So, as I said, I often think of writing things down but just haven’t for a long time. Partly way too busy and tired…well, that’s it really. And I don’t like to just dump a bunch of random thoughts out but I think maybe I just will anyway because otherwise it may be months again before I post. Here goes…
The tea shop, above, is in the bazaar and is normally frequented only by men. But since there are no tea shops for women and I really wanted some tea, I asked Heidi to come in with me. The gentle owner of the shop took us tactfully to the back (out of the eyes of his male customers?) We sat in a rather rough little area accompanied in our small space by the two men above who were entirely absorbed in their game. When it came time to leave, the proprietor refused to take any money from us. Knowing the basic rules of courtesy, we tried insisting 3 times to his 3 refusals. Then we weren’t sure what to do. It was a small, obviously not prosperous place and we wanted to pay, but not to offend. We actually had no idea how much tea cost at that time so, after hesitating and thanking him profusely, we left the shop…only to have the experience repeated again with the fava bean street vendor and the Turkish soup proprietor who went to the extra trouble of yelling across the street to his brother to bring us tea and ran himself to another shop (belonging to another brother) to bring us a Turkish donut thing. Rene?
I love this place and I love the people. It’s incredibly beautiful physically, surrounded by mountain ranges. There is the Azmer Range, The Goyija Range and the Qaiwan Range in the north east, Baranan Mountain in the south and the Tasluja Hills in the west. This makes for extraordinary views, in almost every direction. The photo you see in my banner is taken from my office window. I see the same range from my bedroom window and my living room window. When I first got here I really wanted to go to the mountains and hike but became a little less inclined that way once I learned that Sulimainayah still has the lion’s share of the 7 million unexploded land mines. They’re a legacy from both the Iran Iraq war in the ’80’s and Saddam’s own contribution in the early ’90’s. I know people do go hiking there but…
The reality of life here is quite different from anywhere I’ve personally lived before. The whole Kurdistan region is very well protected by both the Peshmerga (the autonomous Kurdish armed guard…around for almost a hundred years) and the Asayesh (Secret Police) who, I’ve been told, are everywhere. Certainly, the Peshmerga have a ubiquitous presence; you see them absolutely everywhere. We have two in from of our apartment building 24/7 and they often patrol up and down in front – always when a longer than usual power outage occurs. Power outages are a fact of life here; they happen periodically all day long, usually only for under a minute but sometimes longer. Most houses and businesses have private generators as a back-up.
We’re not allowed to go certain places. We can’t, for instance go to Kirkuik, a disputed area between the Arabs and the Kurds. We are allowed to go to Erbil but we can’t go through Kirkuik, the shortest route by far, we have to go over one of the mountain ranges and it take much longer. Several of my students live in Kirkuik, although they stay in residence on campus during the week. One student hadn’t completed both homework assignments one day and when I asked him why he said “you know that bomb that went off in Kirkuik a few days ago?”. I did know; a few of my other students had been absent in order to attend the funeral of a relative. “Well, it was close to our house and, I’m very sorry Miss, but some things broke in the house and I had to fix them on the weekend when I was home.” Oh.
That’s the caliber of student I have, mostly anyway. They are all scholarship students who have at least a Bachelor’s already and the Kurdish government is paying for them to attend 6 months of English language updating and will then send them to universities in the US or the UK to get higher degrees. They’re committed, motivated, hard-working, highly intelligent and interesting. I have doctors, scientists, pharmacists, teachers, IT experts and even a concert violinist and an art professor. They’re exceptionally respectful of each other, me and everyone else. They are warm and hospitable and they are a lot of fun. Dream job for an ESL teacher much?
Ok, that’s it; that’s my rambling for now. I hope to provide more coherent, better crafted pieces in the future but at least it’s a start!
And now, in keeping with the lack of cohesion and theme, I will post a few photos, at random. Below, my friend, Heidi, is focussed on finding a particular item in the sea of barrels. No shop-keeper in the bazaar speaks English so asking doesn’t usually help unless you come equipped with the Kurdish word.