Saturday, February 9, 2013

The great Kurdish Girl- Meet Jwan!!

Dearest, most loyal blog follower in the entire world,


Jwan Jabar (Jwan Barzanji) OR JJ
I always go on about how many great people there are, and sometimes I try to introduce you to some of them. Today I spent most of my day with someone who is not only an inspiration, a super girl, a role model but one of the greatest Kurdish girls I know.

Jwan (JJ or Jooja) is the 24-year-old Kurdish girl who texts a Mulla at the mosque half an hour before his Friday talk to remind him that he needs to talk on a particular issue. And he actually listens to her. 

She is the type who can be seen in women's prisons, and shelters as well as villages and courts. When you hear anything to do with violence again women, oppression, poverty or any woman suffering, then you know it is Jwan who you call.  I mean who else would you contact?

She was brought up in a family of 9 children, and just happens to be the eldest. Gosh does she have a lot  of stories to tell. Not just any story, but stories that make you laugh and cry at the same time. The type of stories that you want to hear. Always. All the time. 

Anyhowwwww... Let me get to the point. With all that life has to bring to a Kurdish girl, who has not been brought up abroad and was born, and educated in an average family going through inflation, oppression and civil war, today Jwan, in my opinion, is a 24-year-old super woman! Who changes not one life, but many lives on a daily bases. 

Her job? She works at a women's empowerment NGO in Erbil. Don't ask what she does. Please. Because there is nothing this girl can't do or won't do. 

What I love about her the most is that she has a purpose in life. She has a love for life. She knows what she wants, she has her priorities set high and more importantly, Jwan lives her life to give meaning and hope to the lives of other people.  

Above all this, she is always happy, optimistic, energetic, lovable and sweeter than sugar! And a great cook. 

You would think such a girl with so much talent, energy and great skills would dream of being someone great and well-known. But no. Her simple dream is to own a kebab khana and just continue what she does. But I can tell you one thing, this girl is like a magic wand to any woman in pain in this society, and I am just glad that my path and her path have crossed and I can proudly call her my friend! 

You can contact Jwan on her Facebook, here. I am trying to get her to start a blog soon, and be sure Jwan will have a book published before the end of this year about her experiences working with vulnerable women. 

Until next time khwa hafeez!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

HELP! I am moving to Erbil


Hellooooo Loyal Follower,

I often receive emails of people abroad asking questions about their permanent returns to Kurdistan. Now, let me just say one thing, from all the exclamation and question marks in their email I can tell they're stressed, and they probably haven't slept all night -- all week. Here I am answering a few questions of three different people who have emailed in the last few weeks:

Where is the best place to rent a house?  

This seems to be everyone's major concern. Two of three emails asked the exact same question. Look, it all depends on your budget. Unlike many others places (UK in particular) generally the houses here are quiet large (ranging from 100-450 square meters) in the newer suburbs they usually have 3 story houses. So, to ease this down for you I will divide this into two sections-- $$ (a lot of money) and $ (not-so-much money), so, here we go:

English Village in Hawler (Erbil)
The $$
These areas are usually a little more (correction, a bit too...) expensive. They include areas near the airport like Dream City, Royal/ Empire, Naz City, English Village, Italian Village, Vital houses as well as the American village (which is about 20 minutes drive out of Erbil, but that is more like $$$. I won't explain the $$$ options because if you can afford it then you will be the type who will have someone doing everything for you and won't be reading this humble blog) Anyway... 

Empire, Royal Apartments, Hawler
Prices in these areas can range anywhere from $1, 700 to a good $3, 500 + a month. These houses are usually closed off with a main gate for security, and you pretty much have 24-house electricity with 3 or 4 minute blackouts to change generators or maybe refuel. I know the apartments in Royal and maybe Naz City as well have furnished options. (I will put in the phone numbers for you later if you are interested!) 
American Village, Erbil
The $
If you thought this list is going to give you prices that is $200 or $400 then I am sorry to disappoint you. The price for the suburbs I am going to list range from $600 to $1, 000 a month -  RENT. These include Bakhtiary (one of my favorite areas) and Waziran (just opposite Bakhtiary) there  are also places like Shorsh, 94, Dolarawa, Zanko etc.

Houses in Erbil's new suburbs
I know in Ankawa, and sometimes Bakhtiary, people rent the second story of their house. It has its own kitchen, bathroom, maybe two bed rooms or one bedroom and a living room as well. These houses normally have a separate gate and stairs from the outside going to the second floor, so you don't mix with the family living downstairs, at all. Normally the cost can vary between $300 to $450 (I know a group of friends who pay around $400 in Ankawa- 2 minute drive from the airpot). 

What are some good/special schools for my children?
Wait. Let me google the name first, I can never get the spelling right, OK, here it is, the International School of Choueifat (SABIS) is probably the most elite, expensive, good quality (education wise) school in Erbil. Basically, it is for the sons of daughters of leaders, top businessmen and those who can afford it. It costs around $4, 000 a year in addition to food, books, transportation etc. The curriculum is all in English and I must admit myself it looks very prestigious and elegant. Although expect your child to be picked up by the school bus as early as 7 am and return as late as 5 pm and HAVE HOMEWORK on top of all this! I know, poor kid. That's the expensive option. 

Choueifat, School in Erbil
Although there are English medium schools. There is Ishiq (for boys) and Nilofer (for girls) that are Turkish private schools. The teaching is all in Englsih, although as far as I am aware there is a Turkish and a Kurdish class. The expense for these schools are much cheaper than Choueifat (I copy-pasted the spelling). 

There is also a school called Fakhir Merga Soor, which is located closer to the airport and based inside the city, there is the French School (teaches entirely in French and has one English and a Kurdish lesson) there is also a high school for gifted children with most, if not all, the curriculum being taught in English. Although good (no, not 'good' but high) grades and an entry exams are prerequisites here! 

Choueifat, Gifted School and Fakhir Mergasoor are mixed, most other schools in the city are unisex. Other schools are all public, the quality in general is poor and all the classes are Kurdish (there are two Arabic schools).

I can't live without internet, how can I sort that out? 

Nawand Telecom office in Erbil
Neither can I. You can get Reber Quick (slow, since it is not that quick). You buy the little device and then get a monthly card ($30 usually) and you have internet access. Otherwise there are companies like Nawand telecom, which I use at the moment, it is a little more costly (about $75) but the internet is also better, they also offer a wireless service (and the staff are SUPER SUPER SUPER friendly). If you have a landline, then I encourage you to use the landline options because the connection is SO MUCH FASTER, fast to the extent that you don't actually wait for a YouTube video to load. The good news (BAD news) is most of the new areas in Erbil don't have landlines.

NAWAND TELECOM, internet in Erbil: 07503065013 or 0662575310 

Which is the best telecommunication company for my sim-card? 
Well well well... who should I do an advert for? The main companies are ASIA CELL, KOREK and ZAIN at the moment. In Erbil most people have a KOREK number, while most in Slemani have ASIA CELL. Both have their own offers, so it all depends on your calls. Korek provides a BlackBerry service (I think Asia might as well) and they both do internet service for your phone. For Korek you can pay as little as 10, 000 ID for an entire month of [slow] internet connection.
Korek re-charge card
Once you get your sim-card (either at the bazaar or the major malls) then you just purchase re-charge cards. These can be found almost in any supermarket, shop and the major shopping malls. There are difference options, you can get 5, 000 ID; 10, 000 ID; 15, 000 - you get the point. You know you are running out of credit when a sweet lady kindly tells you that you only have 30 seconds left to speak. That's when you say "Bye! I am out of credit." 


Can I still do sport in Erbil?
Ummm. DAAAAH!! Sorry, but it does frustrate me sometimes when the media doesn't portray Kurdistan as it is. Yes there are gyms and there are women, men and young people who go. So there are various options... where do we start from? hmmm..
J&K in Erbil, women's sport/ fitness 
J & K - This was a huge project at the beginning but now it is kind of just a salon, pool and gym (still pretty good) the pool is BIG, the gym is nice, a few TVs, music, a good variety of equipment and they have an aerobics room. It is basically $100 a month. This is located near the entrance of Ankawa easy to see. Can't miss it. 

LBC (Lebanese Beauty Center)- This is one of the top salons in Erbil, the second floor is a gym. I must admit it is very neat and tidy. Small in size, but I went there for three weeks (lost too much weight and I quit. Note: The purpose of my visit was to gain a few kilos and make some muscles! Yeah I know what you're thinking). This is located on Shorsh street (close to Royal Mall).
Lebanese Beauty Center in Erbil - salon and gym
There are alternative options such as Blue Center (bit far though) Harveen (near Ankawa) and few others too. 

I have a great job offer, but is there going to be a chance for my wife to find something to do?
Congratulations on your job! Let me guess, an oil company? ;) If she has a degree there are various vacancies around, I know the university of Kurdistan Hewler has job vacancies, so do various local NGOs, she can also do volunteering here and there. Email me and I will find her something to do. 
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Jobs In Kurdistan Facebook page:  a good friend of mine runs it, might be of help! 

Easy. Three options: Hello Taxi, Pink Taxi, Street Taxi.
Pink Taxi in Erbil
Hello Taxi charges from airport to places in Erbil around $50 (which his a rip off) Pink Taxi (only for women, the great thing about this is the driver is a lady as well) costs 3 000 IQ (around $2.50) then I think about $1 for each km. Normal taxis, painted yellow and easy to see everywhere, can be stopped on the sheet (in fact you don't need to stop them, they will stop) usually charge between $2.50 to $5. Just to make sure before you get on, tell them where you want to go and ask how much he will take  you for. Sometimes you might need to bargain a bit, but usually they don't overcharge foreigners. 

A normal Taxi Kurdistan - no need for booking
PINK TAXI: 07506337700 (I actually found this number online and I JUST called them--aah what I do for my Loyal Followers, I wanted to make sure I am giving you the right number-- the lady on the phone was so sweet. So she confirmed this is the number you phone and you need to do reservations beforehand. 

Sadly, public transportation is not always recommended or reliable, though we are all waiting for the metro to start toootttttiiiiiiing near the citadel (I can't wait!). 

Train in Erbil (future) "Next stop Qalat!"
Where are the best places to shop?
Oh My God. Where oh where do I start? In two years time every road in this city is going to have a shopping mall. But for now here are the main ones.

Majidi Mall 
This is located after the Rizgari Hospital. Here, there is the City Center, where you can do you major shopping including fruits, veggies, and everything else you may need. It is the place where you can actually find the ingredients to a recipe you find online!  Then there is Vakko, fancy watch and glasses shops as well as clothing, shoes, Levis, and good bunch of other stores. Price rates here are at the higher range. There is also a perfume shop and two sports shops. How can I forget the diamond/ jewelry shop.

Majidi Mall, Erbil

Family Mall
Located on the 100 meter road, Family Mall is when you go on a Thursday or a Friday afternoon and you CAN NOT FIND A PLACE TO PARK  basically there is a wide range of shops. Everything from your iPhone, to your DKNY handbag can be purchased here. This is also linked to Family Fun, where there many rides and children's entertainment. So, a MAJOR attraction for nearly everyone. If you're going to spend a day of your weekend there, be ready to bump into many of your friends. Family Mall also includes Carrefour, where you can get your food shopping done (although I prefer City Center in Majidi... if I ever do food shopping).

Family Mall, Erbil

Royal Mall

Royal Mall
Royal Mall, Erbil

Royal Mall, Erbil

Tablo Mall, Erbil

Rhein Mall is mostly clothing, shoes, games for kids and lots and lots of bridal shops. It is located in Iskan. Prices here are more expensive than the bazaar but much cheaper than Majidi and Family Mall.

Rhein Mall, Erbil
Citadel, believe me this is THE BEST option! You can get almost everything here, from henna for your hair, rice for dinner to a Louis Vuitton handbag (fake of course!). There are many traditional things here that you would not find in the supermarkets and malls. Worth a visit. 

Shopping in the heart of Erbil
Then there is Langa bazar, or the second hand shops, near Rizgari Hospital, in fact you can also go there from the 60 meter road. 
Langa Bazaar in Erbil (Mostly secondhand) 

Are there places where I can just hang around?

Well well well... if you asked six or seven years ago I would have had a hard time telling you where to go, but these days there is actually a lot of choices. It all depends on what you prefer: With hookah? Without hookah? Outdoors? Indoors? Girls? Guys? etc... but here are a few options suitable for most people.
Robert's Cafe in Family Mall
Costa, as we like to call it, is the place where many people go to in the evenings, specially during summer where the outdoor seating area provides a nice atmosphere. There is also wireless internet connection here.
Costa Rica on Gulan street
MADO in Family Mall, Erbil
Second Cup, Erbil, Royal Mall
There is also Barrister in Dream City, this is a place where you can go and find absolutely no one there (good internet connection too). There is also a Cafe in Royal Mall at the center on the ground floor, I love everything they provide as well as the one in Tablo Mall (also on the ground floor). You might like to try them. 

I will close off this entry here, but if you look at previous entries you will see places to visit, where to go and things to try! So look around the blog and please feel at home (baxer hati, sar chaw!) and if you have any questions drop me an email: 

Pictures taken from everywhere and everyone. Sorry I haven't mentioned the source. Too many to name, but only few are my own, others were stolen from the internet, for a very innocent purpose! :) By the way I don't think I need to mention which pictures were taken by me. They speak for themselves. ;)