Monday, June 18, 2012

Live from Erbil- from Ruwayda & Sazan!

Co-written blog*

My dearest blog reader in the whole entire world! If only you knew how much I love you. Who said a blog is all about one person, here is this for a change. An entry written by two people, me and Ruwayda, about a little encounter. My dear loyal blog reader.... please sit back, relax, get a cha and read away!
Sazan: When Ruwayda is in town you don't take her to the malls or the fancy restaurants. So we set away to the elderly people's home in Erbil.
Ruwayda: Sazan is the heart of Kurdistan for me. Without her Hewler is empty, she knows the fancy places and the not-so-fancy places. I'm familiar with malls and shopping centres; I come from Europe so I don't derive much joy from shopping centres.
Sazan: adiii kwww, I am your mastaw!
I knew Ruwayda won't have a problem with the venue, she is so accepting of people but the timing was my concern, her excuse is always "Saaaza akher zor garma!" (it is so hot) so I can't believe this time she agrees on the time, she's so precious and sensitive to the warm weather. But on a hot day, under the Erbil sunshine we set away. I win.
Ruwayda: Hewler is extremely hot. My skin is unfortunately sensitive. I have a tan on my face, hands and feet. It doesn't look good and I need to drink water constantly. Sazan always wants to go out during the afternoon which is extremely warm.
Sazan: She's being a chocolate. She looks perfectly fine!

Ruwayda: Well it is hot.

Sazan: Well it is summer! Anyyywaaaayy, we arrive and walk in peeking into the individual rooms until we find someone who is not too welcoming at first.
Ruwayda: We were not let in at first. The person in charge of the place wanted to see our identification and asked why we're meeting the elderly people. I didn't think you'd need a reason to visit them, and despite our justifications it was no use until Sazan made a call and we were finally let in.
Sazan: The call was for another staff member who knows me well and has seen me there many times before. At least we can get in. I was excited, finally "Ruwayda! Come see my Kurdish grandma." I almost yelled excitedly.  
Ruwayda: I met Sazan's grand-mama, a 70-year-old sweetheart who recently got married. She was in love for three years. If you are an unaware reader, this isn't Sazan's real grand-mama. Sazan has visited this elderly house for the past three to four years and throughout this time she has become friends with everyone there.
Sazan: Everyone, but this one called Pura Gulizar is just a bit special.
As soon as we enter Ruwayda says it smells like urine. No. it smells like anti-bacterial chemicals, reminds me of the smell of hospitals.
Ruwayda: The smell of urine, yes you read it correctly, was overwhelming. It wasn't just anti-bacterial chemicals; there was a clear and distinctive smell of urine in all of the bedroom halls. There are two main bedroom halls at the care house and each hall has about 8-12 beds.
Sazan: it’s not entirely clean I agree. But come on! See the bright side there is electricity, beds, ambulance etc…
Ruwayda: The place is full of flies. It stinks of urine. There is electricity but it is still warm. The fans don't help in cooling the place.  
Sazan: Smells like hospitals.
Ruwayda: Only if we agree hospitals smell like urine.
Sazan: whatever.
Ruwayda: Meh.
Sazan: Any howwwww...!!! It didn't take long for us to be surrounded by a group of sweet, elderly people, they are happy someone is here to talk to them. I watch Hassan sing and mimic Arabic news readers, he says something about Saddam’s attacks, he also mentions UN and Ghasa as well as he pretends to be a news reader. I forget where I am and what I am doing as I watch Maam Hassan in his rattered clothes join our little circle. But I notice little Hamdia sitting on the ground talking.
Ruwayda: Hassan is an old man, and shows some signs of mental instability. He is known throughout the care house to be annoying, mostly because he enjoys singing and mimicking radio channels.
Sazan: Hamdia and Gulizar had a crush on the same man. I remember once Gulizar asked me to take in makeup for her.
Ruwayda: Gulizar enjoys Sazan's attention. She asked Sazan for make-up and tweezers so she can "beautify" herself for the new husband.
Sazan: for a second my mind goes to Hamdia but then comes back to Maam Hassan. I love his voice, he has energy, lots of energy. He doesn’t belong in this place. He is too much fun for some of the depressed, tired and ill people here.
Ruwayda: I think I agree on that.
Hamdia is known to come from a well-off family, and was once the daughter of a very well-respected family. She was put in care because there was no one to look after her. She gets frustrated easily. In a matter of seconds, you can hear her screaming and hurling insults.
Sazan: The women in Arabic calls out “Hassaaaaan, Hasssaaaan, oskot, kafi” (Hassan, be quiet, enough) I reply back “Laa Khali” (no leave him). The woman frustrates me; I think she is a nurse here.  I can tell she has had enough.
Ruwayda: I don't know why Hassan isn't allowed to sing. After all, this is his care home. He should be able to express himself freely. Sazan tells Hassan to continue singing, and that she wants him to sing every day for as long as he likes. During this time one of the carers came and flicked Hassan's nose telling him to be quiet. It was very embarrassing for Hassan and made us really angry. There is no respect for the elderly people here.
Sazan: He loves to sing and it makes him happy. Then let it be, nothing more beautiful than watching an elderly man with a nice voice singing a Hassan Zirak song. I ask Hassan about his past, I learn he was in the army and later sold things in the streets before falling in the elderly people’s home. He is not married.
Ruwayda: Hassan wants a phone so he can call his sweetheart. We laughed at this together for quite some time.
Sazan: Ruwayda, he wants a NOKIA mobile as a gift.  You really think he has a sweetheart?
Ruwayda: Haha! We will bring him a mobile phone! I bet next time he will ask us how to use it.
Sazan: I say you teach him how to use Twitter!!! Here I am sitting down and talking, I can hear Ruwayda next to me typing as fast as she can on her phone, I don’t know what she’s writing, but I know this is all new for her. I can tell she’s doing what I did four years ago, compare the situation of the elderly people’s home here and that in the west.
I am thinking in my mind, if only you knew how they lived before they moved to this place. This is much better than their previous home.
Ruwayda: This place is like a nightmare. It isn't what I'm used to. I think back to the care homes in London and how lovely they are with the beautiful scenery. At least the ones in Kingston are like this. In here the place stinks of urine and horrible scent of anti-bacterial chemicals. It is like a horrible nightmare and whenever I look at each elderly person here I feel sorry for them. They all sit separately with no activities, and nothing to do. Some of them have no eye-sight, they just sit and smoke cigarettes.
It does not cost much to improve the quality of their lives, and to bring in carers that genuinely care about the person, respecting their dignity and privacy. I'm surprised that many people have not complained about the behaviour of carers. The mistreatment is evident, but there is little accountability.
Sazan: I have tried but there is no interest. Anyone you talk to gives you the impression that there are more important things to take care of in Kurdistan. I am glad my friends Ashna and Bewar come every now and then as well for a visit.
Pura Gulizar finally comes out the shower, her back hunched, she walks on the stick but still looks beautiful. Her face still a map of wrinkles, but through my eyes she is a beauty queen. She’s something us Kurds call ‘dl tar’ as old as she is, her heart and mind is like that of a young woman. We are friends.
I am embarrassed this time I haven’t brought her anything. She asks me immediately what I have brought. I tell her next week, she misses my cakes. She takes us to her little room where Maam Jabar (the new husband) is sitting down.
Ruwayda: Pura means aunt in Kurdish. Sazan brings the elderly people sugar-free cake, and they are all disappointed she came empty-handed, which is largely my fault because of the many places we are both scheduled to visit.
Sazan: Thanks for taking the responsibility, but still no excuse. I don't think they use me, but they like to feel special that someone has brought them something from 'outside' as simple as it maybe. They are very appreciative.
So what were you doing behind the door the whole time?
Sazan sitting by the door of Pura Gulizar's room. Picture taken by Ruwayda.
Ruwayda: Okay so I was a little nervous going to Gulizar's house (room). I stood behind the door and made note of what was being said and took a picture. Sazan seemed to know her much more and although I was welcomed by them all, I felt more comfortable being behind the door. Sort of like a 12-year-old not wanting to be caught, except my only crime was taking pictures without permission.
Sazan: The room is overcrowded and tiny, the television doesn’t work. There is a praying mat on the floor, a fridge, a cupboard and a double bed. No walking space, so Ruwayda put a chair by the door, I sat there and talk to the two lovers who are inside.
Ruwayda: The room didn't smell very nice. It is small, overcrowded with unnecessary equipment.
Sazan: Maam Jabar is so quiet and never says a word, but Gulizar tells me he wants to marry Hamdia. I can’t stop laughing, that’s when I hear Ruwayda let out a big giggle.
Ruwayda: Hamdia is about 80-years-old. She looks it too. She doesn't look bad for her age. The whole scenario is good for a film.
Sazan: If only I studied in directing school would have turned their life into a reality show.
We talk about life, about her pain, she is a little unhappy here but knowing pura Gulizar for the past few years she always has complaints so it is normal. She is a happy bride. I get big hugs and lot of kisses from her. My heart stings, she is here in this room all the time, she doesn’t go out and doesn’t take part in any activities… tears fill her greenish-grey eyes as she says she is lonely- I reassure I am her daughter.
Ruwayda: Gulizar is jealous whenever Sazan talks to someone else. She wants her undivided attention. She feels lonely and Sazan gives her hope that people do care about her.
Sazan: Before we leave an older woman sitting on a chair outside looks at me, lifts her hands and says something, I walk towards her she is eating a sandwich but says she’s thirsty. She tells me to get her water from Gulizar. I walk to Gulizar’s room and ask for water, Maam jabar reaches into the fridge, he has filled about 20 bottles, he looks for a cold one and without saying anything his shaky hands pass one to me. I walk back to the elder woman and pass her the water. She asks for a kiss. I kiss her head, she doesn’t let go of my hand, so I kiss her hand, then she says no let me kiss you. I let her.
Ruwayda: An elderly woman without any teeth sat in the shade near the tiny garden. She was having yoghurt with Naan and asked for water. She hugged and kissed Sazan for her generosity.
Sazan: I wasn’t disgusted, or appalled, neither was I feeling sick even though the site wasn’t all that pleasurable. Sometimes I wished this place was under my management, and my staff. I would make it a heaven for them.
Ruwayda: It brought tears to my eyes to see Sazan show such generosity to these people in care who have been forsaken by their own children. I think it was seeing Sazan kiss the elderly people and the little acts of kindness that brought joy to them that really swelled me up. These people have been neglected, and Sazan is their only hope. I hope more Kurdish people locally learn from her, and follow her spirit of activism and sefless volunteering.
Sazan: If Ruwayda visits a few more times she will get over this first time shock and will blend in more with the elderlies. I think she had too much to observe and take in for one time. But I am so proud of her, the elderlies fell in love with her politeness and gentle side. (Yes, Ruwayda is not violent and angry as she comes out to be in her writing and posts!)
Ruwayda: Thank you for making that clear.
 I have seen Sazan almost every day in the past two weeks. She is definitely my best friend in Hewler. She is a positive force here, and I have much to learn from her. I have been persuaded to come back permanently. I can imagine myself living here and making a positive impact socially.
Sazan: The fact that Ruwayda has decided to return and settle in Kurdistan makes me feel extremely proud. Despite the shortcomings that she has seen, agreeing to begin her life here means she agrees to all the confrontations but is willing to take on the challenge…. She is willing to give to society and dedicate her life and future to this nation.
Mission accomplished!
Ruwayds: So, where will you take me next?
Sazan: Wait and see my dear chocolate friend.

[Ruwayda had to go as she sets ten appointments every single day. So I was left to enjoy a falafl and mastaw on my own. Nothing like it to think of a long day full of emotions.]

Falafl and mastaw! nothing like it. Simple food, but I LOVE IT.

* Can't believe Ruwayda was sitting in our family room, and we wrote this entry together!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Live from Erbil - Qaysari

Dearest blog reader. You know I actually miss you when I am not writing to you.

If you my dear reader think that Erbil is all about big buildings, fancy shopping and coffee shops you are wrong, and you better not have that image of Erbil otherwise your loyal blogger will be dl shkaw (broken hearted) because lets face it, Erbil (or Hawler as I like to call it) is much richer than just the ordinary services that any western country can offer.
I promise I will take you on a trip to the modern side of Hawler that will make you feel like you're in Europe, but before I do that I want to show you the true and genuine side of Hawlerakam (my Hawler) this means the ancient qaysari bazaar right opposite the citadel. If you visit Erbil and do not come here then believe me I will be har zor toora (upset with you).
Qaysari bazaar - Erbil
The Qaysari bazaar is so confusing to walk in, it is not one of those places where there is a map and you know which shop is where. You basically follow your nose (because the aroma of everything is in the air, from sugar, spice and everything that is nice) and your sight (because there is so much colour and vibe). I love it here. Everything from clothing, shoes and food you can get. This is the true Erbil.

Still there are the hand made bit and pieces that people spend hours doing. I love the atmosphere in this part of the bazaar and I am so glad it is not in the wind of modernization, because this part of Erbil I want it to stay this way. As it is and as it was. I must point out the people are really kind and warm, although they do try to fool you when it comes to prices and quality of goods. for example bnishti Kurdi, which is natural chewing gum, they put so many on the table and if you are nice he will bring one out from under the table and tell you "take this, daraja yaka" (first class) you see almost everything in Krudistan from petrol to the gum we chew has different ranks, there is always the daraja yak and daraja do - which is equivalent to the first and second class of everything.

bnishti kurdi - Kurdish chewing gum. All natural (this is daraja do the good, pure ones are hiding under the table)
So, you shop, walk around and observe the beauty from the coloured textile and designs to the little Kurdish bits and pieces that really does remind you that you are still in Kurdistan. (One of my friends, NB, once told me "I am scared incase Erbi tries to develop so much that I won't be able to see the sky anymore) bakhwa (I swear) she is right. So here, you feel that you're in Kurdistan. And of course nothing is complete in Kurdistan without khwardn (FOOOOD!!!!).
Kabab Yasin
If you know me, and you know me well you would know me and meat are no good friends. In fact sometimes we can even be enemies. But the best kebab I have ever had was right here in Kabab Yasin with NB. What I love about this place is that you don't call and reserve a table for three. Nor do you have to use full etiquette.  You just go and sit down and eat. Sometimes if the chairs next to you are free (on the same table) some people will come and sit down too.
Food in Erbil's Qaysari Bazaar.
There isn't a menu, the man comes and lists few things that is available. You order and after exactly thirty one seconds the food is on your table (with mastaw or coke, but you MUST ask for mastaw. Trust me you won't regret it. Do me a favour and ask for two!!). The food is prepared live, right in front of you. The taste is spectacular. Kabab Yasin has two shops, the one at the front is for the single people - men! then one at the back is for families. The walls are decorated with pictures, both old and new, of Erbil. The general atmosphere reminds me of the beauties of life, the simple things.
My niw nafar (half person) kebab (KAbab). yes I ate the onions too!
You are there in Kabab Yasin to eat, to enjoy a meal. You aren't there to show off, to be picky with the food or be in your best clothing. Loved every single second- I must point out I had the greatest company with NB and little Nama! Please keep in mind that Kabab Yasin doesn't offer cha (tea), so you need to have your cha in one of the other chay xana's (in the blogs to come I will make sure to give you my recommendation!)
Hygien is no issue here. 
If you have a sweet tooth, the options are infinite, and the colours are surreal. Just take a walk in the little roads until you see then, then follow your taste buds to any sweet that may please  you. I recommend naana qaysi.
Naana qaysi
Colourful sweets in Erbil for the drooling taste buds
beads shop- yup they sells these little treasures too
still can't rotate! (I know, shame on me!) but this is Kurdish lifka

Monday, June 11, 2012

Live from Hawler!! Before and After :)

To my favorite blog reader in the world!!
Looking over Erbil.
If you know me well (I am sure after five years of reading my blog you would) you would know there is nothing in the world that makes me as happy as discovering Kurdistan. So, my friend Narin arranged an entire day for us to spend together around the citadel in Erbil - (Yes, I envy myself for such friends!). Any way, so me, Narin and 5-year-old Nama (Narin's niece) had the time of our life. They say a picture tells a thousand words, so I have put two pictures of me below and I will make no further comments. But know the pictures were taken in the same exact spot.
Erbil / Hawler - Citadel. Photo was taken by SI - March 2010
Erbil / Hawler- Citadel. Photo taken by NB - June 2012
I sat in the exact same place, and it seemed like yesterday when I was sitting there trying to imagine how it would look when all was finished. There is still a lot to be done, maybe in 2014  I will sit in the same place again. ... I love it. If it wasn't for the warm sun I would sit there and write the entire 20 000 words for my dissertation.
Must see RI now and I have an appointment to go to- will write later tonight. By the way- if you do come to Erbil you MUST (and there is NO EXCUSE) sit in the same place and take a photo :) for the sake of your loyal blogger! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Live from Hawler!!!

To the sweeeetest, most special, most loved, most loyal blog reader in the world,
I am home! Home sweet home! (I promise from this day forward I will be as loyal of a blogger as you are as a reader! that's a promise from me to you!!)

First thing is first. I land at Erbil International Airport with my heart skipping a million times a second. Those first steps out of the plane can never be explained by words, you only have to see me to realize that I am indeed the happiest girl in the world when I give my passport for an entrance stamp.
Erbil International Airport (EIA)
I will keep this entrance short, but will briefly give you a guide to my first three days.
Arrival: The sign: "Welcome to Kurdistan" at the airport took away all my travel stress, my eight- and- a half months of homesickness, and every other misery that I might have had.
Morning 1: I woke up to the sound of dad's kaws  in the front yard, I went and said good morning to them, most of them are new members to the family and of course I had to introduce myself and let them know that dad loved me way before their arrival.
One of the many Kaw we have....
Day 2: Falooda! I don't know the English word for this, it is not your normal ice cream, although if you love ice cream then you will love falooda too. The best one is sold close to Masif's main road, I didn't have to ask to turn left this time when we were on our way to Shaqlawa. The family knew how much I had missed the incredible taste- if you're ever in Masif you MUST, you SHOULD, you HAVE TO try the falooda! And while you're there remember (and du'a bka) your Loyal Blogger who has found you a new addiction for the next ten years!
I introduce to you falooda- the one in Masif is a must taste
So what is best after a good Falooda? A nice trip to Shaqlawa. The road was packed since it was a Friday, but no matter what time you go Shaqlawa has its own unique and special atmosphere. It puts you in a very different mood, I love visiting because for some reason I get a positive energy from everyone around me. I feel as though all those in Shaqlawa are there to enjoy their time and put aside their troubles and stress. It felt great to be there in the company of my family… I watched the scene, breathed in the air remembered all the times where I dreamed of exactly that. There were many days where I would sit in my room so far away from my family and my country, my eyes would get tearful as I wished to be with my little family over a mountain in Kurdistan, and I lived just that in the second day of my arrival.   
A hill top view of a section of Shaqlawa
The experience in Shaqlawa is always very interesting. You need to walk the main street and buy nana qaysi, you need to walk the little roads going up and down slopes picking Tw from trees. You need to live the entire experience by hand picking them one by one with friends and family members, bring it back home for a good wash then eat it one by one together (please do try this next time you're in Shaqlawa!)
Tw (or toot) freshly picked from the trees in Shaqlawa!
Today, a dear friend (a sister and a mum-to-be) took me to a nearby fast food place, couldn't believe in the little time I was away the flat, sandy land was now converted into two fast food restaurants (believe me with the rate of fast food restaurants opening Erbil soon half of of the population will suffer from obesity) - special thanks to my sweet friend JB (the mother of my niece, who will be born in September).
Gold n Brown as well as Dal's Burger on Gulan street in Erbil - newly open
And just before I publish this post I should also point out to you that Carrefour is actually finally open in Erbil's Family Mall. Impressive, but not much different Majidi Mall's City Centre - actually I prefer the later more, and to be honest Carrefour didn't meet my expectations. Then again that's just my opinion. I was expecting products the same as the chains in other countries, but this wasn't the case. Although I was still happy to see young couples shopping with their little baby sitting in the trolley (so sweet, right?!).



Keep in touch and sardanm bkan every once in a while. Now that I am back home I will keep you updated with everything, until you too decide to return and fly to  your nest in Kurdistan!
All pictures were taken by me, for all of you loyal readers. Although I would like to point out that there is now a major transformation from the Samsung pictures to BlackBerry. For your sake! :)