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."
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."
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!