Sunday, March 20, 2011

Newroz is back... in style!

My dear reader.
It's midnight, for a chicken to stay up this late there must be something huge going on. Well earlier, I got my laptop ready, I made myself a nice Chaay (tea) and I was about to sit and write a blog entry about Newroz in Kuridstan when mum called: "Saaaaaazooo" that's the tone that she uses when she really means: "Sweetie, I love you. Can you please come and help me!" and my response was "and here it goes again…"
Above: Earlier today--before landing in the kitchen-- that's where I was.
I have just helped make over 150 pieces of Shefta (minced meat with onions, greens and a few other bits and pieces) and washed two mountains of dishes (I must make clear to you here—so I receive more sympathy—that I don't believe in the use dish washers for environmental reasons) that was used in the process of making an oversize pot of Yapragh (Dolma). I managed to put some of our guests to sleep, clean up the kitchen, wash more dishes, help the other girls prepare their Kurdish clothes, wash more dishes, and after this I have to go and make some sweets in the oven—what can I say, a Kurdish girl has got duties to fulfill.
But you know what? I am not complaining. I enjoyed every single moment of my evening in the kitchen (I'm sorry that there are no pictorial proof of my cooking and washing because if mum saw me taking pictures, when we had so much to do, then she would simply ask me to "Get out!") because we will be waking up around 5 a.m. well mum will, but still. The food will be put on the stove until we get prepared and leave in the early morning to find a good spot to spend our day. Tomorrow is the year's most important picnic. Newroz! That will be spoken about all year long.
As for earlier today…I actually have to thank some of the guests for dragging me out, it was Shanadar Park. I won't talk about the atmosphere, because the pictures—poorly taken by my phone—will probably tell you more than I can. Beautiful is such a small term to use, to describe the overall sentiment of today's celebration.
Since I hadn't planned on leaving the house we got there a little late. We parked almost half an hour walk away, because there was NO ROOM for parking. From a distance the song echoed in my ears …"Amrozhy, Sali tazaya nawroza hatawa" (the greatest song ever sang on Newroz) I felt like a butterfly flying towards it.
Soon, we pushed and pulled and shoved our way to where some of my relatives were seated. (By the way, today I met about 15 people who I am related to—by blood apparently—but I had never met before. For them, it was like we were born and grown up together.)
First came two singers, then came the beautiful Chopy and then Him—Mr. Aziz Waysi. Famous for his thick black moustache, this man has fans who are crazy for him. And if I say so myself: he rocked the park!!
What was amazing at Shanadar, from where I was seated I couldn’t see any difference. Everyone was carrying the Kurdish flag. There was no separation or affiliation. We were all celebration together, we were celebrating our Kurdishness (basically it was Kurdayaty—though I was told this was not the case outside the Park, but I didn't see anything).
Girls, boys, women, men; the old and the young. We clapped, we danced, we sang. We had our arms waving in the air. We were out there for six entire hours, it felt like 6 minutes. There was something unique about the atmosphere.
I must admit, tapping your feet in high heels, moving your shoulders back and forth—non stop, your arms waving in the air or clapping all along and then singing (who said we can't multi-task?) is no easy work, but it was all joy. For those six hours we forgot all the miseries, all the pains, we enjoyed moments with our families and friends.
Above: This was one of the many scenes I saw today: A young couple, and their small child had come out to enjoy their time.
I observed that it was not just our big group, but there were many families out there who'd come along. This was a party for all—and that's why I enjoyed it so much. The poor and the rich sat together on the same grass, watched the same fireworks and listened to the same songs. People of different political and religious backgrounds, from different parts of Kurdistan (and for that matter, Iraq) were all there celebrating, singing and dancing together…
The party was well organized—to a large degree—the cleaning process began as soon as people started leaving the park. The Newroz fire in Erbil came on first on top of the Shanadar Cave, then the smaller fires appeared...
Then there was the big fireworks, for some of my relatives it was the first time they'd seen it. The children looked astonished—there were colors in the sky! Others were so accustomed to the sound of bombs that brought back tough memories, to hear the same sound but as an indication of happiness was…well, very different.
I watched the fireworks with my six-year-old cousin hugging me tightly. She was watching only with one of her eyes, and occasionally removing her hand to see with both. I could feel she pressed her ears against me—to be protected from the sounds. We were both silent, while everyone else was going was busy videoing and calling out. I could only imagine what the little girl holding me tight around my waste was thinking at that time. It was an incredible moment for me. Erbil's sky was vibrant with colors, sounds, sparkles and celebration. It was another one of those unforgettable times in my life…
I was just glad we can safely, and happily spend such a special day with such special people, in such a special city.
Tomorrow is going to be a big day in my part of the world… no matter where you are, I wish you a Happy Newroz! May you celebrate it in Erbil this time next year.
All pictures were taken by me, because I had my blog in mind. Wanting to enjoy the fireworks, so I decided not to take pictures of it--sorry!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hawlery Times

To the special people reading this!

Before I write anything: Can you believe that this week FOUR people have come to Kurdistan this week, strangers, who have actually read my blog, and write now, as I am typing all four of them are here!

[[me= almost in tears… really happy]]

Okay, it's Thursday night— a long weekend going into Newroz: the best day on the Kurdish calendar—and I have decided to give you a little insight into my life this week in my corner of the world, that is, in my amazing corner of the world. First of all, you can't imagine how excited people are over here as they prepare for Newroz. I honestly think it is the only day in the year where Kurds actually do plan ahead. But believe me even if it rains and it becomes thunder, or a sand storm hits Erbil, still people are going to go out, have their Yapragh (A.K.A DOLMA) and Bryani on a mountain top dancing halparke until sunset. I know for sure that the girls are busy preparing their Jli Kurdi (Kurdish clothes) these few days; everyone is stressed out that the tailor won't finish them on time.

I've been working hard this week, so I will take you through my week by pictures I've taken by my phone*

Foreigners in Erbil

First of all, I really shouldn't use foreigners as a word to describe the guests coming into Erbil. They are, of course, sar sar w sar chaw. Today, Mivan (the no longer little brother) and I went out with two of our newly made friends from the UK. One of them, I hadn’t met before (took a lot of explaining with mum that it was okay to meet a stranger). Well, her name is Sara, a British girl, doing her masters at the University of York and she arrived just yesterday to do her research in Kurdistan. She came across my blog and we were exchanging emails regarding her visit (yup! She read my blog. And said that she found it "interesting" I wished she could repeat it over and over again-it was like music to my ears. Did I mention that a blog, after a few years, becomes like your child? If it's successful you feel proud, and if doesn't do well, then you feel like punishing it!!)

Above: Sara and Jessy outside a Jili Kurdi shop in Erbil

Any how, Sara seems to like it here. And we shared some thoughts about life in Kurdistan over a little snack in Family Mall. Though I insist to feed her falafl and gaas near the citadel, not the most hygienic, but it must be tried. Jessy (see my blog entry: A Brit in Jli Kurdi) also happens to be here, once again. After two visits, she insisted that the third visit would be during Newroz, and here she is for the third time in Kurdistan. She loves it here. You see Jessy is a young teenage girl, about 15, who I think is on a mission to get a Kurdistani Residency and hopes "never to return" her story is a unique one.

Above: Yes, you can get the original here in Erbil. Does it smell right? I think she knows what she's looking for

Walking through Family Mall we bumped into another bunch of people, also from the UK, and it was an interesting few seconds of conversation—they were also here for some research. For the first time meeting Sara, she probably saw me as either a) too nosy or b) too outgoing. I simply asked a lot of questions. I wanted to know what it was about Kurdistan that interested her so much. I wanted to know what it was that she liked about Kurdistan. I wanted to hear it from her. I asked her so many questions she probably felt like she was in a serious interrogation. After every sentence she said I would intervene: "why?" she replies and then I ask "How?" Sara told me she feels safe walking in the streets of Erbil more than any other place she had visited before, though she did say it was a tough duty informing her friends that she is going to Iraq, but "it’s safe, because I will be in Kurdistan" they still think she is out of her mind for coming here. I don't blame them for thinking this, because the international media is doing such a great job at showing the image of Kurdistan (NOT). Sara seems to like the natural beauty of the region, but also the people, "they are the nicest I have met" she told me, she likes the simplicity, the development but at the same time the culture.

Apple in Kurdistan

If it was up to me, I would still use a type writer and a brick Nokia phone. So, honestly, I really don't have any idea about technology—don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it all, and I appreciate the great minds behind them that actually produce this technology. In simple words Technology and I just don't have chemistry—but I know about this big phenomenon in Kurdistan called APPLE; the iPhone and the iPad.

Above: Sara observes the sign in Family Mall's Digital City where you can buy Apple in Iraq

Everyone is talking about it, and a few people I know are saving money to buy them. Sara was surprised when she saw the only authorized Apple shop in Kurdistan, and Iraq (the new shop in Family Mall) I have to admit to you, with everything that I saw there, I think for the first time in my life I was interested in something called an iPod, and these iPads, they are a real heaven for people who have 6 notepads and 15 pens in their handbags (me!!!), call me old fashioned, but I wouldn't replace the paper and pen for anything in the world… even the iPad [Apple must do something really BIG to Kurdistan to have me as a customer]. I am glad that young Kurds, like other people in the world, can have access to these technologies. I don't see why not!

Plant a tree

This morning on the way to work, I had to stop to take these two pictures. There are hundreds and hundreds of trees being planted in Kurdistan. If you read my articles a few years back, I once wrote: "I have a dream for the roads to be filled with trees, I want the city to also look green, and reflect of the beauty of our mountains" Today, I felt tearful, as I saw three long main roads being planted with trees. (Do you notice the symbolism and metaphor of planting a tree?). As I stopped to take the pictures, I wanted to get out and actually plant one myself. I can't wait until they grow big, with their large branches and green leaves swaying in the air, giving shadow to the roads. I feel so humbled to sleep tonight and know that probably over a thousand trees were planted in my city today. You may find this rather ridiculous of me, but every tree planted for me gives a meaning of growth, of hope, of security. Every tree, to me, is a sign of the people's dedication to the development of this nation, it symbolizes optimism and aspiration. More importantly, it shows the way we think of tomorrow. We are a nation that is planting.

Events! Events! Events!

I actually received this really fancy VIP invitation card for the Erbil Autoshow, if only they knew my ideal dream car is a 1980's Volkswagen they wouldn't have bothered. But the invitation did give a feel of just how 'fine' the cars will look. It started today (I couldn’t make it) and it will continue until the 20th of March.

The Erbil Festival this week was beyond what words can ever explain. It was a real insight of Kurdish folklore and culture—I must say that I am really proud of our Governor. Every tent in Shanadar Park represented a certain area within the Erbil province. It was incredibly beautiful; I felt as a Kurd I was discovering Kurdish culture. The people in the festival were great; they would explain what all the little tools were. [I have a dream that one day in my future house to have a Kurdawary room. A room with a samawar (something we use to make tea), lantern, red hand-made rugs, and decorate it with everything else that is Kurdish. I wouldn’t minf having my entire future house with the whole Kurdish theme. My brother jokes that I am going to have Hassan Zirak playing in an old cassette player all the time as well—why not?!]

Above: That is a Samawar

Above: Shanadar Park in Erbil, A day before the festival begins, packed with people

Above: Dastani Korre

Above: This are is supposed to be Shaqlawa, on the day there was actually Nana Qaysi, something you must try when visiting Shaqlawa. This picture was taken during the preparation, a day before the festival

Above: And finally, there is nothing better than Five Star Shelm- No gloves, no forks! But trust me, there is this special taste to it. You know when you eat something and you are sure it's not hygienic, but you just can't resist the taste!

Hey Nergis, Nergis: The Flower

When you smell it you feel hypnotized, fresh, joyful and immediately you want to close your eyes and imagine yourself on one of the mountains of Kurdistan. I mean it. I bought my first bunch of Nergis flowers—exclusive from our mountains at this time of year—at a traffic light from a young boy for 1, 000 IDs— just under $1. I was putting my entire nose into it all day at work, and back home I put it in some water, and as I write right now, it's still alive and smells just as good—three days later! You're life is gone (ba firo) if you don't indulge in the beauty of a bunch of Nergis flowers. Seriously!

Now I know what a Kurdish father is thinking when he decides to name his daughter Nergis.

Memories- young Kurds have dreams

I spent last weekend clearing up the endless notebooks and files I had stacked up for years. I was looking through one of my notebooks; it was of our top graduates, who had supposedly received scholarships to study our masters abroad. We spent a few hours in the cafeteria, expecting a NO or YES answer-- which our entire future depended on. I can't express the amount of stress we were going through. This is actually something we drew while waiting for an all important phone call in order to go and meet the Minister of Higher Education.

Above: I couldn't rotate the picture, I think you kind of have to tilt the screen (or your head) to understand what is going on.

I couldn't help but smile when I saw this in one of my notebooks. If you look carefully it tells a story

  • It is about going from Erbil (the round ring roads and the Citadel) to the UK for a masters,
  • After a return we would go back to Oxford (someone has written "Xoshnaw in Harvard" just above Oxford—far right. Xoshnaw is the family name of a large tribe that are now in Erbil and more in Shaqlawa),
  • On the return someone has drawn a ring, symbolizing marriage, then there is an arrow (go again) and get our PhD degree.
  • When we return as Doctors, we live a long life, and then win a Nobel Peace Prize. (If you can see in blue pen someone has added Kurdish last names to well known first names: Barack Barzanji, Bill Garmiyani and Steve Xoshnaw—I am guessing it means Kurds will be people like Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs).
  • The top left reads: Who said we can't dream? This, my dear reader, shows young Kurds DREAMING!

Kurdish Youth and Peace

I took part in a little gathering put together by the INI in Erbil, called World Peace Builders. It was an interesting session, participants acted out a scenario and then we discussed issues and questions related to ethnicity. So, why do I bring this up?

Above: Some of the young people acting out a scenario, in the garden of the INI office in Erbil

I bring this up because on a Friday afternoon, there are activities and events in Erbil that are educational for young people. They open our minds, they create a certain atmosphere to allow for the discussion of certain topics that we wouldn't otherwise speak about, and above all that, it is an opportunity to meet other people, exchange views and form friendships.

Did it ever occur to you how funny it is, that I write this way of Erbil but I am actually not from Erbil originally? This is why it's so great. Erbil is everyone's nest. No matter where you're originally from…

Above: Picture says a thousand words, no comment.

*All pictures taken by ME, I apologize if they aren't clear. It's basically daily life in Erbil captured by the lens of my Samsung mobile with a 3.2 mega pixels. Me + Technology= not best friends!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hawler through their eyes...

My dear, most loyal readers*

I have been blogging for a while now--and if you're also a blogger you would know how it feels when you hear from people who read your entries-- it just feels special. So, more than three later I have some followers* (a few. But it's enough to let me keep writing). In regards to yesterday's entry I got an email (yes, an email from someone who actually reads this blog), I decided to share it with you. You might say that I am writing some of the entries in such a way only because I am a Kurd. But here is something from an outsider in Kurdistan (but always remember: outsiders are always sar sar o sar chaw [on our heads & eyes! if that makes any sense]) I didn't obtain permission to publish this, therefore, the name shall remain anonymous!

so.. here we go:


I don’t know you like or you are not pleased to see my email. But I am writing to let you know that I was reading your .blog. I am not a usual Blog reader. But I found your Blog while browsing about Kurdistan.

On Friday 11th march I decided to have my prayers in the big mosque near my hotel ( Erbil international Sheraton hotel) and after the prayers I decided to walk towards Minara park as one of my friend told me that there near to this area is the grave (Marqad) of Prophet Ozair.. Well I found a small mosque like building but the door was closed and there was noting written on it . The other thing I noticed that day was extra amount of security on the roads. I was thinking that today due to this especial day the government is expecting some protest so they have this extra arrangement. At that time I hade a mix feeling.. Should I go back immediately to hotel or just see what’s going on.. well to be honest a bit scared as well.. but i continue walking. first towards the hotel and than I decided to eat some thing near citadel. There were sounds of load horns and songs from citadel. Than i have again seen many roads closed. and a lot of security and a lot of police with shields disappearing in a police station .it scared me. But than i was near citadel area and have see some of the people are there. some shops were open. I move more forward and I can see 100s of people in front of citadel waving flags. My fears calm down a bit and i have decided to go more forward. Now I was with in the crowd of people who were waving flags of different parties and also Kurdistan flags. Young people were dancing on some songs.. The whole seen was marvellous. It was really nice to see these people celebrating. But what was the real occasion i don’t know at that time but have only the hint that it is there national day. But it was for me really amazing. It remind me our old days when we celebrate our independence day but its no more like that. But this seen was also different. I have never danced in my live , may be because i am shy but on that music and on the style Kurdish people dance, i was feeling some thing with in me to dance with them. Than I was feeing more hungry and decided to move from there and come back to hotel, and in my way i have seen more and more people coming towards citadel .. it was really a nice experience and i can see that in your blog too.

I like Kurdistan, the more i read about it the more i like it. I have liking to it before i decided to came here. Now I am here. I really love it. The most amazing thing here is the nice people and your culture. I like these clothing’s .. That’s why i brought one for my one year old son.

I don’t know why i am writing to you all this but may be to let you know that I like it..

Sorry If I have wasted your time…."

There you have it.

*Mum officially resigned from reading the entries, Kulka has been quiet and not posting much--but she's on her way to Kurdistan for the first time! thanks to some influence from my blog ;) so my loyal readers are O.H, H.A, A.K, Kulka and Taboula!! :) I hope you realize all these entries are written for you four!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Uprising! Raparin!

To the dearest readers*

Today, 11 March, was a special day (the anniversary of the Kurdish uprising in Erbil), although most of the days in March are special in their own right. Last year I remember it was my final year at Uni and for the first time in my life I celebrated Raparin (uprising) day like never before. The feeling was different. I can't explain it in words, but I knew this year I wanted to feel the same way. So I got all colored up- Red, White, Green and Yellow! I chose to dress and accessories in the colors of the Kurdish flag rather than affiliation to any political party.
I basically left a meeting and followed my ears first—to loud sound of car horns—then, we then began following the crowd, no one knew where just around the streets. But the roundabout on 30 meter road was definitely a highlight. We were there for almost two hours.

This has almost become a tradition. On days like these Kurds accessories their vehicles—bikes, motorbikes, cars (old and new) trucks, and anything else that has even one wheel— they buy as many flags as they possibly can and take on the streets. Everyone smiling to each other, clapping, and putting on LOUD, REALLY LOUD (reallyyy loud) halparke songs that makes your shoulders move automatically.
I preferred to see more Kurdish colors than colors affiliated to different political parties, however, I saw both (considering the fact that I was in Erbil, it was normal to see more of one particular color than another) it was a sea of yellow and some green here and there.
I couldn't believe that often I was sitting at home on my couch with a nice cup of Nescafe watching those people on my screen and today I was there. Watching is something, but seeing is another. The general mood was absolutely amazing. We began our day at home, as we watched the President's address live then gradually made our way out in the early afternoon, and returned after dark. As I write this entry I am watching television—live broadcast— the streets are stick packed and people are still screaming, dancing, and waving flags.
You see certain things and wish that it was different. And you see other things and smile to yourself. I enjoy seeing Kurds happy. I often feel we have become a nation that is continuously seeking reasons to smile, to celebrate, to dance, to rejoice. Kurds deserve to smile. They deserve to feel secure about their future.
So, there you go. If you watched from your couch in some corner of the world today and said to yourself: "What they're doing is crazy!" then just realize that today, I, as well was part of that!
Putting aside my political affiliation, my religion, my background—today, I was out there as a Kurd, celebrating with my fellow Kurdish citizens.

* Yes! You read correctly-- Readers! I was telling a few friends about my day and I wouldn't send them any pictures. "See my blog tonight!" That way they have no other choice. Thus, I am almost certain there are going to be atleast two or three people reading this entry. :)

I know I'm not the perfect photographer, but please note that all pictures were taken by ME- today! For the purpose of this blog only.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beauty of Yesterday and Today

To my dearest reader*
I am going to do a little photo blog for you in the coming week or so about Salons in Erbil. There is one in every neighborhood and almost one in every main road. It is superb business. As a matter of fact I went to a local salon--or beauty shop-- just last weekend for a trim and I came back with information about which person in the neighborhood is getting married, which is getting divorced, which in-laws are good with their daughter-in-law and which are really bothering her. I knew about how much gold one of the grooms did and even witnissed an arguments between a bride-to-be and her sister-in-law. What an experience!

Let me clarify something, there are salons in Erbil where you will not notice any of this. These include the Lebanese Beauty Center (on Shorsh road!) who pamper you to the extent that you feel like you are Miss Universe, then there are the ones in Ankawa and other places across Erbil. Some have a reputation for charging a lot of money-- I don't know if its for the coffee they serve you or for washing your hair twice even though you washed it before going there!

It is all about your financial capabilities, some people go and do their nails, because they "can't make it for lunch because of the manicure appointment!" I really don't like to see this emerging culture here, but it seems like it is already appearing. Then there are the neighborhood salons that provide the basic beauty necessities of any woman including an average middle class who might be a house wife or a government employee.

I wait for my turn--in this one there are no appointments, first come best served-- so I take the time to 1) observe 2) Ears drop. On purpose! I must admit after almost two hours I came out a whole lot wiser, and here is why:

The really pretty girl: This was a really realllly pretty (no. Beautiful) girl in her amazing Kurdish clothing, long black hair, asking to get her make up done, she was one of the bride's sisters I guess. She asked the beautician she wants 'natural make up'. But I can swear it took 45 minutes to complete and the base was three layers of foundation stroked by a brush that would otherwise be used for painting with water colors.
This really made me think of the word beauty among Kurdish girls today and our grandmothers years back. If you're a girl just take a look at the top of your dressing table or by your bathroom sink at the number of beauty products you use to keep "Beautiful". After I returned home I looked at a picture we have of my grandmother when she was young, it's an old black and white picture (that looks like its been brought from the world's oldest museum). She looks... beautiful. I observe her physical features closely and wonder to myself: What did beauty mean to my grandmother? How did she keep herself looking so great? There was certainly no Vaseline, Dove, Olay, Head and Shoulders, Pantene; nor was there Fair and Lovely, Maybeline or Loreal.

I do a little bit of research, using a close friend, Google, he tells me that beauty, including that of the radiant, natural looking skin that we all want is influenced greatly by stress. I don't need to research the cause of stress, from life's experiences I have learned a simple equation:
Increase Awareness + Increase Development = 2(stress) + decrease beauty

So according to the above equation, maybe my grandmother didn't have the stress that deal with in our everyday lives today. Which brings me to another equation:
Simple Life = Simple Stress + Healthy Skin = Natural Beauty

Continuing my research Google tells me that a healthy skin depends on a healthy meal. Today we eat fast food and canned fruits, and try to be on a diet at the same time. Whereas back then they ate natural, fresh food and didn't have to count the burning calories because it was burned during their daily chores--which certainly did not include sitting with the laptop on their laps clicking the mouse to see different Facebook statuses.

Here, I should bring your attention to yet another equation-- I know it maybe becoming a little too much for a single blog entry, but even before you learn these equations you practice them already:

Increase Technology = Decrease Beauty

Google informs me of another secret for natural beauty: Beauty Sleep. It is important woman sleep for a certain time of hours at certain times of the day. I know for sure Daya Gawra (Grandma, or Nana) was in her deep dreams by 7 or 8 p.m. the latest, and woke up to the sound of the roosters at sunrise. Today? well... most women won't sleep until after they see Mohanad (on MBC 4 every night) download YouTube clips and chat to friends they will see tomorrow anyway.. then maybe, just maybe they decide to sleep. Television and technology is definitely a factor behind less natural beauty. Then the next morning even concealer seems to be not working to hide the black circles.

Back then there was no pollution in the air by all the cars, according to Google this can be also harmful to the skin. Finally, Google tells me that water is an important factor for healthy, and naturally beautiful skin (probably one of the only source of liquids that my grandmother had access to drinking). This is when I ask Google does that include Cappuccino and Coca-Cola?!

Kurdistan fits into all the equations explained above. Beauty is, unfortunately, becoming a priority, we seem to be a society that judges on appearance most--if not all-- of the time.

* Mum isn't following anymore these days. So I hope there is one of you out there who is reading... :) I appreciate your time.
Pictures taken from Flicker by a user called Kurdistan. This blog entry was inspired by my Memoirs column in the "Globe" this week