Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Life at home

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

Twice in my life I was a refugee. Once in Iran, and another time in Turkey. On both occasions I was too young to understand what it meant to be a refugee, too young to know what my parents are going through and what it is that is taking place in my surrounding. My refugee story ended up being one of those 'happily ever after' because a host country accepted us as we went to exile. 

Baby Hawler
Today, not too long after, here I am back home among refugees of my own nation. Every time I step into any camp a feeling comes to me which I do not encounter anywhere else I go. All of a sudden the house I live in, the car I drive and the clothes I wear mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. I look back at my return to Kurdistan (and if you've read My Nest In Kurdistan you'd know I had a bumpy start) but reflecting now, it was the best decision ever. 

Often when I do the training with the youth refugees (along side two other great friends of mine) a special bond  forms with some of them. This time when I went back to Kawrgosk I met Kh., she is a 16-year-old girl, the eldest of the five children in her family. She insisted I visit her tent and meet their newly arrived sister, baby Hawler. Yes, the little baby girl was named Hawler, after the city in which was born in, as a refugee*.

The eyes, the eyes kill me....

How are you supposed to feel when you hold in your arms a baby girl, born while her family are living under a tent in a refugee camp? How are you supposed to feel looking into the eyes of a shy little girl who has to play in mud rather than a playground? 

No matter what you do, you walk out feeling guilty. 

She finally revealed a smile
The people in the camps, who are by far the most vulnerable, are teaching me a lot. From them I am learning more about life, about appreciation, about being thankful. Because so many of them are so thankful for everything in their lives. They are thankful because they wake up in the morning with their children still alive.

On the ground, at the entrance of the tent
In the camps I have met the strongest youth. The ones who are inspiring, those who have left their university, their studies, their lovers, their friends, their life to live under a tent and are determined to find a job for a better living. However, some of them do admit they are at their breaking point.

Me (left) and Kh. (right) on our way to her tent
For a while N.Q. and I were standing by the UNFPA caravan as they distributed Dignity Kits to pregnant women and those with newborns. Many mums-to-be or new mums surrounded the caravan, I manage to approach a few for a casual conversation; From how they hold their little ones, or touch their big baby bumps I understand "life goes on."

One happy boy with a donation
Walking in a refugee camp where people have fled their own houses and lives in fear of being killed is tough to take in, however, there are little things you see that you make you smile. Here, a little boy is pulling behind him a big airplane, too heavy for him to carry. It made me smile, because I knew someone had bought this toy and sent it here, not knowing which child will end up playing with it (in my head I make a quick prayer for whoever it was who donated this toy). It makes you smile and happy to know you belong to a nation (Kurds) and a country (Kurdistan) who have accepted with open arms the newly comers, seeing them as guests rather than refugees. It makes me smile to have inbox messages, texts, emails and calls of people who have donations they want to pass to families in the camps. This makes you believe there are still plenty of good people in the world.

The young boy and the oversize plane
There are those in the camp who, despite all of the challenges they face, look up and thank god. I almost always come across these individuals. Those who appreciate every small thing one does for them, those who say they are "lucky" and "happy" for where they are and what they're offered. 

A new-mum breastfeeding her newborn, waiting for UNFPA Dignity Kits
And so, my life back home is a special one at the moment. I am learning a lot, finding out more about life, about myself and about what it means to be living in this world. It is special, because I am interacting with people, who not long ago, could have probably been my own relatives, my own family....this little child 24 years ago could have been me.

*Hard to call Kurds refugees on Kurdish-land. Sadly, this is the reality! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Help! I want a job in Kurdistan!!

Hello Loyal Blog Reader,

A few of you have asked me about where to start looking for jobs in Kurdistan. Some of you are abroad and want to come back here, but you do not know enough people or places to start a job, and therefore a life. So, I have come to the rescue (love me? Right?!)

Before I give you links of different places you can pass by (I mean click to) for some job vacancies in the Region you will probably ask this: What gets paid most?

First, something that I was very excited about mid last year (I almost mid 'earlier this year') was the Kurdistan Works initiative of the KRG's Prime Minister, I must admit we do have an awesome PM.
Right now, the Kurdistan Works website - you can access it by clicking HERE has over 1000 job vacancies in the region. So, yes, I would give that a try!

Kurdistan Works website
If I remember correctly, a young man runs Kodo Jobs all voluntarily,  you can visit the website HERE and the twitter account HERE (I might be completely wrong about the first bit of this, but I do know for sure that their are vacancies there that you can checkout).

The next stop would most likely be MSelect, they are a very popular recruitment company in Kurdistan, very friendly staff and a good go to station for sure. In case you can't read the details below, their website is www.mselect.iq

MSelect information for jobs in Kurdistan

You must also try Erbil ManPower (www.erbilmanpower.com) their info is below, you can also visit their Facebook page here. I also know they have a job fair every now and then, which is a great link between companies and job seekers.
Erbil Manpower - seeking jobs in Erbil?
Jobs in Kurdistan should also be a place to visit. Here is their Facebook page here
Drop by to the Jobs in Kurdistan website for options for jobs

Hope this helps, drop me an email if you have further questions,
for now good luck with your visit to Kurdistan,
you might find that you will change a few jobs until you settle at something you LOVE!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs

The column below was published in 2009, in the Kurdish Globe newspaper in Erbil.

Village girl vs. city girl
By Sazan Mandalawi

Picture C. Jan Sefti Kurdish Girl

I have previously stated there is no woman in the world like a Kurdish woman, and I stand by those words--although I have decided to take the challenge further and look at the difference between a city girl and a village girl in Kurdistan.

So what brought this peculiar and rather strange idea to my mind now? Aside from the fact that stereotypical, negative views dominate our society about village girls, I had the privilege to spend the Jezhn break in a village near the Mergasoor area of the region. Having spent all my life in a city and never having lived in a village or country, I came to realize just how "girlie," frail and delicate we--the city girls--can be.

The young women or the girls in general in the villages differ to a large degree than the girls who have grown in the city. A new groom would have to spend half his paycheck every month on clothes for his bride who has lived in the city all her life and would most likely consider shopping as one of her hobbies. In the areas I visited, the girls wore simple Kurdish clothing at home and had another set--with more details and colors--for when they go out.

Apart from the housework of running around cooking and cleaning for the guests who continuously walk in and out the house, these women also do the men's work in their small farms or look after the animals if they have any.

I was proud of the fact that I can cook rice, eggs, and potatoes; but after what I have seen I feel foolish and?let's just say?not so proud.

We were invited for dinner at one of the local houses--in the two-hour span they knew we were going to be their guests that evening the girls had cooked all the difficult foods that Kurds have, including the dreadful Yapragh. We (the city girls, that is), on the other hand, with two days prior notice and following the cooking methods in a few cookbooks--other than the salad nothing seemed to turn out right!

One thing that amazed me the most is that if these people had a dishwasher it would not wash the dishes as clean and fast as young women can. Meal after meal, the girls tuck their long Kurdish dress under the rope on their waist, pin the sleeves on their shoulders, and wash the dishes better than three working dishwashers. Then there is us--the pitiable city girls-we wash the dishes one day and go on about it for the next two days. Did I mention one person uses the detergent and another washes it away with water, and usually a third person would also be helpful to remove the wet dishes from the rack so it gets out of the way?

In the city, on almost every second street there is a local salon--and I assure you they make better money than many businessmen in Erbil. Whether for a party, at any hairdresser or in any beauty parlor it is worse than a doctor's clinic where sometimes, even with an appointment, you can wait up to half an hour before your turn.

We are all about makeup and dying our hair with multiple colors, and now even manicures are becoming popular. The village girl, on the other hand, needs no layers of foundation as her skin is naturally smooth; she posses the natural beauty that looks more dazzling because of the natural environment she grows up in. Her hair does not need to be dyed in three different colors to look good, because the natural henna she uses gives extra shine and strength to her already eye-catching long black hair.

Even when it comes to fitness, the village girls seem to be a leap ahead of us. With the many gyms and swimming pools now, many girls are members at local fitness centers to get that "perfect body." From her constant work in the house and on the farms, the village girl has a body of a model hidden in her loose Kurdish clothing. We indulge in chocolates like Galaxy and Ferrero Rocher; they, on the other hand, enjoy natural foods freshly picked from the trees--the way she can break a date and peel the skin with her hand is admirable, or the way she treats herself to berries sitting by the shade of a berry tree.

A typical girl who has grown up in the city would most likely be well educated and go to a university. This does not undermine the intelligence of a village girl, who knows all about natural remedies. A village girl learns from life's experiences-something you cannot gain from reading thick books and highlighting all the important details.

Show a city girl a cockroach and she will scream her lungs out--literally. On the other hand, the bravery a village girl possesses is immense; she can confront a wild animal to protect the family's herd of sheep.

Finally, village girl or city girl? You be the judge, but keep in mind even though they may not go to the best English-speaking universities or might not be involved in the train of globalization that is apparent in city life, a village girl in Kurdistan is a young woman that must be respected and admired in her own rights, because if not worse, we are certainly not better than she is! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Kurdistan?

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

Erbil, Hawler at night. (Pic. from Caitlin In Kurdistan)
So many years have passed since I first landed in the Erbil International Airport, at that time, it wasn't even a proper airport. So many years have gone pass since my first tears of the big return 'home' and so many years have passed about me learning about this place which I now call My Nest.

The memories I had of Kurdistan in my childhood years were not great ones, but I am glad my later teenage and early adulthood years memories of Kurdistan are pleasant ones. I will have a lot of stories to tell once I grow old. Once I have wrinkles and grey hairs, once I have grandchildren sitting on my lap (not sure if by then grandchildren will even have time to sit on an old granny's lap, but anyhow, you get my point).

I am not originally from Erbil, or Hawler. But for some reason I feel it is my own city, I share a beautiful bond of love and appreciation with Hawler and it's people as well. They're warm hearted, loyal, friendly and every time I meet someone for the first time, they make me feel like I have known them all of my life, that's one of the beautifies of this city.

I share a bond with the people here, because I have come to understand where they were and where they are. They are people who appreciate things they have (most of them) and they appreciate the fact they live in a safe place that is a result of years of sacrifice. They're just lovely people who are going through an intense transition phase.

So many years have passed, yet it has been too fast. Too fast to to even sit back and compare where we were and where we are. Too fast to sit back and comprehend. But I have come to love it here. I love the summer picnics, the winter seatings with family around a heater. I have come to love the little bits and pieces that we so often complain about (but I know it will get better); I love how the youth love their nation, they want progress and development and they want it fast. I love every inch and every bit of this city.

So many years later, they still manage to ask me, "so, why Kurdistan?" and all I can reply is "why not?!"

Maybe this is why I want so many people to come back. I want them to feel the tough pains but also the fruits of success and accomplishment; I want people to know here, they are not working in a system, but they are helping to create and build a system so that many future generations can work within and improve.

It is definitely not an easy journey, it is definitely not all smiles and laughter. No, by far not. But it is a journey of self realization, a journey that will let you grow as a person, a journey of finding out more about yourself as you attempt to find who you are.

My dearest reader, if you're thinking of a return, don't have second thoughts. Come back! Give it ago!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

For the ladies!

Dear Loyal Blog Reader,

So often women ask about life in Kurdistan as a female: What to do? Where to go? Can I walk alone? Can I go for a run? Can I go to the gym? Can I take a taxi?

The answer is always yes, but there is always a big fat BUT. You can, but if you want to be comfortable dress modestly; You can, but you need to know where to go and when to go; You can, but you need to be aware of the right places!

For example, you certainly won't be comfortable in your running shoes going for a job in any random neighborhood you choose to. Having said this, there are certain places where you can do this and it would not be a problem at all (I have seen many woman go for a job alone in Naz City for instances).

On one of the previous entries I posted a link of the Women's International Nework Erbil group, not too long ago one of the ladies asked a question, the expats here gave her various replies. I thought I would share this with you, to give you more of an insight! Names and DPs are all deleted.

Hello Ladies, what are the general difficulties you face here? Do you all lead a pretty normal life or is it full of restrictions? Are you always careful and alerted or just normal like you would be in any country? Thank you

  • Well, this is a tough one, and maybe I am not answering to the point your looking at. I have lived in a few Western countries plus recently Kazakhstan, but this area is a first for me. I do not feel threatened here - but it still annoys me being stared at. I also miss the fact that there aren't more women around when you go somewhere. And being truly German, I miss my sidewalks and the possibility to walk to places which are within a 30 min walking radius.

  •  I'm very relaxed here even more so than I was in the uk. I have never felt in any danger. Yes I get stared at but not to the point some women report- then again I do not frequent night clubs or anywhere like that.

  •  Well if you have peroxide blonde hair like me ofcourse I will be stared at but I don't notice it as much now I just play ignorant to it. It's no big deal.

  • Well at that point i love it here minus missing the cultural life. Anything else is ok for me. I feel safer then in Russia , that for sure))

  •  I feel safe here. Used to stares. They stares as much at us as we do at them.

  •  I work full time and will take taxis alone. Never had a problem I speak very basic Kurdish.

  • We came to live in erbil since 2011 used to live in london , i work in XX university comparing life here to london is a big difference but what i like here life is more relaxed my kids are happy here we meet friends every weekend i am iraqi from baghdad i take taxi every day back from work its a matter of luck some are chatty and want to know ur life here and some keep silent but for the long run i dont want my kids to grow here maybe until they are 10 , 11 years old

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs

The column below was published in 2009, in the Kurdish Globe newspaper in Erbil.

Garage School
By Sazan Mandalawi

'Dara Du Dari Dee; Du Dari Dur Dur!!' (Dara saw two trees, two far, far trees) about 15 to 18 of us would call out as loudly as we possibly could.

These words are famous sentences from the first pages of the grade-1 Kurdish book. We were not in Kurdistan when we learned this; we were in Australia, in Garage School-- that is what we called it, and every Sunday morning that is where all the local Kurdish children met.

At that time we were all 8- or 9-year-olds. Nevertheless, a decade later I remember every word I studied. I recall every week the kids would get together in one house--or should I say--the garage of a house, and learn Kurdish. We only had two copies of the grade-1 Kurdish book; we waited months until a family returned and brought back a few others with them so we could at least share some copies. A pack of chalk, a black board and bean bags were the mobile equipment we carried with us every week from house to house--correction, from garage to garage.

Every Sunday one of the parents volunteered to teach us in his or her garage. (Just some extra information--a few times we had school inside the house, but then there were complaints that we messed things up and there was too many of us. The excuse was there was no room, but it took a week to clean up after 18 hyperactive kids.)

Now I know this was a strategic and well thought-out plan by our parents to keep us attached to our roots. The rules of Garage School were simple: Once a week we would be there for four hours, and sometimes we would go to the movies or a park together in the evening after the so-called "lectures" were over. We also had to do our homework, which was writing the letters of the alphabet a hundred times--row after row--and we had to speak Kurdish while we were there, I can still recall the colorful "NO ENGLISH" signs we drew on the wall.

We were taught simple things, although I must admit most of the time we were fooling around. Since it was a "Kurdish" school, a few of us got a slap or two on the hands when we fooled around too much. After all, we had to feel like we were in Kurdistan.

Every Kurd works as an ambassador abroad--male or female, young or old. Having spent my childhood and teenage years on foreign land, I can not emphasize this enough.

This is rather contradictory, considering the fact that Kurdish people back home normally criticize much of the situations that are taking place in their daily lives. Nevertheless, abroad the state of affairs is different.

Living in Australia, the small Kurdish community we had was diverse in all sorts of ways: Kurds from Iran, Iraq, Turkey; the Badini, Sorani, Luri--there was no difference. We were Kurds and that was what held us all together.

What is amazing is that in every possible way the Kurds attempted to absorb the attention and sympathy of the Australians. All the Kurds would invite their "Aussie" friends to our picnics where Yaprax and Bryani (Kurdish foods) were prepared (that day had to be the diet-free day). They would bring them along to our celebrations of Newroz and many other occasions. (Soon the Aussies learned that Kurdish time means arriving one hour after the time written on the invitation) All this was so that they would learn more about the culture of music and dancing that exists in Kurdistan. In times of seriousness or political instability, we would form demonstrations and involve our Australian friends as well.

The Kurdish people saw it as their responsibility to inform the Aussies about who they are and what they are. From events of Halabja or celebrations of Newroz, we tried to inform and involve them at the same time. This feeling of patriotism and faithfulness to one's land abroad is something I will forever be proud of about the Kurds in Perth.

Elderly Kurdish men formed a soccer team where they played two afternoons a week. The kids came along to support their fathers, and the women came to cheer on their husbands. It was also a get together where we spoke Kurdish and met with people who shared the same culture and traditions as we did at home.

At Garage School, however, we would complain and whine about the homework and request to go to Kurdistan as an educational trip. "If you finish the book this year, we will take you for the education trip to Kurdistan," the parents promised us--or rather fooled us into thinking was the truth. But it kept us motivated to continue the classes. Who would have imagined that some of us would one day be back here for good?

I wish I could say all those Kurds living abroad have the same community spirit that we had; unfortunately this is not the case. I was lucky to be part of such a "Kurdish atmosphere," even though I was abroad.

So where are the kids of Garage School today? Most are now graduating university; few have children of their own, and a handful is back in Kurdistan with well-established jobs.

As for me, here I am--a personal decision made to live nowhere else in the world but Kurdistan. Who knows? Perhaps if it weren't for Garage School I would not have formed this affection and love toward this land--maybe it was motive for my return to Kurdistan. Now every time I hear "Dara Doo Dari Dee," I pause for a smile and remember the sentence that is nailed in my mind and that turned my life around