Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tough Times - Refugee camp in Erbil

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

It is not the happiest of days in my part of the world. The days are rough and tough but what makes me smile is that our hearts are together and the spirit that connects us all is so strong that even these tough times won't break us.

Donations from members of the community. Picture- Internet
Thousands and thousands of Kurds have escaped the killings in Syria, finding a refuge in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. This means thousands have to start their life from nothing, thousands have left families, friends, studies, work, houses and anything else they had. The world we have today disgusts me. But I can keep smiling and keep hoping... as Kurds we have learned too well that in this world life and freedom doesn't come easy.

Refugee Camp in Erbil. Kurds from Syria fled for their life
Members of my community- old and young; women, men and children are all taking cars filled with things that would become very useful for those who have fled in fear of their lives. Everyone is talking about how they can help. Television channels have a live coverage of a major park in Erbil were donations are being collected (Shanadar park).  People are doing everything they can to help. Earlier this evening I visited K. family who had heard little children don't have bottles to drink their milk from, nor do they have milk. Immediately, they had purchased boxes of milk for babies/ children as well as bottles and sent them to the park where the goods are being collected. This is an example of just one family.

Yesterday, with a few of my colleagues we went to the new refugee camp in Erbil, Kawrugosk, with us we took some donations which were collected both individually and also by the UKH Charity group. We were told by a UNHCR staff member there that there were up to 15, 000 people in that camp alone. It was very different to the atmosphere in the Domiz camp, because there were many recent comers. Some didn't even have tents yet. It was a chaos, as soon as we went to the back of the camp, the things had to be thrown out at the crowd randomly, because people were just running and grabbing everything.

It didn't go the way we had in mind, the original plan was to go into each tent and see what was needed then look through what we had brought in and give it to the individual families. I am not sure how useful some of the things will be. For example, bags of rice... how is it going to be cooked by someone who doesn't have a stove yet? Or they don't have a pot to cook it in? Although basinal necessities like mattresses, blankets, carpets, t-shirts, shorts, fans (some areas had electricity, others didn't) should come in handy.
UNHCR tents at Kawrugosk refugee camp - Erbil, Kurdistan

I observed from a distance as the Peshmerga took control of the situation. There were countless number of children...  what about school? How healthy are they here? How long will they need to be here? So many questions running through my mind.

Life as a refugee... Kurds from Syria in Kurdistan Region of Iraq
I speak to many of my relatives, friends and colleagues about the situation and the conditions. It seems like everyone wants to help in their own way, because somehow every single Kurd that I see has experienced this situation someway or another. If they haven't then their family members have. On a personal level, my family became refugees in two different occasions, so we have come to know the pain a little too well. Maybe this is why I feel so connected to these people, maybe this is why we all feel obliged to help.

Reminds me when we were refugees
I love this sentiment in Kurds who are eager and ready to help. I have come to realize it comes from empathy. As we were approaching the camp (Kawrugosk- I think that's the right spelling) I felt bad to even refer to these people as refugees.

We can only hope for the best
Are these not my brothers and sisters? Are they not Kurds? How can you be a refugee among your own people in your own land. I once again get infuriated. Today at work, a colleague came in giving me an amount of money, "Give this to a family at the Camp," He said. "I know how they feel, we fled too." He didn't say anything more, but it was more than enough for me to know the stories behind those eyes. I spoke to a Christian friend who informed me they are liaising with churches in a suburb in Erbil called Ankawa (primarily a Christian community) who will launch a campaign for donations to be collected in the churches. I am so proud of our Christian brothers and sisters reaching out to the Muslims. This is how it should be, and this is how it will remain here.

I studied politics and IR for a while and then specialized in diplomacy for my postgraduate degree, but it's not  surprising I am not walking in a career pathway too close to practicing politics. Maybe I have come to believe terms like justice, peace, democracy and so many other 'contested' terms we endlessly discussed (we also agreed there was never a definite explanation or meaning to any of those) are all just words and vocabulary in text books. The real world is dirty, it is unjust. How can it not be when man is killing his own kind?

I promise to keep blogging on life in Erbil and some enjoyable things too- the things that you are used to reading on mandalawi.blogspot but there are somethings that can't be left unseen and unsaid... this was one of them.

Until next time
Khwa Hafeez

Other than the first picture, all photos for this blog were taken either by me (Yup! Getting used to the Samsung Galaxy S something) or Z.A. from UKH.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shanadar Gallery

An i-ERBIL special

Helloooo Most Loyal Blog Reader,

I know, I know. Long time no see. My excuse? Hungry. Let's be fair you feel as though this city closes down during the month of Ramadan, particularly in July (we reached a lovely 50 degrees!). I find it weird how you call someone at 3 pm and they're asleep. Yes, people sleep during the day and stay awake all night--of course the exceptions are people like myself. They call us mrishk*. This reminds me I should write about nightlife in Erbil. I promise I will.

Erbil night life for families

Are you asking what to do and where to go in Erbil? A few days ago I took some relatives to Shanadar Park, and I must admit one of my favorite places is definitely the Shanadar Cave. If you haven't been... GO!! Now. Tonight.

Location: Opposite the Ice Skating, you can go there from the 30 Meter or the 60 Meter avenue. Right opposite Minaret Park.

It is one of those places where you can do a few things, so it can serve the taste of different individuals. There are a few nice seating areas where you can have a drink (I mean chai --tea-- juices and other soft drinks, non-acoholic) some ice cream and gather with a few friends well into the evening. I think they also have fast food though I have never tried it. My little hint for you is have a seat by the fountain, you will love it! (if it is turned on)

Seating/ food area - enjoyable place in Erbil

The Shanadar Cave  is in the Zagros Mountains, however, a 'fake' version is in the heart of Hawler (Erbil) the beauty of the cave in Erbil is that the inside is turned into a gallery, almost like a tourist-souvenir place. I love it, because it supports local artists and it becomes a place for their art work to be seen and purchased.

Outside Shanidar Cave in Erbil
You can get post cards, little bits and pieces with the Kurdish flag, key rings etc. if you are a traveling you might want to pass by since they do sell some handmade souvenirs as well (postcards just under 50 cents, key rings around $3).
Kurdish souvenirs, handmade 
I really love the atmosphere inside the cave, and the idea of turning a cave into a gallery. You can actually go on top of it as well, the view from there is reallllyyyy nice. Hang in there, I have pictures!! (Loyal blogger. Don't thank me)^
Inside the Shanidar (or Shanadar) gallery in Erbil - Kurdistan
Shanadar Cave - gallery
Let me show off a little bit. My good friend A. R. has an amazing piece there, if you are interested to have a look or even better purchase it. It highlights a strong story of the struggle of women.

A.R. 's painting! 
Make sure you take the stairs outside, by the waterfall, and climb the top of the cave, where is a nice view and a seating area too. A rather calm atmosphere!
Top of the gallery
Shanadar park at night - Erbil
I am not sure if you can see it or not, in the picture below you can see the little cable cars (or teleferique) it costs around $3 per person for about a 10-15 minute ride (can't remember) it takes you from the Shanadar Park to the Minaret Park! Try it. 

Love this area
The down side: In places like this I wouldn't normally frown, but there seem to be groups of guys walking around -- who have nothing to do -- so it is best if you're a girl to go with someone for your own comfort.

So go to Shanadar Park, enjoy your time and let me know what you think of it.

Sometimes in a small city that is just growing and developing we have no choice but to find amusement in the simplest of things!

Until next time
Khwa Hafiz

* Kurdish word for chicken. 
^ I progressed from a BlackBerry to a Samsung S4 (I think I got that right) thanks to S.K. so I would like to think my pictures are a better quality. Lazy blogger who needs to learn to use a professional camera soon.