Sunday, June 26, 2011


I was just watching an episode of the World Debate on the BBC while cleaning the floor tiles of my room—not a bad combination is it? And now I am waiting for Ms. Amanpour 's "This Week" to begin (and while doing that I am going to blog as well). What can I say, I missed writing to you, my dear loyal, sweet* blog follower!
My morning didn't begin too well with a visit to the Ministry of Higher Education, I was planning to return with a big smile and enjoy the rest of my day, as I finally got my unconditional offer and the dreaded CAS number has finally arrived. But I entered and left the Ministry within 5 minutes—apparently my paperwork isn't complete. (Which reminds me: employers in government offices need to smile to their fellow citizens.)
Having said this, the rest of the day went well—supas bo xwa!

I found this on our white board at the organization today (I still can't figure out how to rotate picture on blogger-- me and technology aren't good friends!)
Dear reader, aside from you—the loyal blog readers who only know me from behind your computer screen—I am lucky to have individuals* in my life who genuine, kind hearted, owners of warm hears and above all individuals who have aims, dreams and goals for their life. These are people who own their dreams, who have planned their paths and above all they have a purpose in life.
My brother calls me a nerd. But with these individuals I can pose those philosophical questions at the back of my mind, I can discuss the recent book I have read and I can visit the orphanage or the retirement house with. These are the people who don't mind to give in their Thursday afternoon or Friday morning for some volunteer work. Simply said, I am thankful to have such friends (sisters!) in my life.
Kurdish youth, who have ambitions, who believe in something, and those who are determined are making their dreams come true. They are working hard, they sacrificing but they are achieving. There is opportunity out there if they are taken advantage of. I am not saying this from the top of my head; I say this from the experience of my personal life and from those of my colleagues, friends and people who I know.
My life has been very dynamic, full of energy and experiences. This Thursday marks my final day in both my jobs. I have decided to take a little time off before starting my postgraduate studies (I have already starting receiving emails from colleagues, my boss and notice boards putting dates for "Good-Bye parties". As a Kurdish girl, like any girl in any country across the world I feel I am sacrificing in something I love for a bigger dream, for something that will be a contirbuting factor for me to take one step up in the ladder leading to where I see myself in the future years ahead. It feels awkward to leave something that you have built for a few years.  
Many of my friends are graduating this week. I am automatically starting to think of the future of this nation. When I think of the list of names of the individuals who are graduating only from UKH, I can't help but be optimistic of the future of Kurdistan. I just wish they strive hard and take every small opportunity to prove their capabilities. When set friends these birds are definitely the individuals that Kurdistan needs to prosper.
While on this note, it is not only friends who are inspiring but also professors and lectures—who I will forever be grateful for—every now and then I drop an email just to say "hello!" recently one of my previous lecturers replied back with a little poem he had written, so I thought I would share it with you on the occasion of the graduating class of 2011 from the University of Kurdistan- Hawler.  

Being University professor - what a job!
I love my job, professorship
teaching, researching, teaching
It does not pay much
But t lets me build young leaders
and achievers
I see them grow from naive and inexperienced lot
to critical thinkers, and leaders, and activists, and journalists
name them
I see them grow as I was seen grow
But I also hate with my job 
I run the risk of loosing the fruits of my labour
Just when you have struggled to provoke their talents
Just when they begin to shine
Just when they turn into prolific writers, and thinkers 
the game is suddenly over
The curtain is drawing to a close:
convocation, graduation, dance and feast
Then they are gone
The walls of the university turn deadly silent
The lecture theatres crave for them
Is this professional hazard?
But life has to go one
The job has to be done
I have to look back and begin building the next set of talents
What a job, being university proefssor!
Usman Tar
Erbil, 8th June 2011 

*How do I know you're sweet? Because you're reading this blog!
**B.A; A.S; N.S; S.A; J.H; J.A; M.A; M.R – as I write this you are the first that come to my mind.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Your ultimate guide to Summer Vacation in Kurdistan

To the dearest reader,
From emails and comments on this blog I have realized that a great number of young Kurds abroad are returning home (Kurdistan of course!) this summer. Most of you are visiting for a short stay. So, I have come up with the ultimate Kurdistan Summer Holiday Guide. This blog is especially for all those who are planning a visit (though I prefer to call it a vacation) Kurdistan.
I am going to give you all the details from what to pack, where to go, what to do and what to buy if 
you are visiting Erbil. What can I say, a loyal blogger to loyal readers!
Here we go, so fasten your seat-belts! 
Fly to Kurdistan, Picture by Kurdistan2007_ARTIS, Flicker
The Packing
This is the tough part, you know what to pack when you come to Kurdistan, however, there are certain things that won't come to your mind and you don't realize that you needed them until after your arrival here. So let's keep it short and sharp—packing the following items will make your stay more enjoyable:
Mosquito cream: The top of the list, since you are coming in summer and since you are going to be spending a lot evenings outside, then do think of this wisely: bring with you a good mosquito cream or propellant. Summer in Shaqlawa is great, but if you are spending the night there then you are going to itch you're way through the second day with all the mosquito bites. Trust me, they won't bite your Kurdish cousins. They will know you're a guest, and you taste different. So YOU are the target!
Sun cream: It is going to be summer, and most of the time you will be out so do pack a sun cream that you are used to using.
Medication: It is best if you see a doctor before you come, and get him to prescribe some medication in case you get an unstable tummy in the first week. You don't want to waste an entire afternoon in a doctor's clinic when you’re here
Clothing: Most of the clothes you should be packing would ideally be not beyond the knee length and
as long as there is some sleeve it will be fine. Short sleeves are normal and skirts, until the knee  length is also okay.
You are free the way you want to dress. But I am just telling you what people in general wear so you have an idea of what's suitable. On a general level people do dress up, sometimes they do go overboard even if they are only going to the mall.
Sandals: If you have a favourite flip flops then do bring them along. If you visit Bekhal or any other water fall such as Gali Ali Beg then you need to wear sandals that won't be torn in the water.
The Gifts
Once upon a time (like one year back) when someone was coming back from abroad they'd ask "what should we bring back" most people would ask for a digital camera, branded make up, designer perfumes, shoes etc.. the rare that couldn't be found here. But today, my dear reader, it's different. You can easily buy the original Loreal foundation, the Addidas Shoes, and even top designer watches.

 They are not necessarily affordable prices, but they are available. So don't believe it when you hear that they can't find any of these things here.
Don't forget, Mango is already open and Carrefour is opening next month! As for the technology, well… we have the original Apple store as well. So there is no need to worry yourself about iPad, iPod, iPhone or for that matter anything else that starts with an "I" that may be released by the time this blog is published. 

 Suggestion: If I had to suggest gifts, I would say souvenirs from the county that you are visiting from. However, many people here may find it insulting that after ten years of living abroad you return with a key ring of the Eifel Tower or a toy Kangaroo. Think carefully. And another suggestion, either bring something for everyone, or nothing at all. When you're invited to people's houses [which by the way you must be prepared for] you can just take some sweets.  
Mango in Erbil Majidi Mall, picture from  Here
Flying to Kurdistan
You will know you're going to Kurdistan from the terminal at the airport.  Actually even before that. You will know in the weigh-in section where the luggage is being weighed. As soon as you see bags open and goods transferred from one bag to another (and maybe people asking you if you have any room in your luggage) then know that you are on your way to Kurdistan.
Other things to keep in my mind during your fly to Kurdistan: Everyone speaks in the plane—politics of course, clap as soon as you land, and then you begin to hear the golden words: BAXERBET, SAR CHAW!!!! At that second you should be thinking HOME, HOME SWEET HOME!!! Aaaaah!!!

Erbil International Airport, EIA, Picture by Shakawan, Flicker
The Must See:
I am sure your relatives and friends will take you around to all the places that you need to see, but here is a brief list in random order.
In the city you should visit:
1.       The Citadel, once inside there is a shop and a textile museum that is a MUST SEE!
Textile Museum- Pic by, One-Thirteen, Flicker
2.       The Qaysari Bazaar
3.       The malls: Family Mall, Majidi Mall, Sofy mall and maybe even Rhein mall

Ice Ring in Family Mall- Pic by Shakawan, Flicker
4.       The theme park: Family Fun
5.       Ica Hall for ice skating
6.       Aqua Park – water slides and bowling
7.       Mini Gulf
8.       Jalil Al-Khayat mosque and St. Jousef Church are both a must see
Parks: You really shouldn't return unless you've visited all of these three parks as you will learn a lot about Kurdish people:
9.   Shanadar Park, here you can try the teleferique and visit the Shanadar cave where there is a display of Kurdish art. Also here you can buy postcards on Kurdistan

Minaret- Erbil, photo by Mohamad Sinjari, Flicker
10.   Martyr Sami Abdul Rahman Park:  The water features are beautiful, so is the music, kids' play ground and the new restaurant is SUPERB.
11.   Minaret Park: This is a must see, in particular in the evenings, because of its historic significance (Al-Mudhafaria Minaret). The water fountain with the lights makes a great backdrop for pictures
Tourist & Historic sites:
12.   Shaqlawa should be first on the list, the weather is beautiful even in summer, and the walk down the main street is refreshing (try the ice cream there and the nana kaysi too!! mmmm)
Shaqlawa, Picture by Shakwan, Flicker
13.   Bekhal,  the most beautiful waterfall
14.   Gali Ali Beg waterfall, here there are ducks and little boats that you can take under the waterfall, very close to Bekhal so will definitely need to visit
Gali Ali Beg, pic by One-Thirteen, Flicker
15.   The Cultural Museum
16.   Qalinj Agha Hill
17.   The Deween and Khanzad castles
18.   The Beston and Dian caves
19.   Harir Mountain Sculpture- goes back to 1st century BC
20.   Rabban Biya Convent (Shekh Wesu Rahman)
21.   Jundiyan Resort
22.   Heran and Nazanin
This, by the way is a short list (and only in Erbil) I have missed many other places.
Bekhal, Picture by- Mohamad Gafori
The Must Try:
Masti Hawler
The Etiquette:
Forget about schedules and working by the clock. As much as we like to function with the time, the chances are you can't plan a lot here because everything happens all of the sudden.
When you sit around the dinner, the chances are you will be asked to try this, try that and eat more of that. You will hear "you didn't eat anything" even though you have had two plates of rice already! And "your hands can't reach the dish over there" even though you reached out three times.
Another tip, if you are on a diet: Forget it!! Diets don't work here, especially if you have come for a visit. You can always restart your Jenny Craig diet as soon as you land to the country you're coming from. You won't be able to resist the Dolma, nana tiri, brnj w shla or even the paqlawa. If you keep your diet you will regret it for years ahead. And plus, people will think you're being so awropi so be Kurdish instead and Bxo (Eat!).

Dolma anyone? Picture by Shakawan, Flicker
 When you visit expect to see many people. Even your aunt's neighbour might invite you for dinner
And now… the most important part! The afternoon nap, after lunch everyone goes to sleep in summer. Yes, at 1:30 people are sleeping till about 4 or 5 p.m. when life begins again. I still can't get used to this. But you, my dear reader, should make the most of this golden time of Silence. Email friends, write a diary, or load your pictures.  
I must admit it can be boring to see people sleep during the day for a good three hours, especially if you aren't used to it. Also, since people sleep during the day, at night they remain awake till well past midnight—but you can be a chicken like me and go to sleep at 10 p.m. and listen to all the stories that happened last night over breakfast the next day [sigh, and realize what you missed out on!].
What's Normal?*
Let me prepare you for some situations you may encounter and find weird. But these are totally normal here!
It is NORMAL to hear the horns of the cars as soon as the traffic light turns green.
It is NORMAL to wash the veranda with a hose.
It is NORMAL to be kissed 5 or 6 times by an elderly lady-- and for the kisses to be a little bit sloppy.
It is NORMAL for a man to have hundreds of dollars on a table in front of him in a busy Bazaar, for money exchange
Money Exchange in Erbil, Pic by American Crew, Flicker
It is NORMAL for politics to be the topic in almost every gathering
It is NORMAL for a taxi driver to get into the intimate details of your life
It is NORMAL to buy blockbuster movies for less than $2 USD.
 It is NORMAL for a woman to wear gold as much as her weight all at the same time
Picture by Rohat, Flicker- Gold store in Erbil

Another Gold Shop, picture by One-Thirteen, Flicker
It is NORMAL for the falafl to be put into the sandwich by hands
It is NORMAL to say "no you go in first" (through the door) and hear "oh no no no, you must go first" because "Baxwa nabet"
Words in Kurdish:
Don't ever try translate a sentence word for word from English and say it in Kurdish [I say this from experience] it will be a mockery! But these are few words to keep in mind, just so you don't get confused:
Yak Waraqa: means one paper, but it also refers to $100 USD.
Yak Daftar: means one notebook, but it also refers to $10 000
Monica: might be the name of girl, but it refers to the white four wheel drive looking car (I'm certainly not the right person to speak of car models. But you must know the Monica is a car!)
So, if the slot of land across the road is worth se daftar it is not worth three notebooks, but $30 000!
Normal Situations:
Also, since you are coming in summer there is going to be so many wedding parties (it's right after graduation season don't forget!) if you're single don't be offended if the following happen, because it is also NORMAL:
Your mother (bless her) or older sister points at every girl in the wedding and say "what do you think of her" in the ideal situation you are supposed to say "yes, she is beautiful, let's ask for her hand!" but the chances are they will be disappointed as you laugh it off. If you're a girl: It's NORMAL to hear naxsha la tu or may your turn be next. That is, your turn to be the bride!  
Other things to keep in mind: Kar [donkey] is a bad word; Sher [lion] is a good word. Ango is Hawlery and Ewa is Slemani (same with Ku and Chon). People will really pay attention to the words that you use, but then you can be like me and use every word that comes to your mind from every Kurdish dialect and people can't guess where your origins are.
Finally, you're supposed to laugh at the end of every Xoshnaw joke. But let me tell you this, the Xoshnaws are the most amazing people in this land, you will just have to come and see for yourself!  
What to take back?
I urge you to take back gifts and souvenirs from Kurdistan to the country you are from.  You're colleagues at work will appreciate a gift from your vacation and you will also be doing something good to Kurdistan.
For example, if you work at some government office the US and you take back for your colleague a little Minara or Qalat statue for their desk, how great would that be?
Or how proud would it be if a young British student in the UK had a Kurdish Klash for her key ring?  
The Kurdish carpets near the citadel cost less than $7 USD each, they make great gifts. The Kurdish hand bags that could be hanged on the walls are also good gift choices. While you're there buy some tasbeeh as well.

Carpets near Erbil Citadel, Pic by Mark Jutton, Flicker
Don't forget an XL Kurdish Flag that is available on 'Jaday Tarbiya' which is located at the top of Erbil's Doctor's Road (Shar'e Atubba). While you are there the shops have badges with the Kurdish flag. There is also a little corner shop on the same road that is designed to look like the citadel. But you will find great Kurdish souvenirs.
In Naza Mall, on the second floor, there is a shop that has handbags with the Kurdish Flag on it. They are under $15 USD.
In the Qaysari Bazaar, you can get key rings of the Kurdish Klash
Pic by Tara Beeban, Flicker
Now, if I am traveling abroad there is something that I am going to take a LOT of. They include the following

  •           The map of Kurdistan
  •           There are new small books that include all the tourist and historic sites in Kurdistan with pictures in Kurdish, Arabic and even English. I recommend a little book called: Your Guide to Iraqi Kurdistan Region, prepared by Sardar M. Abdulrahman and Hoshyar M. Khoshnaw!
  •           There are little statues of the Citadel and Minaret that reflect on Kurdistan that can be found in the shop in the citadel, in Naza Mall or in the shops on Tarbiya Road, also near the citadel
  •           In many of the jewelry shops there are little Kurdistan necklaces—highly recommended!

The book I am refering to, by Abdulrahman and Xoshnaw
 If you happen to have a friend who is thinking of returning back home, or you have a sister who is wondering how it would be to be living back in Kurdistan then you can also decide to take back "My Nest in Kurdistan" also available in some of the book shops across the Region. This is not advertising, I am just suggesting.  ;-)
Last but certainly not least. You MUST get a set of Kurdish clothing for you and whoever else is very special in your second country. I suggest as soon as you land, make arrangements to visit Tayrawa or the Qaysari Bazaar near the Citadel. Have a look and select the colours and material that you want and it will take up to two weeks sometimes for it to be ready to pick up. I recommend the Beirut shop opposite the Qaysari Bazaar, they sew the most stunning Kurdish clothes in all types of styles. That way, when you drop by to the citadel again before you depart (to buy your souvenirs) then you can pick up your new set of Jli Kurdi.
I hope you have an enjoyable vacation, welcome! Baxerben! Sar sar w sar chaw! You may now take off your seat belts 
*The ideas in this section are not all my own, thanks to some Twitter friends who started the enjoyable hash tag of #youknowyouareaKurd

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Words from India to Kurdistan

Guest Blogger

Every now and then a reader somewhere, in some corner of the world drops an email. They say people alike always find each other, I won't say anything more, but after reading this you might realize why I might have found a sister in India. Shweta asked if it was okay to send something for the blog! And here is, an exact copy-paste of what she sent me to be published here! [It feels great to have a guest on your blog! and for all those times when I thought no one was reading my entries....]
To all the readers of Sazan’s blog *
A big heartfelt thank you to Sazan for letting me be her voice for today. Zor Supas (if I am not mistaken) I come from India, thousands of miles apart from you in distance but a neighbour or a friend to you in our culture and customs. But today I do not come to you to write about the wonders and similarities of our lands. I am 23 years old, and have gone through similar conditions what many Kurds have gone through. I was lucky, like few people in your land – to have parents who immediately shielded me and brought me up far away from trouble. And mind you, I say lucky with my parents – not because they took this step for me. No, any parent would always be there for their child. But my luck is attributed to the fact that my parents were there- alive to make them take this step for me. All I grew up with is happiness and harmony but never ever was I kept ignorant. I knew the trouble through stories always.
Far away from Kurdistan, and not at an age of understanding in 1988, I didn’t know about the tragedies, the genocide which took place there until much later. When I found out, I wept, tears and tears and kept asking myself why? Why did this happen? But my imagination couldn’t have prepared me for worse. With the advent of internet, I went on to youtube to find out if anyone had uploaded anything about Halabja. And even though you may consider me an outsider, and maybe I am one – I was shocked beyond words. Prior to this, I had only seen one picture, the one with the man shielding the child – that is the most famous picture I think. Even when the Indian media carried reports of the (Hated) Saddam capture and trial, that was the picture I saw. But now I saw hundreds and hundreds of pictures. Even a video – though I didn’t understand the language of what was being said, I can very well guess.  What I saw shook me to the core, it is impossible to have words to describe the inhumanity. It is a coward man who wants to hurt others for the sake of hurting. But I don’t understand what punishment could be enough for a man who killed innocent women and children. When I saw the video my hands shook as I tried to touch my laptop. Those innocent children – how could they die? What had they done? How could anyone have such a murder on his conscience? Even a lion doesn’t kill when he is not hungry. This man was worse than a wild beast? He couldn’t control his hunger to murder?
What haunted me the most was one picture.  A picture of a small girl carrying a child on her back and running on the road. Behind her there are masses of thick clouds. The girl is crying and the baby is clutching on to her. If you actually saw- this girl looks no more than 5 years old – if she is; that it is the maximum she can be. She is forced to be so mature as to pick up another tiny baby and run. Go to any other country and a child of 5 years will be treated like a baby – people will tell her not to cross the street, they will remind her not to speak to strangers, they will tell her to be home before dark, and tell her not to pick up her baby brother or sister too much because she herself is still so tiny. Here, the girl is holding onto the child and running. My concern was – who clicked her picture? Why didn’t that person save her? Or did he save her? Did he take her away and save them both? Is she alive now? Will she read my words, will she see Kurdistan standing and remember her sacrifice? Did she have a chance to see normalcy return to her beloved mountains and valleys? Or did she become a martyr like the thousands of others and we live today as a result of her sacrifice? 
I want her to live, I want her to have gone through this horrendous experience but still have survived. It is such a resilience that makes up Kurdistan and Kurdish folks. I know my sympathies will never be enough; my condolences will never fill the void. but hopefully my words will make you know that people are there by you, standing and watching with a lot of pride as you rebuild your beloved country. My deepest respects and bows to a wonderful nation and an even more wonderful brand of people. The world still stands the way it is, only because of you.
*I humbly count myself in the number of readers of Sazan’s blog. It is people like her who write with the ink of their hearts. Many seasoned and senior people have yet to get this quality in all their writings. My dear sister Sazan –you simply rock.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Test the taste buds in Kurdistan

To the greatest blog readers in the planet^

Baxerben! Sar sar o sar chaw for another entry!!
I'm going through an emotional turmoil so I resort to the blog to let out that frustration**
In my corner of the world a lot is going on. Of all the things that I can write about I decided to blog about FOOD!! Since I looked through this week's pictures taken by my phone the commonly appearing theme next to advertising was FOOD!  
On a social level, the exams are underway and surprise surprise no one is just outside the house and calling you to say: in 5 minutes we'll be at your house for a chay ! You also don't dare go to anyone's house, people are studying. So what do you do? Family Mall and Majidi Mall are bombarding with text message of their DASHKANDEN [SALE]! (Doesn't every girl adore that word?!) so good luck with trying to find parking there on a Thursday or Friday evening, because you won't find a single tiny space—even if you go on your bike.
Family Mall last Friday
The weather is getting warm. Life for me is a roller coaster and things aren't going as planned. But the wonderful life here and the vibrant culture is keeping me optimistic.
Here is how the Spring season goes in Kurdistan: Most of the month is about food. But not the typical food that you may eat everyday! 

The above is Rewas, this you must try with a little bit of salt and you just peel and eat. It tastes great, and comes right from the mountains. Fresh. No presevatives. No nothing. It is only sold during this time of year.

A man selling Rewas on the way to Shaqlawa
Another natural plant on the mountain top-- pick and eat-- help yourself. If my notes are correct, this is chaw bazala

My village friend shows me Chwala--  picked from the tree-- and into your mouth directly
The picture below is also one taken at work. One of my colleagues (a very kind colleague, I must add) almost always brings in treats. So I tend to indulge in the melting of Kulicha in my mouth with sweet chay as I am writing reports on FGM, women's empowerment and planning life skill workshops for youth! I can just taste it, as I am looking at the picture. What is great about Kulicha is that it can suit everybody's taste buds, but I recommend the dates.  
Kulicha and chay
And this, my dear reader is the favourite of all. Oily bread with sugar. Yum Yum Yum!! The Hawleries do it best. The mother of the director of our organization is sweet enough to send some everynow and then. No forks or knives, I am there with my hands inside tearing it away 
Nana-ba-ron (bread 'n oil)
I know the ingreadients don't seem very appetizing, but believe me this is something that must be tried.
First you tear it, then you eat it.
 Then there is my good old friend- Falafl!! I have saved the best to the end. Here is the deal, Falafl should never be eaten in any of the high end restaurants or fast food shops. The best falafl is that you get near the citadel, where the man has sweat at the tip of his nose. Where he uses his hands to put the onion and tomatoe in the bread (but he does add the pickles with a spoon) and where there is no gloves or forks (eeew?-- well no, not really) because this guy makes probably 1 000 sandwhiches a day, and he has probably been doing it for a good 10 years as well. So, it tastes great, and I am still alive.

Fresh Fruit... let's guess from Iran, Turkey and the apples from the U.S.? Maybe

Galamew-- for the perrrrefect Yapragh
As for the above pictures. Let's be honest. As Kurds we really don't care about five vegies and three fruits. There is no big issue on being on a diet (but I must point out here, most people who say they're are on a diet normally say it after they have Qozi for dinner and Baqlawa for dessert). Having said this, we love our Gndora (or I like to call it Kalak, AKA: rockmelon) and shooti (watermelon) especially if it is bought ba sharti shaqo-- you are allowed to break the watermelon right there and then. This way, you are you you're getting what you're looking for! 

^ This week I realized I have a young women following me all the way from India, an Indian with  passion for Kurdish culture! So Miss S.H. this entry is dedicated to you.
*the name shall remain anonymous, since I don't want to advertise for anyone!
**Ministry of Higher Education can really solve this matter right now.
All picture staken by me for the sake of this blog only