Friday, August 26, 2011

Basa! Enough! Kafi!

To the world's greatest blog follower*

The family is packing, the first thing that came to my mind when I realized we're travelling was to make a blog entry before I leave. I have made an escape to write this blog entry before someone finds me and yells out: "Sazaaaaaaaaan!!"
The best thing that our students in UKH did at the time was put together this HUGE Kurdish flag, it's become our symbol. Where ever you see it, know that this is UKH spirit
This was a random unexpected morning call trip. Jezhn (eid) is around the corner, and while most people like to celebrate in big cities we take the opportunity to go to villages, towns etc… I always return refreshed. I enjoy the company of the simple people over there.

While I celebrate Jezhn I also realize there are people of my greater family who are under attacks, who are being bombarded. Recently little children were massacred as they were with their family leaving a mountain escaping bombardment from one of our neighbouring countries.

No matter how proud I am as a Kurd, there are often times where I sigh and let out a long "Aaaakh" this week I set free many "aaakhs". Iran attacking from their side, Turkey from another and even within Iraq there were attacks on Kurds on areas that are neighbours to my hometown of Mandaly.

We really had enough
I re-read the first line of my diary entrance on the day of the demonstrations in Erbil a few days back against Turkey's recent air attacks on Kurdish soil. In big, bold scribble writing I had written: "for god sakes, enough is enough!"

Indeed, enough.
Thanks to Narin B. Qaradaxi, Bewar Rwandzi , Ashna Shareff, Sara Sinjari and few other girls who helped with posters, organizing protests and making everything run smoothly. The guys did a outstanding job too. So proud of UKH graduates. Their motivation and dedication pushed this a long way
The picture of the little girl with her body parts shredded to pieces remains in front of my eyes and visits my dreams every single night. For the sake of that innocent child, I took on the streets of Erbil to call out "Enough!" for the sake of the soul of that little girl, I write words of anger and resentment. That innocent child is not a stranger to me, she is my sister, my loved one, that innocent young girl could just be a part of me.

These two kids and their parents Kurds from Turkey... I guess they stood against the young girl their age who was killed by the warplanes earlier in the week
We endured the Anfal, we suffered the consequences of Halabja, we've experienced deportations, mass killings and have felt the pain of chemical attacks and genocide. Our grandparents—and parents—fought side by side with the mountains, and we managed to begin a new page in our history books. As Kurds we stood up and built. We never gave up. I am not ashamed to say that we were almost entirely alone on this journey, no one held our hands.

My hand, holding the hand of Ashna Shareff, a dear friend, the nicest blend of colours around her wrist. Thanks Ashna and Narin who took their time early in the morning to create ribbons for demonstrators
As a Kurd I know too well that it was the atrocious mind of enemies that caused the massacres written in our history pages. It is now the year 2011, in the 21st century. At any cost, the blood of any Kurdish child will not go down the drain. No innocent young girl, on the lap of her mother should be shattered to pieces, with her face burned, her limbs broken, and her brain out from one of her ears.

Close friend and blogger Bewar Rwandizi also in this picture
Enough is enough.
Let a nation live. How hard can it be?

We are educated on the western curriculum that teaches the Westphalia state system; the right to self determination, the right to democracy and the basic right to live.
The "right" repeated over and over again, the "right" which we just don’t have. The pain kills.
The crowd of demonstrators in Erbil
What don't I have that other citizens of states across the world have? I have a rich culture, and a unique language; I have a bloody history and a land where I belong. What does it take for you to recognize me? 

I'm surrounded by the world's most amazing girls-- they inspire me more and more as each day goes by with their passion, love and motivation
 I took out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I read article after article, to the point that I began to sniff. For me, as a Kurd, as I was reading, that declaration was a checklist, in my head I would make arguments whether or not I could tick—or cross— some of the articles. At the end if it were an exam, I would fail. There were more crosses than ticks.
Peace. That's what we're asking for
But you know what? One day we will have all our rights. The power of walking in a street with the Kurdish flags in both hands swaying in the air and chanting out loud, you feel empowered like you have never felt before. You feel like you are expressing and screaming the words that the innocent children who lost their life would have screamed out if they could leave their graves and protest now.
Young Kurds feeling it's their responsibility to speak up
Another one of those days that I can spend the entire night writing in my diary about, another one of those hours where it will be made history in Mandalawi's life, another one of those instances where I can raise my head up, look into the sky in such a way where the sun's rays will water my eyes—look up and say "I'm a proud Kurd. I will be as strong as my only friends— as strong as the mountains."

Me in the morning of the demonstration (notice it's Ramadan) with a group of friends preparing some posters
Jezhntan Pirozbet in advance- see you when I return.
MUM: "SAZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN" ooooops!! Someone is in trouble.

*Proud to have a new follower to the blog, and a newly arrived member to the Mandalawi family S. M. K. - waxerhati.

A part of this blog entry has made up my "Memoirs" column in the Kurdish Globe this week. Some pictures taken by me, but the really good ones are taken by my great friend Sara S. Sinjari :) I bet your wondering why some of them looked so good.... because I didn't take them!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What makes you happy?

To my dearest blog follower,
"What makes you happy?"

I posed this question to relatives and few friends most said family, loved ones and good health makes them happy (they're my friends, so I expected these answers). The question was returned to me by a short text from a relative, she wrote: "And what would make Miss Mandalawi happy? An independent Kurdistan looool"* I texted back four words: "Read my blog tonight!" so here I am feeling like I am going to explode if I don't get this entry done before Iftar.

What is 'happy' anyway?  
It's funny how shopping, watching TV with a bag of Salt and Vinegar (actually, make that Original) chips can make us happy. But what is true happiness? What does make me, you and others really content? For sure, being with family, friend and know that they're all in good health. But that's not the happiness I mean. I am talking about the happiness where at that particular moment, right then and there, you feel like you own the world. You feel nothing can ruin that moment.

I always knew this (below) made me happy, but now I know that nothing can make me happier than seeing the smile of a child on my lap. Wait. I know this sounds corny, but let me finish. Please do continue reading.  
Yesterday, my dear friends^ decided it was time to visit our little—and old—friends at Mali Khanda (Khanda house, I'm going to avoid using the word orphanage!) and the Elderly People's Home (khanooy basal-chwan).
Above: As we leave one of the houses in Mali Khanda. A very HAPPY good-bye
Of all the places I visit in Erbil these two are my favorite. Of all the outings one can do with their friends, it is outings like yesterday that I get the most satisfaction and enjoyment from.
I can't describe the feeling I get when we enter each of the three houses at Mali Khanda. This is not just the warm greeting and hugs that we receive, but to go in and see those kids laughing, crying, fighting, giggling, and playing brings HAPPINESS.
Lana~ was unwell, having her on my lap almost the entire time she wouldn't speak a single word, just gazes up with her sparkling eyes and smiles. She is a twin with her sister, who happens to have 6 other siblings (and two sets of other twins, if that makes sense). The mother is ill and is in critical condition, the father does not work and only has certain time to look after the kids and afford their expenses, so four of the girls are at the orphanage, including one set of the twins. The little boys are living with him though.

I am so thankful these children are where they are. Their home is clean, it's beautiful, and in many ways in is filled with love. These kids get three healthy meals a day; they dress well, go to kindergarten and will also go to school. The kids get to meet people, go out, and won't ever have to work under the warm sun or be abused by their parents who are psychologically worn out, and probably won't ever be able to provide them with the privileges they have in Mali Khanda.  What could make little Lana happy. Candy? A toy? A nice top? Maybe she would enjoy opening it and finding what is inside the wrapping paper. But Lana needed affection; she needed a warm hug, someone to give her one-on-one time. Someone to say: "You are beautiful, you are special." Children aren't oblivious, they need to feel warmth and fondness.

The most beautiful I. on Bewar's lap

I know this, because she gave affection in return. The way she held me—and wouldn't let go—the way she would stare, and smile.
Lana's smile made me happy. The way she would reach to the camera and want to take pictures, that too made me happy. The way Isra (who I wish to adopt someday) held my hand, sat on my lap, gave me hugs and kisses—that was also an incredibly happy moment.
Right then and there, you forget about deadlines, horrific breaking news you heard the night before, you forget about the miseries of the world when you look into the eye of an innocent child, who just happens to be smiling.
When you leave Mali Xanda, naturally you forgive the people who have hurt you, you begin to take cautious in how you treat others, you realize that life isn't worth all the complications. If a little child can live far from the biggest thing in the world—the love of a mother and father—then I can confront anything that can come my way. 

This was taken by Lana's sister
 You don't know what to expect from the little ones. Every time it's something new, the first time I went Isra and A'la (sisters) were little children with messy hair who liked to draw and have sticky hands from eating lollypops. Today, they are both as sweet as ever, and this year they're going to start going to school. They're unpredictable, (I don't know who has taught them, but they've learned to pose funny faces when taking picture) with unique personalities. I can't help but think of how they are going to grow up and what they will become. I have a feeling they're going to grow into young women full of passion with an endeavor to help others.
If you are ever in Erbil PLEASE do visit the kids. You will feel the happiness that I am talking about. You go to make them smile, but they are the ones who will make you happy.

Dear R.M. an independent Kurdistan would certainly make me happy "LoooL". But for now, happiness seems to be coming from the simplest of things in life. (Above: My little friend and I at a happy moment in Mali Khanda)

*It took me such a long time to realize that LOL means Laugh Out Loud, but what does LOOOL stand for?
^ I am lucky to have the world's greatest friends, who are dedicated to giving their love, time, and whatever else they can to others: L.L, S.R, N.Q, Bewar, Ashna— make sure you follow their blogs— with the existence of girls like them, be sure, Kurdistan's future will be in good hands.

~Lana, is not the real name of the little one, I prefer to keep her name in particular anonymous. I haven't included her picture either.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Arabic perspective on Erbil

Dear dedicated follower**….
Summer in Kurdistan has been very warm, in fact to put it straight the weather has been boiling hot. However, this hasn't prevented thousands of people from other parts of Iraq to visit the region for the summer break. Coming back to Erbil from Gali Ali Beg or Bekhal to Shaqlawa on a Friday evening is mission impossible. Hence, it is not rare to have a stop in Shaqlawa until past midnight before making a slow move back to Erbil.
The tourists are everywhere, in the malls, bazaar, at the waterfalls and of course on the mountains. Recently I had youth training sessions with participants from different parts of Iraq taking part. For seven days I sat with a different group in the morning tea break—not only to get an insight of what they thought about Kurdistan, but also to understand more about their life back in their cities.
You don't believe me? This is a line of cars before even reaching Shaqlawa, (approx. 10 p.m.)

 Here is what some of the Arab youth had to say about Erbil:
Hussein, first year Medicine student in Baghdad
"The last time I came was in 2009, it has transformed a lot since then. The one thing I can't have enough of is sitting on the mountains at night." He says there was no taxi late at night as they wanted to return, "A car with two Kurdish guys, that were total strangers to us, gave us a lift down the mountain."

Noor Abdelnabi, 22, from Salahaddin currently living in Baghdad
"It's an open city. It's beautiful. The people are very friendly as well. Language is a barrier between us, the tourists, and the locals but they try to understand us ,in particular the taxi drivers. Education wise I feel Erbil is very much ahead."
"The best part of my visit is that I learned to Ice Skate, I can't wait to come back and try it again the next time I visit."

Rusul Akram, 22 from Baghdad, BA in history
"Erbil is a place for everyone. Anyone can enjoy it. There are people from different backgrounds here. I don't feel like I am an outsider here, it is the second time I visit and every time I come I must go to the Citadel—sitting there is beyond imagination."

Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, from Salahaddin said he comes once a year with his friends for an entire week.
 "It's nice, it's beautiful, the people are helpful. I like the way the roads are organized, there is great hospitality in the hotels and the staff are friendly. Every time we visit we have to go to Bekhal and Shaqlawa."

Kaka Karwan

During the sessions they had to make puppets and use them to tell stories that reflected issues faced in the Iraqi society today. They name their puppets Kurdish names (Kaka Azad, and Kaka Karwan are just two examples) and two days into the training they say Bayani Bash and Choni Bashi?*

Thurgham Jalal, 21, from Djel
"This is the first time I visit since 2001. It just doesn't seem like you are in Iraq, Erbil is definitely nicer than Baghdad. Before coming sometimes we heard that the Kurds are conservative and don't interact with Arabs, but it was the exact opposite. They are friendly, and always show you directions when you don't know the way. Taxi drivers here don't fool you by charging you extra only because you're an outsider. I didn't think there would be buildings and infrastructure to this degree..many places are well looked after. I can't tell you the best place, because every place I visit is nicer than the one before, but if I had to tell you one place, then it is Family Fun."
Shayma Jamal, 26, (Thurgham's older sister)
"In one word, it's nice. There are many historical and tourist sites. I like it how some places are quiet, you can just sit, wish and dream. I see Erbil today similar to Baghdad back in the days. The language is definitely an issue, because many Kurds in particular the younger ones don't speak Arabic. [She laughs] Even without the language we can communicate, and that's what's great about the people here. Compared to where I come from girls are much freer here, and also the infrastructure is unbelievable. My favorite place in Erbil is definitely Aqua Park, it has everything from the pools to bowling and ice skating. But this doesn't mean the other places aren't just as nice and enjoyable."
As Shayma spoke, I couldn't focus on her words, as much as I tried to write and at the same time peak from under my eyes at a group of the Arab youth who were in Kurdish clothes trying to learn Halparke (Kurdish dance) and singing "Nergis Nergis Nergis."

The Halparke
 Rend Ayad, Medical Student in Baghdad,
"Before in Baghdad we had Kurdish friends, so I am not surprised of their hospitality, every time I visit I look forward to keep in touch with the new friends I make here. The many people that I have seen were hard working and successful, they are ambitious. For the first time ever I went ice-skating, on a teleferique and for the first time in my life I went to a football match (the one between Iraq and Yemen) you don't dare as a girl to go in Baghdad. I am not saying it was totally okay here, there were people who looked at me strangely, but at least I went. Here it is okay for a group of girls to go out together, whereas back in Baghdad if you do go, you need a man to take you, then pick you up and maybe stay there to watch over you as well."

A puppets made by participants, talking about two Iraqis from the south visiting Kurdistan, this particular story discussed the abuse against young women in the South
A'la Hashim, From Thiqar, first time to visit Erbil
A'la was the quiet one in the training. The person who wouldn't speak, but when approaching him over a cake and chay with another group of youth, I was interested in what he might say. Surprisingly, the quiet young man in the training, spoke on and on about  his first visit to Erbil.
"I won't even talk about the buildings and infrastructure in Erbil, I am shocked, and it is beyond what I can say. I never imagined it lto be ike this. There are two things that stood out to me: The people are very nice ,I am not complementing ,and secondly, it is very much forward in everything from education to lifestyle. The girls and boys in Erbil, the ones that we mixed with in this training are culturally awake; there is a difference in the way that they are educated.
"It is very (exaggerates the long 'ooooo' in the word: Kolesh in Arabic, meaning very) expensive here. A pizza can cost up to 30 000 (Iraqi Dinars) and the petrol, no way, where we are it doesn't exceed 500 (Iraqi Dinars)."
A'la realizes my interest in the culture and day of life where he comes from, so I am going to use that as a separate story in an article I will write about what he had to say. I won't give it out here! Sorry! I was right, the quiet and rather shy young boy, had a story to tell, and I am just glad I managed to get it out from him.  
*I must point out the youth in the training were handpicked, nominated individuals who are leaders in their own way. These are volunteers and peace advocates. However, I am sure after their return; they will spread the word to their families and friends about their experience in Kurdistan.
**Ramazantan Pirozbet – Happy Ramadan!