Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finally, they have a real home

My elderly friends are moving!

To my dear reader,*
If you have read many of the pervious entries I have made in this blog, or my column at he Globe you will realize just how much I love and appreciate my friends at the elderly people's home in Erbil. I shared with you their terrible living conditions in few of my entries last year. Well, I am over the moon right now, why? They are moving!!! The group of over 70 elderlies (male and female) who are unable to look after themselves are moving to a new home. Above: This is how the new place looks from a close up. Note, those will all be shops, the top level are apartments and the elderlies will be housed inside on the ground level.

Before you continue reading this blog you should be introduced to the 5 Ws: Where? in Kurdish: lasar jaday sad matri, in English: on 100 meter road right opposite Sardam hospital. When? in two months time--inshAllah Who? My elderly friends ofcourse What? Moving house!!!!! :) Why? Because the one that they are living in is the same one of the 1970s, it is no place for a human being to live. This is the entrance to the main reception- the new nursing home

They are all so excited about the move, every single one of them--but none of them are as interested and excited in the move as I am. I seriously can't wait. Not only is it closer to my house- which mean I can visit more often- but also because I had always hoped, wished, dreamed, and prayed that they can have somewhere better to stay in.
There are eight large rooms like the one above

In my visit--to see my friends (if only they could read English and use the internet I think this blog might actually get some 'hits') I was told by one of them that they are going to move, and here is how the conversation went:

Daya Gulizard:** You must visit us in our new place as well, get the address so you know where it is
Me: What new place? Are you leaving?
Another Daya (next to Gulizard): We are going to a new home, we are moving, it's big.
Me (to the social worker): You shouldn't lie to them like this
Social worker: No! it's true.
Me+Daya Gulizard+another Daya= BIG HUG!!

So, we had our usual conversations, I made sure this news was correct, took the details and visited the new place. For some reason I can sleep happy tonight, knowing that in less than eight weeks they will have comfort- at last!!
In their new home they have a pharmacy inside their building, this is the pharmacy window. Isn't this great?!

There is no doubt the new home still requires a lot, but when compared to the one they live in now, the difference can not be made. It lacks a large garden--which my elderly friends love-- but still, I look forward to the times where can sit and chat under the sun in this (above) small, yellow fenced area.

And this (picture below) hangs proudly in the director's office! I am sure this will also move houses...

* Funny I say this, because the only reader who I was sure was reading this blog, now I know that even that reader no longer follows by entries! So why do I bother? Simply because when my fingers dance on the keyboard I forget the world.
** I try not to favor, but Daya Gulizard is just special. Go and see her if you ever pay a visit,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lessons from my brother

My dear reader*

Before the Friday actually begins and the weekend schedule kicks off I thought I would write a quick entry. Life for me has been hectic and busy- work, and the little bits and pieces that I do here and there. But this time it was a special person in my life who had the adventure (yup! And I am the one blogging about it!)

My younger brother (who happens to also be my one and only sibling, and for that matter my entire life!!) went on a trip to Slemani, and from there around to some other places through the Garmiyan area and believe it or not he went to Baghdad as well. "It's time I got to know my relatives well," he said, which was his only reason for this unexpected and sudden journey. It took a lot of mastaw with my parents and he used his tactics well to persuade them.

I asked him to take pictures, he comes home with only five photographs! His excuse? "I didn't have time!"

He arrived back home yesterday--and our place is back to being loud and noisy ever since. His 11-day trip felt like 11 months to me. This is not the point; the point is what the result of the trip was.

We sat together last night and he spoke of his stories, encounters-the good and not so good- as well as what he learned. The brother who once wanted to return and live and enroll in a University in Europe is not the same person I saw in front of me last night.

His texts and phone calls continued well into the night, he spoke to relatives that I don't even know that they exist. He brought up names of relatives I have never heard of, he seemed to have had the time of his life.

Above: The signs reads: "Basra, Kut"

"Sazy, you feel like they are part of your blood." He said describing some of our relatives in other parts of the country (who I haven't had a chance to meet- please don't blame me, I try to meet as many of my bigger family as I possibly can, but somehow there is always more. When you're a Kurd with two parents who have more than a dozen brothers and sisters, it reaches a point where you pick your favorite aunts and uncles, and a few cousins. The rest are… well…for special occasions only.) But I was wrong.

There I was, sitting and listening to lessons, my younger brother was teaching me of what it means to be a Kurd and how lucky we are to have relatives—who we have barely met previously—that feel so much love and respect towards you.

So glad I don't see these in Kurdistan.

The chance to be able to go and discover his greater family on his own widened his eyes and opened his heart. He is a new person. It is clear, because he is going to begin his first year in university in Kurdistan. A final decision that was officially confirmed yesterday!

When we live abroad we come back creating a wall with our greater family back home, but if we give them the chance, we can learn a lot from them, we can learn about ourselves—through them!

Above: And this, my dear reader, is Baghdad through my brother's camera lense.

*Hope you missed my writing as much as I missed sitting and writing to you!

All the pictures of this entry were taken by M.M.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It's my time

My dear reader…

This is probably the only entry that is made at the most absurd timing (12:12 am right now!) I couldn't get to sleep, tossing and turning; thinking, imaging, brainstorming, and imagining again…*

Why you may ask. Well…I wrote a small project a few weeks back and I was so pleased when it was accepted recently. When I was writing the proposal I had Kurdish girls in mind. Not the Kurdish girl who has a coffee at Costa and shops at Family Mall before going to the J&K or Harveen fitness centers. But the Kurdish girl who is full of potential, dreams and ambition, but sadly she is held back by social forces or opportunities surrounding her. The girl who probably can’t afford to have the luxuries that others have, but her mind and thoughts goes well beyond many others.

It is a project not just of empowerment (which has been my main focus with male and female youth previously), but also self esteem, the spirit of volunteering, hygiene, lifestyle, future plans, social relations; confronting family and community, making decisions, planning their daily lives and so on- in one short word it is life skills for young Kurdish girls, all through games, activities and group discussions. The aim is to do this four-hour workshop in as many high schools as possible throughout Erbil and its surrounding areas. And we are going to start with the high school I visited today (well now that it is past 12, technically it was yesterday).

Above: I definately believe healthy girls will lead to a healthy community, even in Kurdistan

This afternoon I went to one of the oldest girls schools in Erbil. Despite everything I saw, I would like to refer to the experience as a positive one. I met the girls; we spoke in each of their class rooms. Initially I wanted 20 students, but I realized there will be over 200 who I will have to take. They were all interested! Most of them wanted to take part! And we weren't going to refuse anyone!

I had a plan for the workshop "Girl and Proud!" But here I am, past midnight and my mind is being bombarded with many ideas and thoughts. I am making alterations to the initial plan, as a result of today's observations.

For the first time I feel nervous. I want the four hours to have as much as a positive impact on the life of as many of the students as possible. I want to provide them with the atmosphere to speak out their silent thoughts, their fears and also give them a chance to believe in their dreams. I have the chance to do this, a few weeks back I felt shattered that for certain reasons I couldn’t do my masters-and had to postpone- but right now I feel like if this is successful, it will be a master's of its own. It has been my dream to be able to do something like this. I am going to do my best, because I want the best, and I know they deserve only the best.

* So I decided to listen to some Kurdish songs (this one is Karim Kaban- don't ask!!! I like it, the one before was Hama Jaza), grab the lap top and make this entry- in the hope that someone will read it, and if no one does (there is always mum!!) it is okay.

** Picture from

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A picture story from Erbil

They say a picture tells a thousand words, I saw this picture in the archive at our organization and it really told me not just a thousand words, but a thousand stories. It was taken by Jula Haji, on the way between Erbil and Makhmour.

It tells a lot about our young people today. This picture is not posed and they didn't know it was taken. We assume they are a brother and a sister. If you zoom enough into the picture the girl has a school book in her hand (studying!) and the boy has a little note book that he is reading. Both of them are studying--educating themselves. This picture made me smile. It made me smile because it reflects the importance placed on education in our Kurdish society today.

It is evident both kids come from a lower middle class family (if not lower class). By observing the load at the back of the pickup truck I am almost certain the father sells goods for a living. But the fact that both kids are studying, and reading at the back of the pickup truck show me two things 1) the understanding that kids have on the importance of education, and more importantly 2) their willingness to study

On many occasions I have walked into shops in the local market where a young boy is running the shop and studying at the same time. I wish that all our kids had the luxury to study in the best schools despite their family's financial status. I wish for all our young people to study and enjoy life without worrying about other responsibilities that they are too young to have their shoulders. But unfortunately this is not the case.

I imagine what would happen if I put a group of kids at the back of a pickup truck in some other places in the world: they'd take out their phones and play games or begin texting, they'd sleep, listen to their Ipods, make jokes or do nothing. How many of them would read? Or study?

So that is why, my dear reader, when I see young Kurds like this (as much as I hope they didn't have to be in this situation) I feel deep contentment. Today, the way to go far in life is by education. The way to make dreams come true is through education. The best way to happiness in the long run, begins with education. I am just happy they realize this.

Somehow looking at the picture, I feel there is a feeling affection between both the girl and the young boy. The picture does not take me inside their minds, nor does it allow me to listen to their words. But it lets me feel that they have dreams, they are believers…

This is just another small incident of my life here in Kurdistan, teaching me yet another life lesson.

*The picture was taken from the front seat of our car by a close friend, Jula Haji, during a project we had for the locals in Makhmour.

Australia OPRAH Kurdistan

O. I'm on the small kitchen couch all the way in Kurdistan* watching the Oprah show (how I wish Miss Winfrey taped an episode from here for her final season—but don’t you worry I have written to HARPO about my idea) it's actually the second show of the Australia trip and it just made me think of my second home—Aussie Land. Right now my mission and aims in life appear to be here, in Kurdistan, I wouldn’t have it any other way either. However, having spent childhood and teenage years in Australia, naturally I feel a connection. In my life's TO DO LIST – which by the way is a very looooooong list— I want to go back to the second home and do the things that I never did when I was there before our return to Kurdistan.

Above: Oprah on her trip in Australia (sorry, but this picture was not taken by me,

I think as Kurds who at a point in time had to flee (or migrate) into other countries we remain thankful to the host country who gave us security, protection and a hope in life when times were not necessarily going the best way that we desired for. I want to return this thankfulness and admiration that I have inside me to Australia one day. I feel like I owe it something and I need to pay it back somehow.

I have a feeling that –despite the long distance between both nations—Kurds and Aussies are two nations that can get along well (as mates!!!), it is possible to exchange their lifestyle and culture. We can learn a lot from Aussies, and Aussie land.

Just on that note, a few nights back –again me watching OPRAH—** there was an episode that included an interview with Sarah Shourd. She was one of the three hikers who accidentally stepped into Iranian land while being tourists in the mountains of Kurdistan. They were imprisoned and Sarah was the only one who was set free. Sarah discussed her experience in the Kurdish region of Iraq (Nope! Oprah doesn't know about Kurdistan) along with her friend and fiancĂ©, both of whom are still imprisoned in Iran. I was touched with the story when I first heard of it in the news (see But the fact is there are actually people coming to Kurdistan as tourists. It is hard to let people in other parts of the world (including Oprah) to believe that Iraq can actually be a tourist destination. Which is why I was so glad when the guys from Top Gear drove through our mountain roads, we have to use the media to reach out and let people know more about what's happening in my little corner of the world.

**It's so funny, I make so many excuses for not having time for this and that, but somehow there is always time for OPRAH.

*Otherwise known as "Northern Iraq" in the international media, but one day this will change!