Monday, April 27, 2015

Let's visit grandma's kitchen!

 April 27, 2015 by mandalawi

My dearest loyal blog reader,

Take me to my grandmother’s kitchen, take me to her cozy home filled with love and care. Take me to her kitchen where every corner has a memory, where black and white photographs here and there make the past part of the present.

Take me, I won’t ask what she has cooked, I will know what’s for lunch just by the aroma in her kitchen. Take me, so once I have gobbled down every bit of food on my plate I can lean my head on grandma’s shoulder while she strokes her hand down my hair. She tells me stories of back in the day as tears fill her eyes. I tell her about life in the real world today, I take her words of wisdom while her arms are over my shoulder. Then grandma gets up and brings me chai (tea). You know, nothing tastes like tea made by grandma (not after Mam Khalil passed away).

I ask myself: Dear Sazan, how is it you feel this sensation and yearning even though the last time you sat on your grandma’s lap was well over two decades ago?

I will tell you why. In my nest, in Kurdistan, so many older women can have a grandma presence in our life. Like Pura Parwin. While she is known to be an aunt (Pura) for me it’s a different story.

Good time spent with the girls, Saza Muhamad and I at Pura Parwin’s restaurant. Of course, in the company of Pura Parwin herself.
I met Pura Parwin in the Erbil orphanage once, as she had come to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays. Fast forward two weeks and the beautiful, and super amazing Saza  took me to Pura Parwin, ever since I feel her little restaurant/home is a grandmother’s kitchen. When I feel I need to be spoilt with the love of a grandma, it’s time to visit Pura Parwin. 

While Pura Parwin refers to this place as her restaurant, it’s actually her little kitchen and home at the same time. The large kitchen is divided into three sections. A little living room, some chairs and tables and then the kitchen itself. We chose to have our lunch on the ground in the room section. It felt exactly like a grandmother’s house. The food is clean, and freshly cooked. The gathering was like that of a family home, to the extent we helped bring the food from the kitchen too.


Once the sunsets Pura Parwin pulls down the curtains, locks the doors and what was a restaurant during the day, becomes her little home in the evening. Every day she is ready to serve guests from breakfast to an early dinner. All home cooked food.

Pura Parwin’s is unlike any other restaurant owned and run by a woman, her company is what makes the lunch or even just the tea you drink that little bit extra special. She calls herself a therapist to so many who come and visit, a best friend to others, a mother and a grandmother. Each person who comes has a different connection with her. A unique bond. She solves people’s marriage problems, shares their laughter and speaks her funny experiences.


Saza (not me, but my amazing friend) knows Pura Parwin well. As we walked in during our visit Pura Parwin almost danced in happiness hugging our Saza tightly. I imagine this is the exact happiness a grandmother receives when her grand-daughter goes to visit. After lunch is served, Pura Parwin takes a seat with us, our conversation becomes a very long one. Her words are full of wisdom, optimism and she is a source of inspiration. I see the pure love Saza and her share with one another. She is not just a restaurant owner, who cooks clean, tasty home-made food, but an individual who plays a critical role in the lives of so many of her customers.


I don’t think I have ever been this comfortable being anywhere in Erbil. It felt so much like home. So comfortable. So cozy. Pura Parwin represents a strong woman who has built something out of nothing, a true entrepreneur. Many who had her situation may have resorted to begging on the streets, but no, this woman commited herself to work; enough work to pay for her son’s education as well.

Pura Parwin’s medical cabinet

Pura Parwin’s collection of books
I love the little details in this place. I look at the books that keep this elder woman company in her lonely nights. I wonder how it is for her, once she closes down for the day and pulls down the curtains. I see the little cupboard where she keeps her clothes, the little medicine cabinet….I worry for her. A few nights after I visited Pura Parwin I was in bed under two blankets, I could hear the wind and rain against my bedroom window. I immediately thought how she felt right then, remembering what she had said to me “the TV and my books keep me company till I fall asleep.”

Pura Parwin’s little red car
Did I mention Pura Parwin drives? Except now her little red car has stopped working, and instead it’s used as a store room for the extra bits and pieces she has. I love the simplicity in her life, the way she lives. I don’t know how to explain this: She is lonely, but at the same time every visitor has become her family.
I learn a lot from her experience and story, however, I have some views which I prefer to keep to myself. You might also observe them once you visit!


I wish I could give you an exact address, you enter it into your GPS and find your way to Pura Parwin, but the reality is we are in Erbil and giving an address is a living nightmare. Let alone receiving directions from me! In short, the little restaurant is located on the opposite side to Majidi Mall in Hawleri Nwe. If you want to visit it is best to call and get directions once you have crossed Majidi Mall: 0750 390 9506 or 0750 376 4078

If you do visit Pura Parwin please let me know how the experience was. Don’t be shy to socialize with her, you might just find yourself another grandmother like figure in your life.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dear world, I request a leave.

The doctor instructed I rest. 

And for a good five weeks I spent my days half asleep on the sofa, sitting in the garden and in between having needles drain out the slight bit of blood I have in my little body. I was on sick leave. This, my dear reader, made me realize we all need a leave, not from work, but from the world. 
Photo: Pennlive

I was on leave not just at work, but leave from Twitter tweets, from Instagram pictures, Facebook feeds, leave from shopping, and ladies and gentleman, sick leave from the world’s news. 

Hibernating has taught me quite a bit. 

So many of our illness come from stress, and something us Kurds call ‘kham’ (the definition I can think of here is grief). My people happen to know Mr. Kham a little too well as life hasn't always been rosy for our people.

I learned ignorance is bliss. Before this sick leave for nights on end I had nightmares of pictures I saw, families I witnessed mourning the loss of their loved ones and children crying. The harsh reality of our world haunted me in my sleep. Then again, in real life we can’t live in blindness, nor can we stay silent against the atrocities we see.

Mentally I felt so much at peace not knowing much. I remember at one point a dear one switched off the Wifi at home when the owner of my favourite teashop in Erbil died. Just so I could sleep that night without finding out. 

I spent hours on end sitting, observing the birds in my father’s garden. He would tell me about their different personalities while I watched how they ate, how they interact with one another and heard their tweeting. My friend, I heard the tweeting of real birds that flap their wings and fly, not the twitter feed tweeting on my phone.

As much as I was pushing people away- literally! There were individuals who would drop off a plate of dolma, or come by and sit with me in the garden when I couldn’t move a single muscle. I would find surprises behind our entrance door, letters and lots of miss calls (let’s just ignore the fact that more than half were work related!). I was reminded once again the close people in our life matter.

During my 'sick' days a friend, J.J. on holiday, who was thinking of me. Little things make a huge difference. 

It doesn’t make a difference how many Twitter followers you have, how many Facebook likes you get, or how many people double tap your Instagram picture. You can have four hundred Facebook friends, but when you have no one to ask how you're doing when you are down and unwell then what’s the use?!

I am back now. No longer on leave. But I carry the lessons with me. 
  • When with people, the phone should be not seen, not heard. 
  • When at home put the Wifi on, use the internet when needed then turn it back off. The continuous notifications give a sense that it’s the end of the world if one doesn’t see the new comment made.
  • Stock up on new books and board games to enjoy. Once there is less internet in your life you realize that 24 hours is actually a lot of time (that is, if you don’t have an 8-5 job).
  •  Follow the news. But not every minute of every day. You could, and you would love to, but a morning and an evening read suffices.
  • Make a solid effort to appreciate and notice the little things- like the new plant in the garden or the flower that has just flourished.  
  • Finally, our body is the most precious machine. The mind and soul above all; look after them well. Don’t take your good health for granted. 
Enjoying pomegranate with none other than my baaba

Writing all this makes me wonder: Wouldn't it be great if we were all able to take a leave from the world every now and then? I feel so many people in Kurdistan need a leave. They need to live stress free days without Kham, days without fearing their or their children's future, days without hearing news that shatters their heart. The people of my land deserve to be happy.

My heart goes out to all the families suffering in Kurdistan right now, in particular those who have lost their loved ones on the front lines to keep our land safe. I feel your pain.

I don’t know how long I will last, but for the time being, I feel much lighter, happier and above all, healthier.

Meanwhile, blogging is back on my 'to do' list, and I have some amazing people, places and things to tell you about, so please drop by (with your cup of chai) when you can.

Lots of love
From my nest in Kurdistan 


O' so cozy O'ccaffe!

Loyal readers,
Ask anyone these days and we are all somehow stressed, tired, over thinking and just… had enough! If you are an expat here or someone who wants to relax in a place with a lot of western atmosphere, yet classic and cozy I think I’ve managed to find you something that you will like (thank me later, it’s ok). A chitchat? Something nice to eat? Perhaps even a casual work meeting or.. you know, just somwehere for you and your laptop? Look no further than O’ccaffe.
O’ccaffee – Erbil, Ankawa Photo: Their Facebook page! :)

I looooooved the lighting here. It is perfect. It doesn’t blind you. They have lamps! Lamps people, lamps. What a world of difference a small bookshelf and some lamps make to any cafe, and guess what? O’ccaffe has both!
Feels like your own living room
The food is beautifully presented and arrives with a blink of an eye. I was still admiring the decor, and before I knew arrived the mouth-watering large pizza (I love the thin crust, it was too good to be true) and an amazingggg salad! Oh so fresh!

A very poor attempt of taking an artistic photograph of a plate. The message is: It was yummy yum-yum! Photo: Yours truly :)
You know why I really fell in love? Because there is absolutely no need to fake cough a billion times till the person behind you understands not to blow his cigarette smoke into your lungs, nor do you have to be self consious if you visit alone with a notebook, pen and a laptop. Drop by, and let me know what you think.


Here is the O’ccaffe Erbil, Ankawa phone number: 0750 395 6485  and Facebook page I think for a larger group you need to call and make a reservation.

This post is not an advertisement. I (and, of course, Mr. Husband) just happen to like it there and thought I would share my latest find with you loyal readers.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Young Women of Kurdistan - The change maker series, part II

February 15, 2015 by mandalawi

I am sitting with this wonderful young Kurdish woman somewhere that I would have never found if it wasn’t for her. I am not surprised this is where she comes to hang out. It reflects a lot about her personality. After all, only people who know the real meaning of life will come here (hang in there, more about where we are at a later post) the point is, I am sitting on the floor, face to face, with one of those Kurdish girls who has turned all her challenges and sorrows in life into positive energy to change the life of others. Her name? Saza. Yes, I have picked up one extra letter from her name, and if I had 1% of her inner soul beauty than I consider myself lucky.

great girls of Kurdistan
Saza Muhamad

Name: Saza Muhammad
Age: 28 years old
Education: Political Science graduate, Salahaddin University
Profession: Journalist (I must add here, Saza is also a full time volunteer)
This is the girl who cleaned groceries while holding the book with her feet as she studied. The girl who lost her mother at a time in her life when she needed her most, the girl who cares about her society, her people, the one who wants to leave this world knowing she left something for others.


There are girls in my life who in the presence I feel I am learning, even from their silence. I learn from every move and every word they say. They are like walking teachers. Life time teachers. Saza is top ranked in this list. This young Kurdistani girl makes you feel safe, in her presence you feel there are perfect beings in this world who only want to do good in their life.

The type who doesn’t compare herself to anyone else but works to make herself a better person, and achieve her own goals; Saza makes me believe a woman has a purpose to live. The commitment, love and time she gives her family is just as grand as what she puts into her friendship and work with vulnerable people.

I have seen this girl mix with orphan children. I feel she is a mother to them all, she feels she is responsible to the children’s happiness, their wellbeing.  If I had a little of Saza’s heart, if I could only take in everything I learn from her everytime I see her, I am grateful. She was one of the active people in the donations campaign to Hujam Surchi in Erbil and many other voluntary events that restulted in massive success.

Mandalawi: Saza, tell me about you.
Saza: She begins with a smile that tells me “where do I began”
For two years I volunteered with Dilvia, I worked most on the Dream projects. My mother, god bless her soul, may she rest in peace, was unwell for many years of her life before she left but she continued to help people till her last breath. When I was 18, in my first year of university she died. I lost my emotional support… In a family of nine she was the closest to me. I never ate a single meal if she wasn’t sitting next to me. The person I wanted most in my life left me. I began visiting the orphanage, the elderly people’s home, you can say I continued life by keeping my mother’s soul alive. I began sharing a never ending love with vulnerable people in our community, a type of love that came with a lot of responsibility.

Saza campaign
Saza Muhamad during the donations campaign for Martyr Hujam Surchi

Mandalawi: What do you live for?
Saza: Helping people. Being part of people’s lives. Whoever needs help, young or old. I am the happiest when I am part of people’s or see their smile. Sometimes I walk in the street I don’t know anyone, but I start a conversation, if they smile, I feel really happy. In my writing I try to focus a lot on people’s lives and their personal stories.

Saza & Pura Parwin
Saza introduced me to Pura Parwin. More on her in a different post. I promise

Mandalawi: Challenges? I ask and sigh, because I wonder how she will answer this question, knowing that Saza’s story is not an easy one.

Saza: I believe in one thing, whenever you are different, or want to do something different then you automatically face challenges. This is normal. I have come to accept this reality. If I sat down, didn’t move, of course I  wouldn’t be confronted with such challenges in my life. My sisters who are much humbler than I am don’t expereince these difficult encounters. I am the odd one out (laughs). The crazy one.

Mandalawi’s note: I notice in Kurdish households in particular the traditional ones the ‘crazy’ in the family is the change maker, the outcast, the black sheep. The one who has to fight and argue to prove it is worth doing what she does.


Mandalawi: Take me through a day in your life
Saza: I always write three most important things for the day to do, work related or not. But I always have three dot points hand written. A day doesn’t go pass with a dose of news from all around the world, I work on a newspaper website so that’s part of my job. I have a training once a week which I do, I am learning a lot from that, and of course I do housework with my stepmother. Even before my mother passed away I took on the role in the house because she wasn’t well. Shopping is also on me! (She smiles. God I love this girl’s smile)


Mandalawi: Your dreams in life?
Saza: Laughing* “I have made a list of 100 dreams, how do you want me to choose only 3?
We begin talking and our conversation takes many turns, that I stop asking the questions I had prepared. Saza tells me about how we must work so that dreams don’t just remain a dream. She tells me about books she reads, her relationship with her 17 nieces and nephews and we go back to her ultimate wish to do a masters degree in Kurdistan, but when door after door closes she knows very well the only solution is a trip to the UK. When and how, she doesn’t know just yet, but she knows the traditional girl from Qaladze will travel on a plane and pursue her postgraduate studies only to fly back to her nest and complete a lifetime journey she has already began. A journey where people need her in their lives.


I love going somewhere to see Saza come in with a wide dressed elegently in her simple Jli Kurdi (Kurdish traditional clothes). I love how traditional yet simple, beautiful, educated and down to earth Saza can be. Saza is the girl who you look at and want your sister, daughter, and everyone else around you to have a little of her. She is the girl who you are proud to introduce to anyone you know, you are proud to introduce her as a Kurdish girl. I know one day this young girl in her one ways will make huge changes in Kurdistan’s society. She is alredy making that difference. She is a beacon of hope.

Follow Saza on Twitter right here. I am in the process of persuading Saza to open her own blog, and once she does, you can be part of her journey.

lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Valentines Day in Kurdistan - Forget the red rose!

Oh yes! That time of year. My dearest most loved loyal blog reader(s), it only took a walk through Family Mall and a drive in Ankawa earlier this week to realize the red-Valentine fever is here too! Women’s clothing shops have all their red dresses on the mannequins, shops with stationery supplies have the entire red theme going on (I have a picture to prove) And Family Mall for example has their usual Valentine’s Day love seat for couples to take pictures on.

Valentines in Kurdistan
Kurdish woman making her lover’s gift, the Kurdistani way. Photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images, taken from here
I will keep my ramblings and arguments of Valentine’s Day to myself this time. However, in times of war, conflict, hatred and in a world of killing I welcome any gesture of love and will not stand or speak against it. In my part of the world some people don’t even know Valentines Day exists, others plan their wedding dates on this day. Some celebrate it not knowing  the story behind it’s existence, and there are others who find it shameful to wear red on February 14th suggesting that it’s screaming out loud and clear: “People! I AM  IN LOVE!” Hence, mixed thoughts on this issue.
valentines in Kurdistan
In Kurdistan, red apple with cloves, symbolizing love Photo: Safin Hamed, taken from this article

Society in general hasn’t made up its mind yet to accept or refute. I would love to celebrate a day of love if the occasion commemorated some of the biggest lovers/ love stories in Kurdish literature. I’d feel like I own the occasion more. Or instead of chocolates, red roses and teddy bears we can give the traditional sewi mekhik, the apple with cloves? There is so much Kurdish culture we can use, but unfortunately it doesn’t have as much publicity or propaganda as those of the west, and hence, we opt to forget our culture and just… go with the teddy, red rose and the chocolates. Do I make sense? No? Any-howwww.

My never ending love for Nergis flowers fresh from the mountains of Kurdistan. Spring has come early!
Celebrate love my dearest. Celebrate it today, tomorrow, every February 14th and every other day of the year too! In the meantime this week I felt March has arrived early and the sight of the Nergis (narcissus) has taken my heart away! If you’re celebrating… how about some Nergis flowers to your love instead of the typical red rose? Let’s add a bit of Kurdish-ness to the day!
Valentines in Kurdistan
Made with love in Kurdistan Photo: Safin Hamed

Love you always
From My Nest in Kurdistan

The preservation of a red apple with cloves is a Kurdish tradition symbolizing Adam and Eve’s relation with the apple, representing love and prosperity”
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