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).