enjoy the fact that Christmas trees are up everywhere, and even the streets are decorated for both Christmas and New Year. As our Christian friends celebrated Christmas, we could also feel the festivity, which was great!

The Christmas Tree in Family Mall
The highlight of the day... when S.I. insisted to take a European but Made in Kurdistan baby from his father for a little "ooooysh Kubani she's so cute" session
Till I write again... Shaw bash from the greatest place in the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A diary from Erbil

World’s most loyal readers… Shaw Bash!

Week One, Part One*

How great it feels to be around family and relatives while writing a blog entry. Though I feel rude, aunty is talking to me and I am typing away, nodding every now and then.
For my non-Kurdish blog readers: Before I begin just let me check your knowledge and see how well you think you know Kurdistan. Here are two pictures, can you guess what the objects are used for? (No cheating, answers are at the end)
This is picture A

and this is picture B. Think hard, not as easy as you think.
With all that was taking place at our place this week, I (let me rephrase, THEY) wanted fresh chicken. And of course in a Kurdish family frozen Sadia chicken is not popular, so uncle suggested I visit him and he will take me on a little walk not too far away for great chicken (so proud Sazan can finally cook a meal... after 22 years) So... next morning I arrive at a place near Uncle’s (Maama E.M) and he is already there waiting for me. 

I love the feeling of being at a local market down the road or few blocks away. Walking by uncle's side he starts conversations with few elderly men, “Bayani Bash!” to this man, and “Sarchaw” to that man. I think this is his early morning walk and all the faces are familiar to him.

A shop owner... how I wished to sit and speak to this Maama
Okay okay. Here we go. Let me get to the point. So we arrive and uncle (in our Kalhuri Kurdish [khanaqini] dialect) assures me I am going to be fine as he reached to hold my hands tightly.
Half a second later I realize why he held my hand and said I would be fine. He knows very well that his niece is not interested in seeing chickens being killed. Simple as that.
A big “am katat bash” to an elderly Maama (word for uncle in Kurdish) sitting like a prestigious king on a plastic chair by his chicken shop and my uncle starts looking around.
I stand at a distance. Making a fool of myself watching young girls and women holding chickens by both their wings, looking at it closely, then returning it to the man. Then they’d point at another chicken.  They would do this a few times until finally they see one (or two, or three chickens … hmmm I think it all depends on the size of that manjal [pot] that will cook tonight’s dinner) they like.
This is the elderly Maama, I think owner of the shop

Notice the lady holding a chicken WITH ONE HAND
There are various options at this little corner shop. 1) you can take home the live chicken 2) you can get the chicken killed and take it home (basically a full chicken without a head) 3) you can get it cleaned out without the feathers and 4) there is the full option this is when they burn out some of the insides of the chicken… not sure what exactly it is, and I wasn’t exactly interested to see or know to be honest. Uncle describes the various alternatives, and I chose option three. No reasons for my request.
eh baxwa zor gunahn - feeling sorry for them :(
Those chickens looked so innocent. As my uncle made his selection, I called out “Na gunaha” from a distance hoping he’d give that particular chicken a few extra hours of life. The man on the plastic chair let out a big laugh. . .oh well. I tried.
We make our selection and due to the high demand and the crowd there, he says our chickens will be ready in 20 minutes. This is a live event and you can watch it all happen in front of you. I remain outside watching as chicken by chicken lose their lives one after the other. “This is genocide” I think to myself!!
He'll kill this one himself
I am just wondering if there are health checks on these chickens, if their conditions are being looked into, and whether or not they are being fed properly.
Last night as dinner was served I could somehow hear the sound of mrishk (chicken) flapping their wings rapidly in the stomachs of those around me. Of course I didn’t have a single piece.
It is nice to see the proper side of a city. Walking through the suburban street where there was groceries, food and men and women going on their daily lives gives a great insight to the true people of this city. Erbil is becoming a place where people can live completely different lives even though they are ten minutes far from each other. So the experience was great, the people were wonderful and according to VERY RELIABLE sources, the taste of the mrishk “ZOR XOSH BU” (it was basically delicious).
One of our mrishk ready. Alive one minute, dead another. Lo Loo Looo? (why why why?)
ANSWERS Picture A is of a geesk this is used as a mop to clean the verandah, and picture B... one hint: used in the shower. Guessed yet? this is actually a lifka used on the skin when taking a bath. Interesting right? 
*Let's actually hope there is going to be time to have a series of blogs as I have in mind. Because there are millions  of you out there interested in reading this. Note the lame sarcasim and DAYA: You reading is equivalent to millions!

All pictures of this entry taken by me, for the use for of this blog only. Loyal readers happily know that your blogger has progressed, pictures now taken by a BB ehem ehem!!  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back home....

Dear loyal reader, friend, family….
What a week it was.
I am writing from Erbil, I am writing from the heart of my Nest…
Feels soothing to type in the only place in the world I call home, from the second floor window I look outside, the curtains aside, bright sunlight coming through: Hawler looks beautiful.
Sound of trucks, and building in the morning hours. When I left the house opposite us was just bricks, right now it seems like I am looking at a castle as finishing touches are being put on.
I landed home to sad news… my uncle left this world less than two hours before I arrived which took away much of the happiness and excitement as I was given the news in the airport. I returned to a body in the middle of a living room and the sound of cries from the corner of the street. How would I have felt if I was told over Skype in my room in Nottingham, I wonder to myself. I was on time to kiss the body goodbye and touch it over the blanket. I am sure he felt my presence… I hope he did.
On the other hand my cousins Vian, Shirin, Haidar, Ali, and Dlshad were all given the news of their father’s death over the phone; each one in a different corner of the world, that is ghareebi* that we always refer to.  I know every day there are young people in Europe who receive phone calls from home giving them sad news… when you are far you feel helpless. When you are here at least you mourn together, support those most hurt and feel close.
I am writing at the desk where many of dad’s lines and pages have been written. This is my favourite room, and now I know why my father spends hours here every day.
While he is still away at the funeral, I take the chance to breathe in the air in this room; everything in here reminds me of how grateful I am to be back home. The statues, the books, paintings, and the Kurdish carpets, lantern and everything that’s old and tattered … I AM HOME. Since I have left there are pictures of me placed in every room including the fridge in the kitchen, this one on dad’s desk is of me around 3 years old playing on a slide, there are few lines written at the back of the picture, but it’s a pity dad’s calligraphic handwriting is illegible to me.
Usually with all this noise outside I could never write or study, today the noise of builders and trucks doesn’t bother me, it is music to my ears.
I haven’t had a chance to leave home yet… but be sure dear loyal reader, I will make you part of this journey back home. Day by day….

*I once wrote my column in the Globe about this:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

21 going on 22

To my favourite readers in the world.... 
Earlier this week... by the university lake before one of my classes

It’s one of those nights where you can hear the wind whistle, and the rain hit against your window. Looking outside, the rain drops look like shiny dots, glittering with the light of the lamp inside. If it weren’t for the smoke alarm a small scented candle right now would complete the atmosphere. I can never sleep after a strong rain at night, I feel it's too precious of an atmosphere to leave behind and go to bed.*
December 1. I just realized as I looked at the time at the bottom of the laptop screen. In five days I turn 22. I remember when I was a child and even in my teenage years, I always looked forward to be 21. Always wondered how it would be, where I would be. Something inside me said to me it's going to be a big year in my life, I often wished my life would pause at 21.  As a little girl and a teenager living in my own imagination, 21 just seemed like that perfect age. Now… 21 is almost over.
Well. The first thing is that to end 21 years of my life I must mention this year will be the first time ever that my mother won't wake me up on the morning of December 6 and have me on her lap as she retells my story – that is, my story through her eyes – this year will also be the first time that dad won't kiss my forehead. Year after year, he'd do the same, but every time he would wish me something new for that year. And every time it came true. This year, for the first time, Mivan won't stand next to me comparing his height compared to mine, "So who is older again?" he would tease.
21 was one of the toughest years of my life, the year that I learned the most in, the year that I learned about myself, the year that I discovered myself. 21 was me in transition stage. At points I wondered if my dreams were shattered, at other times I witnessed as my dreams in front of my eyes became reality. At some points I lived my worst nightmares and at other moments I reached my goals and lived my dreams.
At 21, the book "My Nest in Kurdistan" was published at a time where everything else seemed to be going like a rollercoaster. My postgraduate studies initially didn't go according to plan (lots of tears then) at some points I worked two different shifts- one at the university and another at the NGO, and I did the newspaper work once a week. A handful for a 21-year-old.
During the past year I actually learned to cook a proper meal, I discovered what it is that I like and what I want for myself out of this life, and I learned more about myself.

In every place I go I find somewhere to connect to, in the UK, this place happens to be my favourite
At 21, For the first time I waved to my mother good bye at the airport and we walked in opposite directions, at 21 I held dad's shaky hands and assured him his little girl had grown up, at 21 Mivan (my one and only brother) and I parted for the first time. And it was at 21 that the bedtime stories dad would say to me since I was young became reality. "And the little girl flew out of her Nest" this is literally what happened to me at 21. I flew out of the Nest… alone!
The story continues… the little girl grew up, she finally learned how to fly (considering she fell so many times) and realized life moves on and won't freeze at 21.
Ever since I can remember, I have been the short (excuse me! It's: petit) little girl. I am sometimes still mistaken for a 14 year-old and get asked what year I am in at school. Age my dear reader is just a number. Or is it?
I still find my ultimate inner happiness either at Mali Xanda, with Pla Gulizard or walking outside after the rain has just stopped (and if mum didn't mind walk under it). I still want to do a million things at the same time; I still have so many plans in mind, still the pen and notepad are my closest friends, still I enjoy long walks in nature where my imagination flows beyond the depth of the sky above. Finally, I still love this place more than anything else in this world:

Erbil from above: picture taken from here
Someone earlier this week asked me what I wanted for my birthday. "Nothing" I replied. 21 made me realize that the things that I like, the things that make me entirely happy from inside out are felt it can't be seen, touched or purchased.
21 is over.

What does it mean to be 21 and a Kurdish girl. No, it doesn't always mean we are victims of honor killing and self burns, it doesn’t mean we are in the kitchen all the time cooking meals, nor does it mean that we suffer from domestic violence. These issues all exist, and we are all working to the best of out ability to fight this. But Kurdish girls today are growing, developing and are more ambitious than ever before.
Right now, as I write this, in the accommodation I am in there are over 12 Kurdish girls here alone, all studying, wishing to finish their degrees to go back and follow their dreams. Each one of them has a unique personality, a different way of thinking, and each has within her the capability to do what is otherwise the impossible.  
p.s. I was actually going to blog properly and even set aside pictures... but I got too carried away with something entirely out of context. Will make sure to post what I had in mind in the days to come.
*did you guess? Of course such an atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without the voice of Karim Kaban.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Kurdistani Day

To my dear blog follower… no matter where you are in the world*
It is now past midnight in my small and cozy room very far from home. There is a lot of reading to do before tomorrow's seminar, but something inside me said to leave the highlighter and pages photocopy papers and make my way to the laptop.
To the voice of Karim Kaban I began looking though pictures of my last weeks in Erbil. Not surprisingly it was hard going back to readings on the Italian system of diplomacy at he time compared to that of ancient Greece. Hence, I decided to share with you Kurdistani Times, in the hope that it gives you—my dear reader— an insight to life in Kurdistan.

The last outdoor Dolma I had with family friends
My love for Dolma is beyond what words can describe. Hence, it is only natural that I begin with this picture.  You see, in Kurdistan we don't enjoy eating alone. When Dolma (otherwise might be known as yapragh) is cooked at home it has to be shared with others- the uncle, the aunt, the cousins and if all else fails then you just invite the next door neighbour. You know what is most interesting? Usually the man of the house is usually called to flip the large pot of dolma into what ever it is that it will be served on. Special touch maybe.
And then the Kurdish chay - tea
Before you even have time to fully digest the dolma, and before you have enough time to indulge in the juicy tastes moving every single taste bud there is, everyone is making if the chay is being prepared. This picture reminded me of dad, a picnic was not complete with tea that made my mum's tea pot as black as coal. I really can't tell the difference between a tea bag dipped in hot water and tea that takes one hour to make, but let me tell you this: A KURDISH MAN knows his chay.

Step 1: Buy Mr. Shooti- watermelon
So… you had the chay? It is time for the shooti. Usually the shooti is bought on the way to where ever it is you are going. Once you arrive, you put it in the cold water that flows nonstop and it is ready to have right after the chay!
Step two: Allow for Mr. Shooti to cool down, the natural way
Step 3: Kill Mr. Shooti
Step 4: Let my little cousin M. S. Mandalawi show you just how to eat a cold, sweet shooti

 You think by the time you eat the shooti then you're done. But that is just the start of the joy. Usually in most places there is the local food that you can have**. However, after the food big picnics usually end up seperating into small groups. One group will play some games, another will go for a walk, the little ones will get themselves wet and the good girls (like me) wash the dishes... not on a sink with warm water, but with running, cold kani water.
Still can't play it, but the men and the younger guys can go on for hours

Aaaah.. I recall this game very well. I lost every single round!
Usually there are many conversations going on in the picnics. I seem to enjoy the part where they all sit and begin telling the latest jokes that they've heard. Then it will slowly move into politics issues and that's when the talk never ends. (Meanwhile, someone has to do the dishes!)
Sometimes it's just best to stick to what you can do well, in my case, believe it or not it is washing dishes.
This picture was taken moments before my camera went out of charge. Minutes after this all those kids (who all seem to be daring each other to have that tempting swim in the water) were all in the pool. I must point out this pool in Akre, fills up every single day with natural water. There is a man there who blocks it during the day for the kids, and lets it all go in the evening.

notice the rockmelons floating in the pool
My dear reader, you see, in places like these you don't book online a week or even better a month before. You just turn up earlier than other people and take a place. Usually in summer months when it gets a little more crowded areas are sectioned off and each family takes there own little area. A small payment for the entire day, and most of the time it is free of charge anyway. There are many who bring lights and blankets and sleep the night as well. That's an idea for you!
Just be the first and you have a variety of choices 
In Kurdish picnics you often see or encounter certain things that maybe very simple, but the meaning that they carry is spectacular. For example, in this last picnic we went to, the mother of a close family friend was really quiet the entire time, she would eat, pray, and sleep by the little waterfall, far from everyone but from her very strategic place she could see everything that was going on. Here daya gawra is pictured using her phone. Sadly I can't tell you if she was dialing a number, texting or miss-calling anyone. But it sure does tell you a lot about modern day Kurdistan.
Maybe she is Tweeting and I don't know
The nature back home is definately the ultimate way of releasing stress and really enjoying your time, mainly because it is enjoyed by close family, friends and relatives.
This water keeps flowing non-stop, it actually tastes and smells very pure!
And sometimes you come across some very special creatures:
My favourite animal
 But what I like most about the little picnics back home is that it makes you reailze the importance of the simple life. The beauty of the simple life. The life that isn't complicated. A life where you can be happy with the most minimum of things, a life where you live only by your needs. A life that I certainly yearn for... you go back to the time of the rocking cradle...
A local woman insisted that I visit.. during my visit I met baby Hama*.
I can talk about the hospitality of the people in outer city areas for every, but it will never reflect the reality. Dayki Hama (Hama's mother) 
Chay at the verandah of Hama's house
I miss that day, as its one of my last memories of back home. Though deep inside I am content, because I know there are somethings that won't change back home. I know that anytime I can go back and this will still be there. I can take a note pad and a pen and sit by the little waterfall, or maybe rest my head on daya gawra's lap. Meanwhile I will conclude this blog (by the way it is well past mid-night and I am certainly not going back to anything about Italy or Greece) by a photo that I took of my little angel M. S. M giving me a leaf. I put it in a little notebook after she gave it to me, and right now, it is here, with me!
Indeed Kurdistan has taught me that the greatest things in life are priceless

Shaw Bash!

**Wait for future blog entries :)
*I actually forgot the baby's name, but there is a 80% chance that he was Hama anyway :) 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Under the rainbow

To my dearest and most loyal reader*,
Less than an hour ago, under the rainbow I said goodbye. My father had dropped me off and let me settle down, before going to Austria, and then back to here just to spend a day with me, before his return to Erbil.
For the first time, I saw a rainbow in such early hours of the morning, as I hugged him closely, I was observing how clear the colors of the rainbow looked in the sky. One of those moments where I felt that the arch colours in the sky had only come out to cheer me up, because I love it so much. A sign from the sky to tell me be strong. I decided a walk by the lake would be the ultimate thing to do, walking past the ducks. The rain began to sprinkle lightly. As usual, I picked up a leaf and carried it back inside.

This leaf... picked up a little while back- a cold, early morning walk, after the departure of my father
 Another leaf. Another memory. Another moment to remember. First time, after almost 22 years I am feeling far from baba (dad).
I could feel the way he felt. Leaving his eldest child and only daughter was tough. He didn't say it. I only felt it. I am still under the protection of his wings, even though he may be far from me. Still drowned in his love, even though I won't see it in his eyes every morning when I wake up. Still his baby child, though I am now fully independent.    
When you're a Kurdish girl, you don't leave home unless Mr. Prince Charming has found you and takes you on his white horse. It's a new emerging culture that was brought up and encouraged by the KRG's new plan to educate young people abroad then employ them back home, that has changed this recently.
Today, when it comes to Kurdish families, many are prepared to do the impossible to ensure their children are receiving the best possible education. It is inspired from our leaders, and from society, even the middle and lower classes. An educational opportunity is perceived to be a golden

feeling ashamed and embarrassed from the ducks that I didn't have anything to offer. I think they expected any guest at this time of the morning to have at least some bread
 As for baba, I will miss the times I returned home before sunset and saw him around the garden, planting something new almost every day, adding his little touches to the flowers, and the infinite other plants in the our yard. I remember, when we planted the first few trees, he'd do it on his own, saying: "I want your children to play under its shade". Now I know what he meant. Often I would put my bag down and we’d have a conversation, he'd start by showing me a new flower that has just blossomed, or allows me taste a new fruit, that is still bitter because it needs another few weeks to ripen. From there, I would begin: "today I….."
Kurdish fathers in general—but mine in particular—feel like they possess the universe when given that perfect tasting tea (which is definitely not a tea bag in hot water), their happiness often derives from the simplest things in life. I know baba was worried and to a degree upset that he was leaving me, I know it will take time to get used to Sazan's absence in the house. I know the first night he's in Erbil he will go and sit on my bed in my room (and if I know my dad well enough, he would take one of the notebooks on my bedside table and write me something), but I also know what it means for a Kurdish father to see his children succeed, they realize all their effort and sacrifice was worth it.
The girls here, about eight of them in my accommodation, are encountering the same feelings. When we sit around the dinner table in our pajamas and begin sharing our stories, it's all the same. We find the experience much more difficult than others because we are not used to this, though it is the support and encouragement of loved ones back home that is helping to finish this journey successfully.
I promise to blog about our days here later this week.   
* This blog has become such an important part of my life, that in the most difficult and happiest moments I write in it for you. Forgive me if I have changed direction recently. But it has become part of my life, and I promise to begin writing on life in Kurdistan and of Kurds, from now on. I have settled in. So no excuses!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Flying out from the nest

To my dearest reader, still the most loyal blog follower in the world…

Sorry for being disloyal* but what can I say life and its roller coaster ride has taken me away… today (correction: tonight!) I am not writing from a mountain top, I am not writing with little children pressing the laptop and playing with my hair, I am not writing surrounded by relatives discussing everything from Obama to the neighbour's baby; I am not writing by a waterfall in Bekhal, nor am I writing from the top of the citadel. No I am not in Khanaqin or Mandaly, and I haven’t passed Suli or Duhok. I am not in a village on a mountain top and no, I am not in the orphanage or the elderly people's home.

My dearest reader, after five years tonight I write to you from a distant land…. I have flown out of my nest. Tonight I am not writing from Kurdistan. No. I am not in Hawler.
A key in my hand to open a wide future...
I am writing from a small room, in a university accommodation all the way in the UK**.  I have made myself at home as much as possible; a Kurdish flag hung on the right, on the left (at the back of the door) a large poster of the Bekhal waterfall, a little more to the left on the bathroom door a poster of the Minaret,  and behind me a picture of the citadel. But in front of me, staring at me, is a picture of four people smiling (mu family!) and drawings illustrated by my dearest cousins Haval and Lava!

Exactly ten days have passed since I left home. What do I miss?

I miss

Listening to choni  (Kwi in Hawleri) and sarchaw

Relative gatherings and guests in the evenings

The fact that every day was a different day and barely anyone was running around catching up to their daily schedule
That 9 a.m. usually means 11:30 and half an hour means one-and-a-half hour

Going to a government office and being sent from room 6 to 8 then to 3 and then back to 6 before going to room 11 to collect stamps and signatures and realizing in the end I need to come back another three times before the job is done

Sitting on the couch flipping through Kurdish channels

Walking through Erbil Doctors' Road and complaining non-stop

The view of the citadel when driving

How cars don't always drive perfectly- let's face it, never drive perfectly!

Dolma, bryani, fasoolya and brnj and every other food that sparkles with unhealthy oil
I miss how everyone admits that they're on a diet when reaching out for another Baqlawa (a type of sweet you must have when dieting!)  

Home is not perfect, as you can well see it is drenched in its flaws… but home is home, with all its flaws, it remains the nest.

I promise this blog will uphold its pledge to bring you the best of Kurdistan… even though I may be far.

*Actually twice I wrote a blog entry, but decided not to publish it—too emotional for the context of this blog. But this time, I am going to click "publish" no matter what.
**where I am pursuing my postgraduate studies… trying to make a dream come true.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Goodbye - 1

Sunday Memoirs

It is probably my longest drive out of Erbil and the first of its kind. An hour earlier I picked up my visa to the UK.

As I was behind the wheel, my entire mind was with the little treasure humbly sitting in the handbag on the empty seat next to me; like a notebook it has very minimal information, and sadly it includes an abhorrent close-up picture of me. It's my passport?an Aussie passport with a British visa for a Kurdish girl living in Iraq. As confusing as this can get, I was just as confused about how I was feeling in those minutes and how I should be feeling.

Coincidently, the first song that came up on the radio on my trip back was something that I was hearing for the first time, and the chorus was exactly this: "Safar maka?" (meaning don't travel). Just what I needed to cry!

The entire journey back--from Khanzad back to Erbil--I would realize that it's reality. That's it. It's time to fly again, yet something inside me doesn't want to leave this place.

I remember five years and one month ago when I first set foot in Erbil. I had a little wish list. I would drive through the streets and wish for the petrol in the plastic containers to be eliminated. ?When are we going to have a petrol station," I would think to myself. As I was driving a little while back I saw a great petrol station that was well beyond my original wish. I gently smiled to myself.

I remember I wrote about how I wished for trees to be planted in the city. The smile grew wider as I saw the entire mid-section between both highways filled with a line of trees, and this goes for most of the new areas in Erbil.

And how can I forget the first article I ever wrote was about the miraculous driving. I titled it "Outrageous Road Rage." I was infuriated, and I wished for safer and organized roads in Erbil. Today (let's not exaggerate; driving is still not a delightful experience here?but?) at least there are speed cameras and the bumps on the roads are being removed. Of course the most prevalent change is that there are so many more women driving, whereas back then you could hand count them.

At that time I wished to have someplace to indulge in shopping. But believe me, I never wished for five extra grand malls to open in five years.

On the drive back I pass through the beautiful buildings of Mali Khanda (the orphanage), and once again I smile. I recollect times when I complained about the conditions of the elderly people's home and the orphanage. ?They live in appalling, heartbreaking conditions," I wrote, wishing to see them live in better surroundings. Recently, the elderly people's home moved to a stunning new building, and the happiest moments of my life in Erbil are the times when I am in Mali Xanda. The kids are in new houses filled with warmth and love.

I would observe how students studied and grumble over the antiqued education system; now as I leave a reformed curriculum is being implemented.

Some wishes came true, and the greater ones are still "pending." You never know, once I am back I might check off the others too.

Meanwhile, unlike the lyrics of the song on the radio today that repeated "safar maka, dlm ale natbinmawa?" (don't travel, my heart tells me I won't see you again), in my head I sing "dlm ale atbinmawa" (my heart says I will see you again, Erbil!).
This was part of the Memoirs column for last week

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Khanaqini Days and Jezhn La Kurdistan!!

To my dearest reader,

This blog entry is a little different. I went for a trip with my family and wrote whenever I could, everyday. I didn't have internet access then, so I am just going to copy and paste what I have written in a word file. I have also taken pictures* and I will add these in where appropriate.

Day one:
I am off to the heart of Garmiyan, to the land of "Chooni Khaasi?" (instead of choni bashi), the closest point to the home of many of my ancestors. I am off to Khanaqin—minutes away from the Iran-Iraq border.
For every trip in Kurdistan there is an astound opportunity for it to be a learning discovery.. this is not going to be any different. I know it's going to be an unbelievable experience.
We are still on the road, but stopped at a little restaurant for a few of us to break our fast. it's been a long but easy travel so far. The mountains, the sunset and the quietness of the street is superb right now, any second we're going to hear the Mullah's call for evening prayers as we're ending the Ramadan days here in Kurdistan. Typical of my father he won't go on any trip without taking the little bird along. (This time he's also our guest; he is just like Dad's third child.)
The spoilt little one gets a rest during our trip....
We've arrived. I just noticed something, every time you hear a song about Khanaqin, the lyrics has to have Alwan in it (main river in Khanaqin) it looks amazing asI have seen it before. It gives life to the area. When we drove past almost two hours ago, I realized Alwan was gone. I ask some relatives in this house, they tell me that Iran has blocked off the water and they won't let it flow. I am infuriated right now! Can neighbours ever become good friends?
The Alwan river in Khanaqin not a drop of water
Day Two:  
You must come  by for a chay
Today was basically receiving guests at one of our relatives house and most of them had 'glayee' which is basically something that goes like this: "You never ask about us… why don't you visit… you must visit more often….here is the place of your relatives…" and this all ends with "Bakhwa you have to have dinner in our house today." Out of goodwill people here just don't understand that you are visiting for a limited time and you just can't visit everyone.

TIP: So what do you do? Sadly, sometimes you just have to lie. A white lie… maybe? Errr… yes? No? I know it's not right. But they will insist and insist. The easy way out: I am already invited tonight, and as for tomorrow I have an appointment.

Day two, other than receiving guests, talking, and talking and more talking after the evening meal for the first time in my life (which they thought was very appalling for a 21-year-old Kurdish girl) I was removing fresh gwez from the shell. I realized the tracksuit I had taken to wear at home seemed to stand out too much when being around the other women, so I asked for what they call a kras (or in Arabic dishdasha) most the women were either wearing that or Kurdish clothes.
Similar to a girls night out.. in some way
As I was learning the art of removing gwez from its shell I realized how back home we take even the gwez we eat for granted. I had almost forgotten that they actually come in shells and someone breaks them out before I indulge in my "brain food". A few of the girls were in a circle two or so meters away from the grownups, they'd silently do their work and once a while through in a comment about what was being discussed in the larger gathering.

Also today, two of the women making 'kuba' For some reason women seem to just cook here, always
From the ones above I made only ONE, can you guess which? - the answer to this question is at the end of the blog entry, scroll down

Day Three:
Since I am a guest no one is letting me do anything, so I am sitting on the tiles on the kitchen floor watching three women—and two girls—prepare dinner for their family.
From a young age they learn to be friends with cooking!
One is washing some dishes, another is on the stove frying what looks like eggplants from here, and another two are sitting directly in front of me cleaning sawza (greens) this will be washed well and eaten alongside the food. The younger girl is selecting some cucmber and tomatoes,  I am guessing she is going to do the salad.
Food is ready!!! emmmmmm
As I observe these women, any person coming in can point at me as the odd one out .I just wish I knew what these women thought of me. What could they be saying: "what a lazy girl!" or they might be thinking "she is going to be the worse wife" or they'd probably think I cannot get through life. Afterall a women here is weighed according to the degree of house work she can manage.
The women would clean the sawza (greens) and talk away...
Sitting here, watching this small kitchen I realize that food is a major component of life here. It's not like back home that you leave work and pick up a Pizza or a burger sandwich on your way home. To come down to it, family time—and ties—here is to a limited extent stronger than back in Erbil. They don't work by a schedule, but I have realized people here have an unofficial daily plan: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 

After dinner:
She knows what she's doing!
Unlike back home where if I cook I have to go to the kitchen alone, here women socialize when they prepare the meal. What I found amazing is that the women prepare the meal with so much love and passion.
I just returned from the kitchen with a plate of food (second dinner tonight: at home I either have what mum calls a bird's dinner or I have a fruit instead) but I guess here it's just the atmosphere. Everyone is always eating, it's part of socializing, or maybe part of a women's duty to keep serving food.

Day Four:
It's past 11 p.m. and I know it is going to be a very, very, very long night.

I am sitting on the verge of the door—the door between the kitchen and the verandah—a woman who has a salon has brought her beauty bag and come over, the six other females in the house are all taking turns doing eye brows, dying their hair, and basically preparing for Jezhn. I never thought about making an appointment at a beauty center just because it's Jezhn, but the women here are all excited. They use the sink in the verandah to wash their hair, a few lights outside to see exactly where to pluck the eye brows (I must admit, they already look beautiful). Their kids are everyone, some outside, a few others playing with the hose.
I can't take my mind off from the ksh-ksh-ksh sound of half a kilogram of gold bracelets around some of their wrists.
Not all of them were like this one, but this gives you the idea. Ahhhh Kurdish women and their gold!

I would hide back a smile, or a giggle every time I hear comments such as: "My husband doesn't like my hair short, so don't cut much," another would say, "My husband says you can do anything but don't dye your hair yellow [he obviously doesn't like blonde hair]…"

Miss Salon Women looks at my messy hair tied back; she doesn't look too pleased and offers to "add a little bit of yellow [blonde highlights], and cut a fringe" but she understands my No. I-am-fine-thanks-smile.
I am intrigued by how excited these women are for the Jezhn. I can hear them talk about the fact that some of them haven't prepared kulicha (jezhn sweets) yet, another one says that she has prepared the dough and is going home to bake it tonight. I remember for the past two Jezhn holidays I would drop by at Astera on Regay Kirkuk and pick up a few kilos of prepared kulicha an evening before. These women actually sit down and prepare it for nights.

Most of them have already bought Jezhn clothes for their children. I ask one of the little girls how she has prepared for Jezhn. She tells me she has bought blue top that has a skirt with it, and same colour sandals.         

Day Five:
Yesterday I was saying how some of the women had made Kulicha, well the highlight of today was making kulicha with the family that I am staying with. We are obviously very behind, because from yesterday's salon session it was clear that most women had already prepared their sweets for Jezhn. So today was the big day. I never realized it was such a big deal. I took some pictures just to show how team work and leadership was practiced in kulicha making.
Me trying to help (pouring the oil) If you are wondering about ingrediants, there was almost 2 liters of oil alone!
Every single person, from the youngest child to the eldest women is involved in the process. Today there were 11 girls and women as well as a one 5-year old all taking part. The duties are distributed evenly.
The dough, which is the most important component and a determinant of how the end kulicha will taste, is made by only two women; almost 30 minutes later and it becomes a team project. One is responsible for the oven, another few putting stuffing into the pastry, a few others are flattening the dough, putting it onto the oven tray, coating it with egg and then putting it into the oven.

The kitchen floor is a place of women's social time, interaction, team work and lastly preparing meals.
Everything seemed to work smoothly. As I write this I have a have a plate full of kulicha next to me screaming my name.
Yup! The same little girl.
Day Six:
Today is a lousy day in one of the surrounding villages of Khanaqin. To set the scene there is no electricity, I'm on the ground (no carpet) inside the room, but the windows and doors are all open bringing in some wind. The birds outside are singing, and it seems as though the breeze of cool air coming through the door on my right is also bringing in the sound of the birds. There is one fly that won't leave me, and right now as it sits on the top of the laptop screen I am resisting not to slap the screen and break it into pieces. The little monster has probably bit me 50 times.

Meanwhile I am wishing that the chickens in the garden won't invite themselves inside the house. Even though I am pretending like I wouldn't mind their company. After all, how shameful to be scared of a chicken.
Some of the people here sleep till 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. so when they wake up they only have few hours and then break their fast—isn't it cheating? What is more interesting is that they stay awake all night, the men play cards or dominoes, the younger boys go out, they have teams where they also play games outside and the women get together. They either talk, eat, watch a series on TV or use to do their prayers. Life here is simple. I like it. Tomorrow is Jezhn and many of the neighnbours brought dishes of sweets. The Kulicha we made yesterday along with some other sweets and baqlawa are were put on plates and the little girl, Ronak, took them one-by-one to the neighbours. Sometimes the neighbour emptied our sweets and filled it with her own, sending it back with Ronak, "Tell your mum this is from dalege (mother of) XX, tell her aydedan mubarak bood/ Jezhntan pirozbet (happy Eid)."
After breaking our fast we went to one of the houses down the road, she had invited all the women, they prayed together. I couldn't help but see a number of pictures on the wall, the family had obviously had martyrs, the men in the pictures looked young.
Between the readings I learned a lot.

Everyone seems to be talking about their daughter-in-law. The more faqeer (vulnerable) she is the better! When a mother-in-law introduce her new daughter-in-law (because bless her she has eight sons, and a new daughter-in-law everyday) she says "ooooooo ya fra faqeera" in the luri dialect or in sorani (amayan har zor faqira) – this one is very vulnerable.

From my 15 minute observation I came down to one conclusion: The more educated she (bride) is, the more she talks, the more she knows about the world then she's not faqeer and probably not good for her son.
Every 20-year-old in the room had a son or a daughter in her lap. This was a real reflection of how the society here functions, this phenomena is less widespread in the major cities like Erbil. However, evidently in towns and villages-- early marriages and early birth is still taking place.   

Day Seven:
There are two shrines in Khanaqin, Bawa Mahmi and Khedr Zna. Since I had been to Khedr Zna I lobbied to us to visit Bawa Mahmi this time. Those going inside would kiss the door or the ground of the shrine as soon as they entered.
The Bawa Mahmi Shrine on top of a little hill in a village in Khanaqin
 Many would come in and ask for something, when that request happens then they come in again and give out sweets to the visitors.
I make a humble request and tie a knot
I noted an elderly women had brought her unwell child, I heard her praying loudly inside asking for his recovery. There was also a green cloth, you are supposed undo a knot, then make a request and knot it again. All of those I went with did this, so I decided to also make a request and the tie a knot (if it comes true, I will let you know what it was).
Two women reading the prayers before entering the old shrine
Religion and spirituality is a beautiful thing in life, and in those moments inside the shrine that side of me appeared much stronger. I remember I left feeling more empowered, and thankful. The little room, had young, old; men and women visiting it. Inside you don't feel you're above anyone. You don't feel like we live in a dirty unjust world. At the end, everyone bends down and places their forehead on the ground. 
It was a definite highlight of the visit.
Inside Bawa Mahmi in Khanaqin. (Still can't rotate a picture on blogger...)
Couldn't help but notice this little boy sitting by the window, as his mother made her prayers...
Later—like everyone else—we'd drive a little further down the hill, nearby some trees and had a little picnic.
Under the these Khanaqini trees were we :)
Back home!
For the break I didn't walk in the world's fanciest city with buildings reaching the sky, nor was I in the midldle of designer labels and sports cars. It was a simple family trip but it was another one of those times where the encounter taught me life-long lessons. The people of Khanaqin are very warm hearted, loving and caring. I wish we were all like that, but with what's happening in city life, we're—sadly—starting to change for the worse. I am just glad there are some places where true Kurdishness can still be observed in people's everyday life.  

If you have read this far, I just want to bring to your attention that the bird we took along is now adopted by one of my cousins. I don't know how dad gave him away. It was as though he was give up a child for adoption "he likes to eat…..if you can in the mornings close the doors and windows and open his cage…. Make sure you….." he was repeating this to another one of my cousins who just happens to have a soft side for birds. Kurdish men.... as strong as they are, they have a soft side somehow.

All pictures taken by me for the purpose of this blog only. I would take pictures of the food and they'd ask me if I had ever seen cooked food. Little do they know I'm documenting to the greatest and dearest blog followers :)