Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Secondhand Love in Erbil

To the most loyal readers

Where can I start from? A week sick in bed, a week of post-recovery and so much has taken place in my city. In this city there is no time to get sick, being indoors for seven days you realize how much your missing from the outside world.** I have chosen to write to you about the simplest of these things, but I hope you realize the depth of meaning behind this story.

I went to a place I had never been before, and it was another one of those experiences that is added to my list of 'most treasured times'. I had heard about the Langa bazaar for a while now, so I thought I will go and do a little report for the paper. Little did I know I will make a great new friend—elderly woman of course! We just click I don't know how or why— who taught me so much about life. She was one of those Kurds who can smile and her eyes can tell you so many stories just by the way that they shine.

Above: Piles and piles of shoes in the Langa bazaar. No sizes, just one of each pair.

My original hypothesis was correct: secondhand shops, people, shop owners and KURDS then there must be a story somewhere, something out of the ordinary and something interesting. I was right. Although this kind of goes under another larger hypothesis that I have made and have proven right over and over again: where there is a Kurd, there is a story! Simple.

From all the shops and all the piles of clothing and all the millions of shoes, jewelry and handbags I found myself sitting on the ground next to Pla (here is the story: it actually means aunty, but people from Hawler basically use it to describe any elderly lady, where Xan somehow appears to be inappropriate. In other words Pla is basically a polite word to use before the elderly woman's name) so… where were we? Oh Yes, let me introduce you to Aisha Ismail. That is, Pla Aisha!

There I was sitting next to a little old lady in her secondhand shop selling Jli Kurdi (Kurdish traditional clothes) and other little bits and pieces (believe me there are a lot of bits and pieces that go with the women's Jli Kurdi) that is what she makes her living out of.

Above: Pla Aisha's little secondhand shop selling Jli Kurdi in the Langa bazaar

Pla Aisha pays 200, 000 Iraq Dinars (about $170,00) a month for rent in her little rectangular shop. The shop is bright, colorful, and is filled with a vibrant atmosphere of love. It doesn't feel like a secondhand shop, but rather a secondhand love shop. You sense the love gone into the making of each of the Kurdish clothing, just by touching them you realize that each one has been worn in moments of happiness, each has been bought, designed and sewn specially for times of happiness. And here they are, hanging on top of each other covering the walls of Pla Aisha's little shop. The boxes on the perimeter of the shop overflow with Jli Kurdi dresses and accessories.

In that colorful shop, sits the smiling lady at the entrance. Ask her for prices and she smiles, 'amayan yakokaya," you point at another box and she smiles again, "seyoka!" the box next to it? "duwoka" she spoils her numbers and prices.

Pla Aisha is the only female shop owner there, she tells me that she doesn't want to go around begging for money, and the shop is enough for her to make a living. I can tell she likes her job, it is clear from the way she speaks, and the way she treats her customers. She is always smiling and her shop functions on two rules: 1) you take something you don’t return it 2) you pay the money and then you take your purchase, not the other way around. Other than that she is a great help to the customers, sitting on the plastic chair at the shops entrance. I couldn't resist but give her a warm hug. She might be doing this for her living, but I see that she is doing something for this nation. She is selling Jli Kurdi, even though they are secondhand, each of the pieces of colorful clothes is a small piece of love.

Above: Pla Aisha, just watch her smile, like she's the queen of the world in her little shop.

Pla Aisha proves to me the strength of Kurdish women. "No one bothers me!" she tells me, as I sit on the ground next to her, pausing every now and then as she answers customers' inquiries this woman is a role model to me. She comes to work after 7 in the morning until the early evening hours, in a male dominated society (or market place) she is respected by every single shop owner and loved by all her customers. A simple woman, with a simple job, but her place in my heart is by no means small.

While I am at it, the Langa bazaar is where people sell bales of secondhand clothing, household items, sheets, shoes, bags and anything else that will fit in between. Most of the goods come from charity shops and clothing banks from the European and Scandinavian countries; the poor people see it as a chance to buy their necessities at a cheap price while the wealthy members of society go as a leisure activity in buying a rare treasure while sifting through the boxes and piles.

Above: Secondhand clothing out the bales into piles for people to look through

I realized at the Langa bazaar there is basically something for everyone. You may like to shop, or as I learned, it is one of those places where you can just walk up and down the little alleyway roads and learn. Learn about this nation, about the culture, about the people, learn about the way of life. Learn about life itself just by walking in a secondhand market place!!

Above: Another one of the interesting shops was this bead place, for those with a hobby which includes ribbons, crafts, needles, threads and beads- this is your heaven!

Next time you are in Erbil, go, walk around. And while you are there drop by at Pla Aisha's little shop. She will be happy to have a chat with you.

Don't leave without seeing her smile. It's L.L.Langa Love!

** I am evidently missing out so much, because recently— and currently too— I haven’t been doing much outings

Pictures taken by me, for the purpose of this blog only.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A sick entry

Most loyal readers*

I can't blog about anything interesting (please accept my apology) but I swear I have a worthy reason. You see I am unwell (meaning sick. Really sick) so I've been resting for three days now. My throat hurts badly, you know when you feel like there is a prickly, tingly thing in your throat and every time you swallow anything it burns? That type of hurt. My ears can't hear, my eyes could barely see, my temperature could break a thermometer and my coughing sounds like a 90-year-old man who has been a chronic smoker all his life.

So… I have pulled myself into the kitchen couch with layers of clothing, robe, three meter neck scarf, and two (yes TWO) slippers. I only did this because it's Oprah's 25th season and missing a single show is a life gone to waste.

Dear reader, you see, my recent illness has brought my attention to a HUGE issue in our society. I realized the extent of the issue when a relative came over with an entire bag of medication so that I could recover. There were three different types of tablets that I am supposed to have once every six hours. The size of the tablets are almost as big as the diameter of my esophagus, then there was a bottle of blue-ish, green-ish liquid medication that tasted as disgusting as it looked. The amount of medication brought to me could be suicidal.

Above: The bag of medication that I was assigned!

There are a few matters of concern here 1) the pharmacy sold the medication without a doctor's prescription, 2) the amount of medication I don't believe is necessary 3) No questions were asked about my health conditions (I bring this up because I know for sure certain medications can't be taken if you suffer from certain health conditions) 4) did I mention that I didn't even go to the pharmacy myself?

I decided to take half a tea-spoon of the repulsive liquid medication and I randomly chose one of the three tablets. The problem is that not every individual in our society has the awareness to make a wise choice not to have all the medication they are prescribed. We're playing with people's health here, and it's important that some sort of action is taken to prevent pharmacies in giving medication to anyone who passes by WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION.

I'm sorry this entry isn't as bubbly and interesting as it could have been. It's just a reflection of my mood right now. Meanwhile, I have my idea for my next article, just waiting to feel better so I can do my investigation in Erbil's medical road!! Be sure I will come back to you with all the details.

* Mum - if I feel better it is because of your home-made remedies & the four aunts: Thanks for the recipes, you're far only in distance but close in my heart!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Out 'n about in Erbil

Your ultimate guide to the Hawlery* life

I really should have a new job - a consultant to all those abroad wishing to return to Kurdistan. Recently I have been getting random emails from here and there asking me about life in Kurdistan (which means there are people who are actually making the effort to reading this blog) and I am always typing the same replies, though I get so excited to type away: all about Kurdistan. This time I wanted to show you a different side of Erbil, a side that I haven't really touched on much in my previous entries. So, if you're planning to come visit Kurdistan, take a new job offer or come to meet friends and relatives then here is your ultimate guide.

For all

Tell anyone that you are going to Iraq for vacation or to take a new job offer then they will think you are a) out of your mind, b) wanting to die c) you're not watching the news enough or d) All of the previous. Hence, the first thing I have written to any potential visitor to Kurdistan is: 'BELIEVE ME IT IS SAFE HERE', I have said it over and over again, I have never felt safe walking anywhere in the world as safe as I feel here in Erbil.

My dear, most loved, readers* in the city that is rich in culture and tradition you can live the western life too (that is of course if you want to).

For the princesses on the ice

If you like to feel like a ballerina on the ice, then Erbil's Ice Hall is definitely for you. My advice is gather a few friends on a Thursday morning and you will have the entire place to yourself. The shoes are new, the service is great and you can spend more than two hours on the ice for under $4! Right opposite the Shanadar Park the Ice Hall is definitely something to try, even the music is great and the coffee shop for afterwards is also not that bad. The bowling is literally a one-minute walk from the Ice Hall, in Aqua Park--you can go afterwards, that is if every bone of your body is not yet broken into pieces (note from the author: don't worry about falling, it's not shameful, since it's new here I've learned even the big blokes fall and laugh it off).

For those who enjoy a chat

Costa Rica is currently one of the hottest places Erbil. For varies reasons: 1) it is considered as an 'open' environment, 2) it is far from the crowd and hassle of city life 3) the service and food is actually really nice and 4) Burger Queen and Pizza is next door. It is one of those places where you can go alone, take your lap top and get some work done without having people staring or bothering you. It is a great place to meet up with a friend over a coffee as well.

For those with a feel for speed

The Speed Center has been around for a while now—actually a very long while—though I only just recently went to try it. It wasn't really to try, but to see the place that everyone talks about. Once again, I choose the worse timing on purpose to avoid large crowds. I don't know what all the fuss is really about, and I can't describe the feeling of getting on a little car-like-structure trying to go as fast as you possibly can. I don’t see the fun in bumping to another driver either, but looking at those around me they seemed to enjoy it. Girls: before you go out on the go-carts don't bother straightening and curling your hair, just tie it back and be prepared to wear a surgeon's cap under the heavy helmet, that's what they make you do! It is about $10 for a 10-minute ride around the track (which by the way is really long). The place is clean, organized and it is a general friendly atmosphere though I prefer bumper cars any day, but as I said, this is a city that is becoming one of those places that can please different people's likes. Although it is not my type of Friday afternoon activity!

For the daring devils

Family Fun is the biggest theme park, and it is definitely one of those places that the entire family can go and there is something for everyone. I am not a dare devil, so I am the one who takes the pictures, nibbles on pop corn and fairy floss, and always end up carrying everyone's bags, phones and wallets while they are screaming and squealing on something that they call a 'fun ride'. I am thankful to admit that the quality of the rides is of high standards and are safe**. As for the picture below, I just can't believe one of those legs hanging upside down is actually my younger brother.

For the shopaholics

I can swear that soon junk mail is going to be major issue in Kurdistan. There are so many fliers and adverts of the different supermarkets (see previous entry on the story of the malls in Erbil). But the newest discovery is the Duty Free near the Safin restaurant close to Abu Shahab City (oh let me throw in an advert here; coming soon to this blog: An entire entry on Abu Shahab. Don't miss it!!) on the way to Ankawa. Shops send their customers text messages when they have sales or when new goods come in. For example, the picture below is of a text that Mango sent yesterday, it is an 'informative' text about a 35% discount. They do it around the time of month when the pay arrives (of course the pay here is in cash almost 90% of the time, easier to spend then save) and you go and realize it is the worse of their clothing and accessory items that are discounted. Once again, you're fooled!

For those with a sweet tooth

Before Abu Afif sweets was the most prestigious sweet shop in Erbil from cakes, chocolate and Baklawa too. It probably continues to be today, but the new Ashtar is also not a bad choice. The new building looks good both inside and outside.

For money savers

Erbil can be an expensive city but it can also be cheap, it really depends where you make your purchases and what you buy. Transport with Taxi is usually anywhere between $2.50 and $4, petrol is not too cheap nor is too expensive. The picture on the right is of today's petrol prices, the prices are for two different types of petrol. But even the better one not always good (… so if you happen to see me in the middle of a traffic light, not moving, you will know exactly why).

For smokers

I hate to say it, but in many ways the culture of Hookah (or nargeeli) is really becoming wide spread in coffee shops and even restaurants. For you its paradise, for me it's hell. And your freedom stops as soon as it interferes with mine. I wish some law is passed now, and it is put into our education system to prevent this problem from becoming a serious issue in the next few years. I remember four years back I rarely saw a hookah, today it is almost everywhere you go!

*Yes, readers is plural. About time.

*Hawler, is what Kurds refer to Erbil

**Safe can have different meanings

All pictures taken by me