Monday, December 26, 2011

One small step for Erbil, one giant step for cultural progress: Coffee Shops!

Dearest reader,
Once again writing from Erbil, Kurdistan. Am katatan bash!!!
Two days ago I took you on my journey to mrishk shopping. Today was a totally different experience. While mrishk is not one of my favourite things, what I saw today is top ranking in that list-- with no doubt.

Family Mall still remains to be the biggest and the best there is in Erbil (though I still prefer the old bazaar over any modern building in this city). This is the place where you can buy a piece of jewelry at a price of a house and have the real designer of clothes, shoes and bags. It is also the place where you can be so "modern" and "catch up over a coffee".
Empire Cinemas in Erbil, Family Mall. One of the best 2012 things in Erbil to look out for
Basically a very modern shopping experience, running a little bit ahead of Majidi Mall at the moment, with Empire Cinemas waiting for its grand opening and Carrefour to open soon as well (expected to open tomorrow… but from what I saw today at least a week’s worth of work still remains).
Soon these doors will slide up and Carrefour will be open in Erbil- Family Mall
 My old love continues bigger and greater than before. That is, a love for antiques and folklore. Near the appliances and technology-related shops in Family Nall there is treasure to be discovered. Beautifully decorated and designed is the Daric shop. I won’t write much because some of the pictures I took will explain everything itself, but I truly felt like I was in wonder land.
Daric shop for persian carpets and home decoration - worth a visit
Massive in beauty—and in $$$ too—but the feeling you get being in these shops is superb and this is the first time I see this in Erbil’s Family Mall, probably opened after I left.
beautifully decorated shop....
they do house furniture as well
The owner was very helpful and explained to the magnificent Miss S.I. and I all about some of the pieces. Carpets were handmade, so were the wall display carpets –STUNNING— even the designs on the vases and little jewelry box (I think I tend to appreciate handmade goods so much because I feel they are made with so much love and passion. Or maybe it’s because my fingers can’t seem to be able to do anything more than holding a pen or typing on a keyboard. ). No let’s be serious. Whenever I see handmade pieces of anything I feel the person who spent hours/days or months putting it together.
A shop owner who really does believe in what he sells
S.I. learns about a beautifully handmade carpet, she's pleased!

handmade! S.I. fell in love with this one

S.M. (me!!) loved this one. Notice it is of a samawar - also handmade!!!!!
Today we walked past Robert’s Coffee, opening bam-zuwana (soon) in Family Mall my good old friend, Miss S.I. commentated on what she was seeing: “Can’t believe all the coffee shops in Erbil these days!” this really struck me, because I remember six years back there was not a single coffee shop where girls or woman could go to in entire Erbil.
Robert's Coffee at Family Mall Erbil bam-zuwana -coming soon!
Tut-tut-tut train ride around the mall J
Well let’s not exaggerate there was always the chay khana [tea shop] but believe me this is never a good idea for a female.
still had my chay in a pyala why do I suddenly enjoy tea when I'm back home is still a mystery
What is great about this place is that there are all sorts of people sitting in the coffee shops, I lost count of the ones there is in Family Mall, but they attract old men with their tasbeeh, younger boys with their iXXX (be that iPhone, iPod, and i-don’t-know-what), women with kids, families, groups of girls and boys, and it is very normal to see a two or more girls or women sitting together in one of these shops.

Notice the men, seems like a coffee-shop meeting
One step for Erbil, one giant step for cultural progress! These coffee shops inside the malls means more girls can leave the house without the family acting as a boundary. At the end of the day these malls are safe and it is socially accepted for girls to be there alone. While places like the bazaar can be very intimidating and uncomfortable for a group of girls to be seen there alone.

I also enjoy the fact that Christmas trees are up everywhere, and even the streets are decorated for both Christmas and New Year. As our Christian friends celebrated Christmas, we could also feel the festivity, which was great!

The Christmas Tree in Family Mall
The highlight of the day... when S.I. insisted to take a European but Made in Kurdistan baby from his father for a little "ooooysh Kubani she's so cute" session
Till I write again... Shaw bash from the greatest place in the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A diary from Erbil

World’s most loyal readers… Shaw Bash!

Week One, Part One*

How great it feels to be around family and relatives while writing a blog entry. Though I feel rude, aunty is talking to me and I am typing away, nodding every now and then.
For my non-Kurdish blog readers: Before I begin just let me check your knowledge and see how well you think you know Kurdistan. Here are two pictures, can you guess what the objects are used for? (No cheating, answers are at the end)
This is picture A

and this is picture B. Think hard, not as easy as you think.
With all that was taking place at our place this week, I (let me rephrase, THEY) wanted fresh chicken. And of course in a Kurdish family frozen Sadia chicken is not popular, so uncle suggested I visit him and he will take me on a little walk not too far away for great chicken (so proud Sazan can finally cook a meal... after 22 years) So... next morning I arrive at a place near Uncle’s (Maama E.M) and he is already there waiting for me. 

I love the feeling of being at a local market down the road or few blocks away. Walking by uncle's side he starts conversations with few elderly men, “Bayani Bash!” to this man, and “Sarchaw” to that man. I think this is his early morning walk and all the faces are familiar to him.

A shop owner... how I wished to sit and speak to this Maama
Okay okay. Here we go. Let me get to the point. So we arrive and uncle (in our Kalhuri Kurdish [khanaqini] dialect) assures me I am going to be fine as he reached to hold my hands tightly.
Half a second later I realize why he held my hand and said I would be fine. He knows very well that his niece is not interested in seeing chickens being killed. Simple as that.
A big “am katat bash” to an elderly Maama (word for uncle in Kurdish) sitting like a prestigious king on a plastic chair by his chicken shop and my uncle starts looking around.
I stand at a distance. Making a fool of myself watching young girls and women holding chickens by both their wings, looking at it closely, then returning it to the man. Then they’d point at another chicken.  They would do this a few times until finally they see one (or two, or three chickens … hmmm I think it all depends on the size of that manjal [pot] that will cook tonight’s dinner) they like.
This is the elderly Maama, I think owner of the shop

Notice the lady holding a chicken WITH ONE HAND
There are various options at this little corner shop. 1) you can take home the live chicken 2) you can get the chicken killed and take it home (basically a full chicken without a head) 3) you can get it cleaned out without the feathers and 4) there is the full option this is when they burn out some of the insides of the chicken… not sure what exactly it is, and I wasn’t exactly interested to see or know to be honest. Uncle describes the various alternatives, and I chose option three. No reasons for my request.
eh baxwa zor gunahn - feeling sorry for them :(
Those chickens looked so innocent. As my uncle made his selection, I called out “Na gunaha” from a distance hoping he’d give that particular chicken a few extra hours of life. The man on the plastic chair let out a big laugh. . .oh well. I tried.
We make our selection and due to the high demand and the crowd there, he says our chickens will be ready in 20 minutes. This is a live event and you can watch it all happen in front of you. I remain outside watching as chicken by chicken lose their lives one after the other. “This is genocide” I think to myself!!
He'll kill this one himself
I am just wondering if there are health checks on these chickens, if their conditions are being looked into, and whether or not they are being fed properly.
Last night as dinner was served I could somehow hear the sound of mrishk (chicken) flapping their wings rapidly in the stomachs of those around me. Of course I didn’t have a single piece.
It is nice to see the proper side of a city. Walking through the suburban street where there was groceries, food and men and women going on their daily lives gives a great insight to the true people of this city. Erbil is becoming a place where people can live completely different lives even though they are ten minutes far from each other. So the experience was great, the people were wonderful and according to VERY RELIABLE sources, the taste of the mrishk “ZOR XOSH BU” (it was basically delicious).
One of our mrishk ready. Alive one minute, dead another. Lo Loo Looo? (why why why?)
ANSWERS Picture A is of a geesk this is used as a mop to clean the verandah, and picture B... one hint: used in the shower. Guessed yet? this is actually a lifka used on the skin when taking a bath. Interesting right? 
*Let's actually hope there is going to be time to have a series of blogs as I have in mind. Because there are millions  of you out there interested in reading this. Note the lame sarcasim and DAYA: You reading is equivalent to millions!

All pictures of this entry taken by me, for the use for of this blog only. Loyal readers happily know that your blogger has progressed, pictures now taken by a BB ehem ehem!!  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back home....

Dear loyal reader, friend, family….
What a week it was.
I am writing from Erbil, I am writing from the heart of my Nest…
Feels soothing to type in the only place in the world I call home, from the second floor window I look outside, the curtains aside, bright sunlight coming through: Hawler looks beautiful.
Sound of trucks, and building in the morning hours. When I left the house opposite us was just bricks, right now it seems like I am looking at a castle as finishing touches are being put on.
I landed home to sad news… my uncle left this world less than two hours before I arrived which took away much of the happiness and excitement as I was given the news in the airport. I returned to a body in the middle of a living room and the sound of cries from the corner of the street. How would I have felt if I was told over Skype in my room in Nottingham, I wonder to myself. I was on time to kiss the body goodbye and touch it over the blanket. I am sure he felt my presence… I hope he did.
On the other hand my cousins Vian, Shirin, Haidar, Ali, and Dlshad were all given the news of their father’s death over the phone; each one in a different corner of the world, that is ghareebi* that we always refer to.  I know every day there are young people in Europe who receive phone calls from home giving them sad news… when you are far you feel helpless. When you are here at least you mourn together, support those most hurt and feel close.
I am writing at the desk where many of dad’s lines and pages have been written. This is my favourite room, and now I know why my father spends hours here every day.
While he is still away at the funeral, I take the chance to breathe in the air in this room; everything in here reminds me of how grateful I am to be back home. The statues, the books, paintings, and the Kurdish carpets, lantern and everything that’s old and tattered … I AM HOME. Since I have left there are pictures of me placed in every room including the fridge in the kitchen, this one on dad’s desk is of me around 3 years old playing on a slide, there are few lines written at the back of the picture, but it’s a pity dad’s calligraphic handwriting is illegible to me.
Usually with all this noise outside I could never write or study, today the noise of builders and trucks doesn’t bother me, it is music to my ears.
I haven’t had a chance to leave home yet… but be sure dear loyal reader, I will make you part of this journey back home. Day by day….

*I once wrote my column in the Globe about this:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

21 going on 22

To my favourite readers in the world.... 
Earlier this week... by the university lake before one of my classes

It’s one of those nights where you can hear the wind whistle, and the rain hit against your window. Looking outside, the rain drops look like shiny dots, glittering with the light of the lamp inside. If it weren’t for the smoke alarm a small scented candle right now would complete the atmosphere. I can never sleep after a strong rain at night, I feel it's too precious of an atmosphere to leave behind and go to bed.*
December 1. I just realized as I looked at the time at the bottom of the laptop screen. In five days I turn 22. I remember when I was a child and even in my teenage years, I always looked forward to be 21. Always wondered how it would be, where I would be. Something inside me said to me it's going to be a big year in my life, I often wished my life would pause at 21.  As a little girl and a teenager living in my own imagination, 21 just seemed like that perfect age. Now… 21 is almost over.
Well. The first thing is that to end 21 years of my life I must mention this year will be the first time ever that my mother won't wake me up on the morning of December 6 and have me on her lap as she retells my story – that is, my story through her eyes – this year will also be the first time that dad won't kiss my forehead. Year after year, he'd do the same, but every time he would wish me something new for that year. And every time it came true. This year, for the first time, Mivan won't stand next to me comparing his height compared to mine, "So who is older again?" he would tease.
21 was one of the toughest years of my life, the year that I learned the most in, the year that I learned about myself, the year that I discovered myself. 21 was me in transition stage. At points I wondered if my dreams were shattered, at other times I witnessed as my dreams in front of my eyes became reality. At some points I lived my worst nightmares and at other moments I reached my goals and lived my dreams.
At 21, the book "My Nest in Kurdistan" was published at a time where everything else seemed to be going like a rollercoaster. My postgraduate studies initially didn't go according to plan (lots of tears then) at some points I worked two different shifts- one at the university and another at the NGO, and I did the newspaper work once a week. A handful for a 21-year-old.
During the past year I actually learned to cook a proper meal, I discovered what it is that I like and what I want for myself out of this life, and I learned more about myself.

In every place I go I find somewhere to connect to, in the UK, this place happens to be my favourite
At 21, For the first time I waved to my mother good bye at the airport and we walked in opposite directions, at 21 I held dad's shaky hands and assured him his little girl had grown up, at 21 Mivan (my one and only brother) and I parted for the first time. And it was at 21 that the bedtime stories dad would say to me since I was young became reality. "And the little girl flew out of her Nest" this is literally what happened to me at 21. I flew out of the Nest… alone!
The story continues… the little girl grew up, she finally learned how to fly (considering she fell so many times) and realized life moves on and won't freeze at 21.
Ever since I can remember, I have been the short (excuse me! It's: petit) little girl. I am sometimes still mistaken for a 14 year-old and get asked what year I am in at school. Age my dear reader is just a number. Or is it?
I still find my ultimate inner happiness either at Mali Xanda, with Pla Gulizard or walking outside after the rain has just stopped (and if mum didn't mind walk under it). I still want to do a million things at the same time; I still have so many plans in mind, still the pen and notepad are my closest friends, still I enjoy long walks in nature where my imagination flows beyond the depth of the sky above. Finally, I still love this place more than anything else in this world:

Erbil from above: picture taken from here
Someone earlier this week asked me what I wanted for my birthday. "Nothing" I replied. 21 made me realize that the things that I like, the things that make me entirely happy from inside out are felt it can't be seen, touched or purchased.
21 is over.

What does it mean to be 21 and a Kurdish girl. No, it doesn't always mean we are victims of honor killing and self burns, it doesn’t mean we are in the kitchen all the time cooking meals, nor does it mean that we suffer from domestic violence. These issues all exist, and we are all working to the best of out ability to fight this. But Kurdish girls today are growing, developing and are more ambitious than ever before.
Right now, as I write this, in the accommodation I am in there are over 12 Kurdish girls here alone, all studying, wishing to finish their degrees to go back and follow their dreams. Each one of them has a unique personality, a different way of thinking, and each has within her the capability to do what is otherwise the impossible.  
p.s. I was actually going to blog properly and even set aside pictures... but I got too carried away with something entirely out of context. Will make sure to post what I had in mind in the days to come.
*did you guess? Of course such an atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without the voice of Karim Kaban.