Monday, December 31, 2012

Erbil is Joyful - 2013 Welcome!

Dearest, most loyal Blog Follower,

I couldn't let this day go without making a quick entrance. My last blog for this year.. How amazing and beautiful it is to celebrate New Year in Erbil. I only had a chance to take a quick drive around Erbil last night to witness just how joyful the city and its people are. I came back and stole some pictures that my friends had posted on Facebook to give you a little insight. 

At night there is no place to park your car in the heart of Erbil, near the Qalat
The city is smiling, it is vibrant, it is joyful, it is sparkling with color and all you have to do is take your car for a drive or go for a walk by the qalat (citadel), in the malls or visit Iskan to realize that it is a festive reason.
Kurdistan decorated for Christmas and New Year. Pic by H.S.
Young people are celebrating this year more than the past six years I have been year. It seems like year after year the Christmas and New Year spirit is becoming more vibrant. The biggest Christmas tree was put up in Ankawa, advertisements for parties and concerts are everywhere. Most of them are clearly labeled they are family events, which encourage women and men to take part together. Although don't be surprised to hear elderly people complain that the years are passing so quickly and they're getting older. 

Babylon Christmas & New Year festival, Pic by S.E
One of the most traditional ways to celebrate New Year is for the relatives and close friends to all gather in one house and stay up till midnight. Otherwise people walk on the main streets and take part in mass celebrations, usually Fire Works light the sky as the clock strikes 12. Oh yes! And how can I forget the text messages. It is one of those days of the year where you feel special that everyone is remembering you. Basically what you do, you forward the best text you have about New Year to all your contacts! (Just make sure it doesn't include names)

Ainkawa entrance (Your neck needs some exercise. Rotating a picture is a PROBLEM)
While you're out make sure you have a warm Shelm sold on the streets everywhere!
I have got to go. It is a big day today. We're taking the kids at the orphanage to Family Fun. I promise to blog about it next year. 
Entrance to Minaret Park in Erbil

Almost every corner is decorated.
From and the best city in the world I wish you a year full of happiness and success. A year where you will work hard to achieve all that you want to achieve, beyond all I wish you good health. For 2013: Believe. Dream. Achieve.

Until next year xwa hafiz

Pictures taken from Facebook pages of Huda, Suhaib & Ruwayda - thanks. One was taken by me, I am sure you can guess which one! :) 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Be the change you want to see in Kurdistan

To the most loyal blog reader in the world, I write this entry after a long, tiring day. Yet when I return to my room at home I feel great even though the things I saw during the course of the day were enough to give me immediate grey hairs.^

I turn 23 next month, and what a great way to finish 22 years of my life by empowering young people in high schools across Erbil. I can't think of a greater gift to give myself than spending my final weeks of 22 doing something I am so passionate about with people who I love and believe in so much.* I see a gap, a huge gap and here I am with a team of the greatest people I have ever met trying to fill  this gap in our youth today. We are empowering young people. 

Today the mission was an all girls school. This was not with the greatest building and certainly did not have the best facilities. If you compare it to the west this is poor standards, but compared to the context of where I am, this is probably an above average high school. It is evident there are attempts to make this place student friendly- with illustrations on the walls in the inside. If you ask me, both schools I went to today I would rather call them prisons but you're lucky not long ago I visited a different school in Erbil where the facilities were just WOW, and no, it was not a private one. If I hadn't seen that I would probably bombard your mind about the horrible conditions of our schools here, but I know it is a work in process. Annnyyyy wayyyyyy.....!! On the bright side of things...

There I am, standing with girls around 16 to 18 years old, this time the focus is on violence against woman. "Oh God, not that again!!" That's what you were thinking, right?

When the two-hour session was over they would stay behind and talk, ask questions and I can see within them the eagerness to grow, to become something. They tell me they want to be lawyers, teachers and one even said she dreamed of becoming a police woman!

These girls argued that they stand against polygamy. These same girls speak passionately and wholeheartedly about the confrontations they face in society about shamefulness and the obstacles in their life; and they are still firm believers that the stereotypical roles of men and women no longer exist.

When asked to undertake role plays, they seem to be actresses. When debating topics about sexual harassment, rights, privileges and society some of them speak like lawyers and human rights activists. These girls are passionate and can be leaders, change makers, and if educated correctly with complete confidence I can say Kurdistan will be in a great hands. But. There is always a but.
I know and I realize, like so many others that I have seen, these girls are not getting the chances, and opportunities they need. They lack an environment that supports them to think outside the box, to believe in their dreams, and to have hope. If you ask me, if we don't work with these minds now then believe me we will lose another generation of youth, who in a matter of years will  have children of their own raised with a mindset that is not going progress this nation.

I promise them a one week of empowerment workshop in their summer break. Only because I believe these girls have within them talent, skills and thought to shape Kurdistan and shake the world. But we must begin working on them now… before it is too late. You see, here you can't just stay back after school for extracurricular activities, you can't ask the principle to provide you with the class on a weekend. But with their determination, and our commitment we will make it happen.

I have so many wishes and so many ideas, but there is only a handful that I can do. We are now working on this idea of peer education across Kurdistan, starting from Erbil, I have this vision of creating youth leaders and role models in every high school in the province. It is going to be happen. I know it will. Together, we will make it happen!

As for school number two. I decided to leave that for tomorrow, but the picture of my hand below might give you a hint.

 Keep smiling until I write again tomorrow and please remember: Be the change you want to see in Kurdistan

^The reason? Staff. School staff. No more comments.
*23 is going to be a turn in the road career wise. You need to stay tuned on tasbih-cha to know more about this. 
All pictures taken here are property of START NGO

Friday, November 2, 2012

Live from Erbil- Lets go to Tayrawa!!

The greatest, most Loyal Blog Reader in the entire universe!!

Now, don't you just feel special being my guest in this blog today?
A butcher in Tayrawa - Erbil (Hawler)

OK. So, what have I been up to lately? Oh God where do I start. I want that perfect Jli Kurdi* so I asked good friend DS to help me find the rightt material, because she just happens to always wear the most beautiful Kurdish dresses, even at home.

I knew it was going to be a great day out when she told me in this super excited voice "hmmm you want material for Jli Kurdi? Then lets go to  Tayrawa!"  And that's how the afternoon began- at Tayrawa. I dressed more modestly than I usually do (something longer on my jeans and nothing with short sleeves) only because Tayrawa is different  to other shopping areas in Erbil- I realized DS and her sister had also thought the same.
In search for material for Kurdish clothes in Tayrawa
Anyway. DS is just as crazy about being in Kurdistan--no wonder she's my friend--and she loves all these places in Erbil that still have the traditional feel to it. We went around looking for material for Kurdish clothes, though we didn't find what we were looking for, but I had the time of my life. You would walk the main street (which is so busy and hectic with all the cars- OH YES THERE IS NO PARKING!!!) pass all the shops and you smell torshiyat*, then walk a bit more and its the smell of meat--not that I like it, but it gives a very different feel to the whole shopping experience-- then there are the people who are very different to the individuals you might see sitting in a coffee shop in Family Mall or at Costa[RICCCA].
Finding a car park is the worse problem you can face in Tayrawa.
 This area is usually cheaper than other shopping places around Erbil and also things like fruit and vegetables are fresh. The local market has a proper Kurdish feel to it. No it is not perfectly clean, nor is it the best experience for a girl in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt but if you can blend it it is better than any Family Mall experience. Basically, the three of us would walk and our conversations were like this:

DS: (Breathes in deeply) Saz I love it here. Can you smell the turshi?
SM: aaaaah yes, Turshi (huge smile and taking in deep breaths) Is that a Gucci hand bag (pointing to a little shop)
DS: ((Breathes in deeply, thinking I love it here) Yes, for 15 hazar dinar! Look at the food
SM: Kche I love it dirty, unhygienic gaas. Lets have ice cream!!!
Gaas sandwich restaurant in Tayrawa
Aaah. Yes!!  The ice cream!!! Usually I would either have a falafl or a gaas sandwich with everything in it including onions, tomatoes, pickles and what ever else there is but since our stomachs were not screaming for food there was a great alternative. Now, this is not the healthiest milk ice cream you have had in your life, but the taste is so unique to three places: Iskan, Tayrawa and the shops surrounding the outside of the qaysari bazaar near the citadel.
Just ask for mushakal (mixture of all) though I love the green the most!!! YUM!


 Somethings in Erbil are best the traditional way. Somethings I just don't want them to change. Somethings must and need to stay as they are. No matter how much we progress and develop, no matter how many fancy buildings and malls we have there is no place like Tayrawa. With all its shortcomings it gives a true insight to the lives of many Kurdish families in Erbil.

A lady who just bought fresh samoon from the nanawa (bakery) for her family.

As we began to leave just before sunset this lady got my attention. Like many others, she had left home to walk to the local bakery and get bread for dinner. I am sure she had cooked a meal at home already. I have so much respect for these women.

Next time you're in Erbil try to leave the malls for a while and give Tayrawa a chance. You won't regret it.

Until next time

* Jli Kurdi is the Kurdish word for the traditional Kurdish clothes. Turshi is closest to the English word Pickles though I don't know if it is exactly the same or not.
All pictures were taken by either me or DS from my BlackBerry only and exclusively for this blog. I promise to improve my photographs! Special thanks for DS for leaving her son and spending the afternoon with me (DY too).

Monday, October 29, 2012

LIVE FROM ERBIL- At the marathon

To the most loyal blog follower in the world- Hellloooo!!!
am katat bash!!!!! 
Okay okay, I admit this blog comes a tiny winy little bit late (as in almost two weeks late!) but look at the bright side, at least I am writing about it. I actually ran (more like 'walked' wink* wink*) a marathon.
Ready. Set. Go.
So.  I went online and wrote my name for the Erbil International Marathon and started filling in the girls' inboxes asking them to take part as well. Initially I was all for the 10 km run for the second Erbil International Marathon. All good, right?
Little CUTE boy with his father at the Erbil International Marathon for peace

Then good old friend, NQ, (if you're a Loyal Blog Follower you'd know exactly who she is) decides to go pick up our shirts and bags, while she's there she changes my 10 km run into 2 km. She knows her friend Saz will faint after 100 meters. So, here I am making a big deal of the marathon and ended up not evening running but walking for 2 km with little toddlers and primary school kids. But I had the time of my life.
The CUTE little boy taking a rest at every bench he saw!

A run for peace on a Friday or a Saturday morning is very new here, for over a few thousand people to turn up was just amazing. There were uni girls with their mums, friends, and many fathers and sons. The atmosphere I must admit was amazing.
After the finish line.
 Once through the finish line--so proud we made it to the end-- the 10 km runners came. We didn't end up staying for the arrival of the 42 km runners but I could see people coming through the finish with all different backgrounds; Africans, Americans, British, Canadian, Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, everyone! All colours and nationalities. It was a proud moment even though I wished for it to be more organized but I couldn't have asked for a better morning.

Somewhere over the rainbow....  What a finish to the marathon in Park Sami Abdul Rahman
The experience was very different, we need many such events in Erbil and other cities to enjoy ourselves, and get together a community. I was even happier to see important figures, politicians, celebrities and famous faces in their tracksuits or shorts taking part in the run. Step by step change comes to a society.

NQ and I trying to find a shortcut exist on this complicated map, me+maps= :(
Me after the marathon. Felt very proud.
and what do Kurds have after running a marathon? Yaprax (dolma!!!!!) Aaaah! Love mum.

p.s. I have dared myself to actually run the 10 km one next year. I have started going to the gym few days a week. That marathon was a true wake up call. My family have all agreed to take part next year!

All pictures taken by me and good friend NQ by my BB purely for the purpose of this blog!! Yes, yes, yes, I am slowly progressing with all this technology thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

LIVE FROM ERBIL: BIG DREAMS but step by step

Hellloooooo from Hawler!!

My dearest, most Loyal Reader.. When I am quiet for a bit you know something great is taking place!

There is always something exciting happening in my life here! This week my day has begun at 7:45 every morning until 5:30 pm, it is work but it never feels like work to me.

During one of our Y-Peer activities on day
At the moment I am working on a dream project, the idea is to train young people to go and hold peer education sessions to youth in high schools, colleges and youth centers. Something that has never taken place in Kurdistan before! Hence, it is the youth who are learning from other youth. Yup! Very new right?!
Never be reluctant to try something different
 My previous experience of giving a peer education session (I blogged about it here) inspired me to prepare many other youth to do the same. Soon a number of my close friends became involved, they took part in various workshops and slowly began holding sessions for other youth, the initiative grew and now with START NGO and UNFPA we are making it happen.
and it is show time! A role play activity with much benefit
 The group that I have been working with in the last four days are great in so many ways. I am already feeling emotional knowing that tomorrow work with this group will end, although I feel and know that we have planted in them a seed for the future. I know I will see them in great places doing great differences in the days, months and years to come. Tonight, I must admit I am very proud of myself and the team that I work with.Through interactive games and activities we manage to build a friendly atmosphere that the youth can learn a lot from.

Groups discuss their conclusions
During the breaks they often refuse to go out, instead we sit on the floor and sing. Few of the participants have great voices; one of the girls in particular has a voice that can produce a world's best seller album. We manage to write little compliments to each other and place it in the paper male boxes we have created, we play energizers when we feel we can't take in the raw information anymore and we share our stories and experiences. At the same time we are learning and studying, in a fun, youth friendly way. 
Group work!
 I can sit down and blog about each of the participants, about their personalities, their life and everything that I see in them. Here we are, 32 young people (17 in my group) have been waking up 7 every morning and going home at 5:30 just to be able to gain the knowledge and the technique so that they can voluntarily go and change other young people's lives. Now this is dedication. This is the type of young people that I love to surround myself with.

Sharing some laughs!!! :)
 We are training this group of youth to be peer educators specializing in family relations. So after 40 hours of training this group will get their certificates from the UNFPA and will then start going off in groups of two or three and start holding sessions for youth all over Erbil. 
Somethings in life are priceless, like this smile!
The greatest thing about this project is that often young people get a chance to talk and express; to speak of their thoughts and express their emotions. I often get a true insight into their lives, their confrontations, challenges and also their plans for the future.
Know this face well, she's Kurdistan's future leader!

This is Kurdistan, and this is the Erbil that I live in today!!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

LIVE FROM ERBIL: Cha with maam Khalil

Helloooo Helllooooo Helllooooooo!!!!
Yes! Yes! Yes! Back in Kurdistan. And how lucky are you my dearest Loyal Reader because once again you'll be part of the journey! EXCITING!!!!

Maam (uncle) Khalil and I in one of the best days in my life
When my friend NQ says "I am taking you out" I know ahead of time it is going to be a day that I will never forget. This time was no different. What a day it was!!

We were walking through the maze of the Qaysari Bazaar in Erbil, the sweetest NQ in the world finally said "we are here!" I looked up and there it was the little tea shop, small in size but greater than anything in the world in its significance.

Maam Khalil serving tea. According to him he has the best job in the world
We are two young girls, entering a chay khaana* in Erbil and it actually feels very normal. Outside there is a man playing on the saz and singing, with few others sitting with their tasbih and cha** talking, I am guessing it is about life, politics and everything in between. I must admit they look very intellectual and friendly.

Music and singing outside the chay khaana - tea house in Erbil, Kurdistan
Inside I am amazed. This is not a chay khaana I think to myself, it is a museum. The walls have every single picture you can think of including Hitler, the ceiling is still as it was a hundred years ago, no renovations, no demolishing and renewing!
NQ looking at some of the pictures on the walls of the tea shop
Maam Khalil, the owner, who has worked  here since his childhood looks like the happiest man in the world. He moves around quickly serving tea- often three or four at once. I look at him and realize that serving tea is an art of its own. I feel like sitting next to the biggest celebrity in the world when he decides to come and sit next to me, NQ and little Nama. We talk briefly, after few minutes it feels like we know him all our life. Just like any celebrity he is in a rush to serve the next set of tea.

The outside of Maam Khalil's chay Khana in Erbil's Qaysari Bazaar.
(Yup still can't rotate!)
The hospitality in this chay Khaana is beyond any service you would get in any five star restaurant in the world. I love it. I tell NQ I wish I could bring my laptop here and write my articles, and my research papers. But I know too well though I feel very comfortable right now, somehow the idea is just a little too extreme.
I prefer for somethings in Kurdistan to never develop or modernize.
The greatest things are the simplest.
The happiness I felt earlier today was probably one of my happiest moments since my arrival in Erbil in 2006. It is not just the atmosphere here but the more I learn about maam Khalil, about his stories and about the chay khaana itself, the more respect I have for this man. Although I am also upset, there is a feeling of disappointment within me. Our modern day youth go and sit in coffee shops with hookah or in Costa[Ricca] socializing. I wish it could be done in places like this, in a chay khaana that is also a museum, that has culture, that has a unique atmosphere to it, and is fileld with history and is owned by a person who in his own way a role model. A man who loves his job, a man who is a role model in many ways. An elderly man who in his Kurdish clothes stands tall and strong, who insists you don't pay the 250 dinars for the greatest tea in the world!!
This says it all. One of the pictures on the wall. This, my most Loyal Reader is LOVE
My dream: One day, when I have made enough money to open a chay khaana like this one, I want to make it so that every girl can come and enjoy a special atmosphere that inspires her to write, to draw, and do everything she likes to do. I want it just like this, I want the walls to be covered with inspirational pictures, pieces of art, writing and for it to be affordable for the least privileged as well. I will make it happen, one day.

Meanwhile if you step foot in Erbil and don't visit maam Khalil's chay khaana then sorry to say you are no longer my Loyal Reader!!!! :)

I just don't want to leave. I can come here everyday.
All pictures taken by either me or N. Qaradaxi

*Kurdish word for tea shop
*Tasbih refers to rosary beads and cha is the Kurdish word for tea

This entry was written a while back, but I just had not posted it. So I thought this is the right time as I have just returned to Erbil again. And yes NQ is the best!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Changing people’s lives 3,037 miles away


 Ruwayda Mustafa & Sazan M. Mandalawi

Dear Reader,

You might be surprised that this post is not by Sazan Mandalawi. Those who regularly follow this blog are all aware that guest bloggers often make an appearance on this blog.

Today Sazan and myself went out in Euston, listened to Jazz music and enjoyed delicious Italian coffee (Not quite as good as Ahmadi chai, which Sazan relishes, but it was close enough).

I’ve known Sazan for a while. I knew her before she found out I, Ruwayda, on the other side of earth, approximately 3,037 miles away (according to Google Map) from Hewler follow her blog. 

I didn’t start out as a Kurdish blogger. I read Sazan’s blog, and it was intriguing to see someone blog from Kurdistan about Kurdish things - not political but simply cultural. It made me happy and excited that someone would take interest in my culture, and that other Kurdish people similar to me exist!

You see, we don’t have many Kurdish bloggers who consistently blog on Kurdish related things. In the past three years we have seen a great number of new bloggers, marking their spot online and on social networking sites. It thrills me to see new Kurdish bloggers. We are a growing active online community.

Who imagined this 10 years ago, I didn’t (perhaps I couldn’t because I was 12 years old and Twitter didn’t exist). 

Blogging about Kurdish culture and society changes the lives of many people and those who blog often don’t know the impact of what they write. As a blogger you have an independent voice, a secure platform, and (to some extent) anonymity to write freely. 

Here’s a little gem for those who haven’t seen it. Sazan started blogging on 8 September 2008. She started her first blogpost with lyrics to Delta Goodrem’s song ‘Born to try’. 

Be a Kurdish Blogger, change the world!

Sazan: Thank you Ruwayda. One of the success of this blog is that I have been able to get in touch with so many young people with much motivation, energy and inspiration! I still remember our initial email exchanges they started with 'salam' and ended with 'regards' now they start with 'kcheeee' and end with 'btkozhm' .....