Springtime Picnic in the Mountains!

The Kurds, (like the Gulf Arabs) here in Kurdistan anyway, seem to be mad for picnicking, and as soon as the warmer spring weather arrives, people from the cities make for one of the many beautiful spots in the mountains to spend the day eating, dancing and sometimes a bit of hiking.  And the hills are really “alive with the sound of music” as everyone plays their music and dances.

It’s always a whole day affair, involving 2 big meals, lunch and dinner and leaving early is most definitely frowned upon as my lovely, albeit stern on this issue, students have let me know.  There’s a second picnic with my Section 4 Grammar class today and I’ve been told, several times now, “this time you will NOT leave early and we will stay the whole day!”.  I realized I hadn’t even posted from the last picnic, except for a couple of shots on facebook so thought I’d better get on that.

Gwen (the writing teacher) and I were picked up at our apartment complex by Omer and Zherou in the morning by Omer and Zherou and ferried to the university parking lot where we were met by the rest of the class…almost all wearing jilly Kurdi (traditional Kurdish clothing).   Remarkable outfits which, to my mind, resemble nothing so much as groups of medieval ladies and courtiers.  Everyone wears these during Nawroz (the Kurdish New Year at the beginning of spring), including me since I was brought an outfit by a student.  It’s quite fun wearing them but they’re certainly – for the women especially – not the most comfortable in general and would be impossible to hike in.  Turns out, though, that everyone also brings a change of clothing and after lunch and MANY photo ops and some wildly enthusiastic dancing, the lovely, romantic garb is exchanged for more practical western-style clothes.

Here, then, is what we saw when we arrived in the AUIS parking lot:

Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in Waiting, from left to right:  Snwr, Shawnm, Sozan and Shilan

And then the real photo-taking began in earnest, beginning with a group shot:

group shot in the AUIS parking lot before we leave.

group shot in the AUIS parking lot before we leave.  From the left, back row:  Diyar, me, Zherou, Halo, Shilan, Gwen, Karzan, and Sarbast.  From the left, bottom row, Bestoon, Snwr, Sozan, Shawnm, Haval, Hozan and Zana.

And then, right there on the bus, the party begins!  There’s a megaphone, music and a sound system and with, mostly, Zherou as MC, there are songs, jokes, general goofing around, and overall good, clean hand-clappin’ fun all the way to Chamy Rizan.

Zherou, Omer and bus gang

Zherou, Omer and bus gang

Fun!

Fun!

Zherou, a one-man energy system 🙂

Our MC extraordinaire:)

Our MC extraordinaire:)

“King” Sarbast tells a joke about “ahole” (sic), which means ‘the fool’  and everyone erupts in laughter.  The whole joke is then kindly translated for Gwen and me.

"King" Sarbast

“King” Sarbast, Bestoon on the left, Haval on the right.

And then we arrive at our destination, Chamy Rizan.  Hope I’ve spelled that right.  It’s beautiful, really, really beautiful and…let the dancing begin!

Dancing in the mountains!

Dancing in the mountains! (left to right:  Shilan, me, Zherou, Omer, Halo, Haval, Diyar, Sarbast.

....and continues

…and continues

Aaaaand, Zherou breaks out….

Breakout!

Breakout!

we all look happy...we are!  The Kurds have had a really rough go but they're experts on being happy anyway.

we all look happy…we are! The Kurds have had a really rough go but they’re experts on being happy anyway.

Not like any kind of fun I've ever had as an adult.... better:)

Not like any kind of fun I’ve ever had as an adult…. better:)

Sarbast showed us some classic Kurdish photo poses 🙂

I think of this as 'the teapot", from the childhood song of the same name.

Gwen and I trying some of the classic poses Sarbast says they all do.  I think of this as ‘the teapot”, from the childhood song of the same name.  Can’t remember what Gwen’s is called.

When I walked up to the top of the hill to ‘powder my nose’, I found I was overlooking a road down below where children were riding horses.

Horse riding

Horse riding

After the dancing, we all traipse over to the waterfall and take…more photos, (of each other, not so much of the waterfall, except me).

The waterfall, with the sun at the top.  Tried, unsuccessfully, to capture the halo image.

The waterfall, with the sun at the top. Tried, unsuccessfully, to capture the halo image.

and after a while lunch is served, with everyone, except Gwen and me as we were told NOT to try to help because we were guests, pitching in.   Zherou was joking that because “we will miss you”, he would like to marry one of my daughters to keep me here.  I told him he’d need to be able to cook and clean the house to marry any daughter of mine.  Here, he proudly shows his ability to make a salad …. it’s a start 🙂

Zherou - making a salad all by himself!

Zherou – making a salad all by himself!

Lunch was delicious!

Lunch was delicious!

After lunch, we all went for a walk up to the caves where the Peshmerga had held off Sadam’s soldiers while fighting for their independence.  Some of the caves were huge, others small, but it was fascinating to be there and, especially to see the evidence of their stay there.

Starting up the mountain...

Starting up the mountain…

Aaaaaand, the teacher needs a break; I can walk far but I need breaks when I climb.  In my defense…just sayin’  My body guard has decided he will wait with me and as Zana films, Zherou, hops neatly across the path and several rocks and picks a red flower and hands it to me.  I don’t know the name of it, and neither do they, in English, but it represents the blood of the Peshmerga soldiers who were wounded or died defending their land and their freedom agains the tyrant Sadam.  It’s a beautiful sentiment and typically poetic of the Kurds.

Zherou giving me a blood red flower as Zana films

Zherou giving me a blood red flower as Zana films

Here’s a close-up of the flower, if anyone knows it…

The blood red flower

The blood red flower

Not quite sure what's happening here but it amuses me...

Not quite sure what’s happening here but it amuses me…

Inside one of the bigger caves.

Inside one of the bigger caves.

Zana and Hozan

Zana and Karzan

We all got photographed emerging from the big cave… here’s Haval

Haval coming out of the cave

Haval coming out of the cave

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

Diyar and Halo

Halo and Diyar

Diyar and Halo

Here, you can see where the Peshmerga’s fires darkened the walls of the cave.  Quite a powerful feeling when you’re in there and imagining it all.  And not so long ago.

inside cave

Inside Cave

Omer and I do little round of duelling cameras.  He won.

Omer and I do little round of duelling cameras. He won.

View from deep inside the cave of the opening.  You can really see how the Peshmerga would have had the advantage.

View from deep inside the cave of the opening. You can really see how the Peshmerga would have had the advantage.

A cave window looks out

A cave window looks out

Back outside…

Left to right: Zherou, Haval behind, me in front, Bestoon and Gwen.

Left to right: Zherou, Haval behind, me in front, Bestoon and Gwen.

Then, it’s back down the mountain…

Back down the mountain

Back down the mountain

To more dancing and food…

Zherou and Diyar

Zherou and Diyar…and sort of Halo

Diyar in something of a prance step

Diyar in something of a prance step

New interesting looking drum comes out to join the  merry-making.

New interesting looking drum comes out to join the merry-making.

Karzan presides over the tea, salad and shishkabob being prepared for the next meal (which I thought was dinner but, no, just a snack!).

Karzan minding the tea and meat

Karzan minding the tea and meat

Meanwhile, the recording of the day’s activities continues as Zherou interviews everyone: Shawnm at the moment.

Zherou interviewing Shawnm.

Zherou interviewing Shawnm.

And then he breaks into song, a rendition of Enrique’s song “Hero”.  Much gusto!

Zherou sings "Hero"

Zherou sings “Hero”

And we eat again, with “King” Sarbast in the red shirt in the background, manning the barbeque.

endless food....

endless food….

IMG_1357

And after this meal, Gwen and I leave early, having requested that previously.  Marking to do and a skype appointment for me and marking for Gwen.  But just before I leave, I hear what sounds like shots and peek over the wall to the area down below.  Yep… shots alright, from guns but nothing dangerous just some guys practice shooting. Seems pretty strange to my Canadian sensibilities but here, no-one thinks anything of it.

And they're definitely friendly

And they’re definitely friendly!

Here’s what they’re shooting at:

IMG_1360

The watcher becomes the watched

The watcher becomes the watched

And then Gwen and I, accompanied by Hozan who has to get back to his family, leave the happy eating, dancing group of students I normally teach grammar to.  It was a gorgeous day; so good to get out into nature and experience a culture that is not like any I’ve yet seen and so nice to see the Kurds are finally enjoying their lives without violence.  I loved the day and thank my students for all of it…Kurdish hospitality is all-inclusive and I bask in the memories.

One happy Omer!

One happy Omer!

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Posted in discovery, Iraq Diary, Iraq. Teaching abroad bazaar shopping, Kurdistan, picnic, tea, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Random Thoughts, Happenings and Photos of them.

Time for an update on the blog, finally moved to action by a pledge I made with #2 (in birth order only) daughter who is the Pledgemeister (or Pledgemistress?) extraordinaire!  There, the randomness begins, having now mucked mildly – and randomly – about with German and French, I’ll proceed to post some photos of no particular pattern and in no particular, but probably English, language.

We’ll start with a shot of one of my students, Darko, playing the flute in grammar class.  I think he looks sort of as though he belongs more in the Kurdish mountains, meandering happily, with children following behind.  Anyway, all whimsy aside, he plays exquisitely.

DarkoOnFlute

Next, a shot of me in front of the view taken from the top of the highest mountain in Sulimaini with the view behind.  Not so very clear but the camera isn’t the best and I don’t understand settings so…there you go.

IMG_1456

A sign advertising a bar and restaurant near the bazaar with this odd  image of a woman in lust with a Tuborg.  I mean….what the heck?!

Oh Tuborg...I want you so... ?

Oh Tuborg…I want you so… ?

Next, some images from a trip to Chavy Land, a brand new amusement park / picnic grounds place.  Really nicely done with dancing fountains, lots and lots of green space for families to spread out blankets and have a picnic, the biggest ferris wheel in the Middle East (although I think it may also be the slowest as when we went on, it never got past the load-people-on-and-off stage), lots of other rides, a gondola to the top of the mountain, a 5D cinema, a scary house and more.

Zherou in front of The Slemani Eye, biggest ferris wheel in the Middle East.

Zherou in front of The Slemani Eye, biggest ferris wheel in the Middle East.

Me with two passing children

Me with two passing children who obligingly joined me in the photo

Just a really adorable little girl whose parents allowed me to take her photo.  Just a little butterball of a baby girl and I wanted to cuddle her, but restrained myself.

Adorable little Kurdish GirlLooking up at the Slemani Eye before getting on.

IMG_1474And, from today, a spontaneous lunch invitation from one of my grammar classes to go to lunch.  A grilled fish specialty restaurant; it was truly delicious and a lot of fun; they’re a lovely group and we actually seem to laugh our way through most of our grammar classes which is, kind of amazing:)

My shot of the fish "before"

My “before” shot of the grilled fish I shared with one of the students, Khalid.

And the “after” shot once we’d decimated it!

"After" shot of fish

“After” shot of fish

Two of my students, Bestun and Ismael.

Bestun and Ismael

Bestun and Ismael

From right to left:  Dara, Illham, Dalya and Beri

From right to left: Dara, Illham, Dalya, Beri and Salahadin

From left, going down:  Khalid, me, Bahez, Zanyar and Snwr.  Going directly across:  Beri, Dalya, Illham, Bestun and Ismael.

From left, going down: Khalid, me, Bahez, Zanyar and Snwr. Going directly across: Beri, Dalya, Illham, Bestun and Ismael.

IMG_1487Hmmmm, the caption didn’t work:  this is Dara and me goofing around.

And, one more…

IMG_1495

From bottom left: Beri, Dalya, Ilham, Dara and Ismael.  At the head of the table is Snwr and then going from the top down, Salahadin (aka “The Comedian”, Bahez, Khalid and Zanyar.

And that’s all for now folks!  Beddy-bye time for our little blogger who has completed her pledge but (oh the shame!) not yet done her lesson-planning for tomorrow.

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Bazaar!

From a small footbridge above

From a small footbridge above

 

An old Kurdish man browsing

An old Kurdish man browsing

Or, BUHZ-ah, as my students pronounce it and, really, they oughta know.  The bazaar here is the real McCoy; it’s where the local people go to buy absolutely anything they need.  From clothes to produce to electronics to live goats, chickens, carpets, cheap books from Iran…absolutely anything!  There’s little need to ever go anywhere else unless you want to.  Modern style malls are not really to be found here in Suli, although there are a few small ones.  In Erbil (also spelled Arbil and Irbil) there are malls and all the modern comforts, if that’s what you want.  Here, there are some big supermarkets and sometimes I go there, for speed and convenience but for atmosphere and fun, most weekends I go to the bazaar.  Here are just a few things you can shop for.

pigeons for sale

pigeons for sale

Walnuts are a staple here; they are grown nearby, are plentiful and delicious!

Walnuts are a staple here; they are grown nearby, are plentiful and delicious!

My roommate, Jill, trying to figure out what things are (all labeled in Kurdish).

My roommate, Jill, trying to figure out what things are (all labeled in Kurdish).

Outside the mosque in the bazaar, men sit with jackhammers, shoe shine kits and various things

Outside the mosque in the bazaar, men sit with jackhammers, shoe shine kits and various things

I know it’s a bad shot with the pole in the middle but I was trying to be discreet.

IMG_0983

 

This little girl is eyeing up the fancy dresse, along with the whole of Kurdistan; Nawroz (Kurdish New Year) is coming up and everyone needs (fancy and shiny for girls) new clothes.

This little girl is eyeing up the fancy dresses, along with the whole of Kurdistan; Nawroz (Kurdish New Year) is coming up and everyone needs (fancy and shiny for girls) new clothes.

Not sure what she's doing here but it's cute!

Not sure what she’s doing here but it’s cute!

f

I was taking a photo of this little manequin, just for the outfit and a young boy from inside the shop came out...

I was taking a photo of this little mannequin, just for the outfit and a young boy from inside the shop came out…

He stopped by the mannequin, posed and nodded.

He stopped by the mannequin, posed and nodded.

Old style oven for baking bread.

Old style oven for baking bread.

IMG_1004

Jill shopping for fresh fish.

Jill shopping for fresh fish.

These carts fill the streets outside.

These carts fill the streets outside.

Cart

Bedding

Bedding

Stuff.  Guy stuff.

Stuff. Guy stuff.

More stuff.  Kitchen stuff and... I don't know stuff.

More stuff. Kitchen stuff and… I don’t know stuff.

The I-don't-even-know-how-the-vendor-gets-to-his-stuff place.

The I-don’t-even-know-how-the-vendor-gets-to-his-stuff place.

Teapots and...big colourful dice?

Teapots and…big colourful dice?

Jody buying a carpet and me, thinking seriously about it.

Jody buying a carpet and me, thinking seriously about it.

 

And finally, we stop for a glass of tea, although I neglected to get any of the glasses in the shot.  The mug you see is not typical.  Strong, black and sweet - that's how they drink it.  25 cents a glass.

And finally, we stop for a glass of tea, although I neglected to get any of the glasses in the shot. The mug you see is not typical. Strong, black and sweet – that’s how they drink it. 25 cents a glass.

And this is just a little tiny sampling of the bazaar.  Every time I go I discover a new corner or lane and the discovery continues!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in bazaar, discovery, Iraq Diary, Iraq. Teaching abroad bazaar shopping, Kurdistan, Nawroz, tea, travel | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Apparent safety

Outside the apartment

Outside the apartment

It often seems as though things are safer here than they are in almost any place I’ve seen or been.  As mentioned before, the Peshmerga guards are everywhere: in front of our apartment building, in front of the university, at the entrance to various roadways, the destination of which I can only speculate on, in the middle of traffic, standing along with the traffic police, etc., etc.,.

And it feels safe.

But recently, in Kirkuk, as you may know or recall me mentioning recently, there was a bomb which killed and hurt many people (of note, my student who couldn’t finish his homework because he had to repair his damaged home).

Here in Suli, we all know Kirkuk isn’t as safe.  We don’t go there; in fact, those of us employed by the university aren’t allowed to go there, or even to pass through as a much shorter way to Erbil. Nor are we allowed to go to Baghdad, or to any Arab controlled areas of Iraq; they are all unstable.  But we feel that, as long as we stay here…we are safe.

Last Thursday we all felt a little less secure.  At our weekly staff meeting, amongst a plethora of much more mundane items on the agenda, our boss let us know that there was, in fact, a Suli connection between the bombings and our university.  Turns out that either “the” guy or one of the guys who was/were responsible for the Kirkuk bombing was a student in one of our programs.  The police, or members from some authoritative group here, we were told, had come to the university and arrested a student who was under suspicion for the bombings.  The next day, in the (Kurdish) newspapers here, it was announced that, indeed, this – literally – well-respected man about town was indeed responsible for the bombings in Kirkuk a couple of weeks ago that cost so many of our students’ loss of relatives or homes.

We were assured that, although this person had, daily, been in our midst and had literally wreaked havoc on people we know, he had at no time been planning to harm anyone here in Suli.

I still feel pretty safe but, it was certainly a bit too close for comfort.

IMG_0890

Posted in bomb, Iraq Diary, Iraq. Teaching abroad bazaar shopping, Kurdistan, safety, travel | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Random Thoughts and Happenings

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…

A tea shop in the bazaar, where, traditionally, and usually, only Iraqi men frequent.  We were welcomed, however, shown to a rough sort of seat in the back (tactfully removing us from the bulk of male eyes) and brought tea.  We shared the tiny back space with 2 Iraqi men completely absorbed in their game.

A tea shop in the bazaar, where, traditionally, and usually, only Iraqi men frequent. We were welcomed, however, shown to a rough sort of seat in the back (tactfully removing us from the bulk of male eyes) and brought tea. We shared the tiny back space with 2 Iraqi men completely absorbed in their game.

The perfect cup of tea, on a snow day.

The perfect cup of tea, on a snow day.

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.

ImageImage

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Back in Iraq

Ok, so I am finally posting something here.  I think about it frequently; I walk about my life mentally composing phrases and passages but thus far, nothing has made it so far as my keyboard. So, to start, and just to appease my insistent sequentially-driven mind, I am just going to post what I’d written as I made the final leg of my journey here to Sulimainayah, Kurdistan, Iraq.

To Sulimainayah:

So, moderately awake (off and on anyway), I’ve been sitting in The Kitchenette in the Ataturk airport.  Quite a chi chi little place actually, cozy, trendy couches and chairs, jazzy upbeat music, huge plants in huge planters and excellent lighting.  Beer seems to be the main beverage of choice and about 5 or so when I order dinner, I order a beer too.  After spending a good hour, off and on, studying the menu several times and deciding that since it was quite expensive but I wanted to eat here and not in the food court, I should make sure I ordered something I really, really wanted.  After finally deciding the grilled prawns and sole shish kabob with salad would be perfect, and giving my order to the very sweet, very friendly waiter, I immediately conceded to his suggestion of the sea bass with grilled veggies and salad.  “Is very Turkish”, he said at least 3 times and when I looked at his earnest, beaming face, I found myself saying I’d love to try the sea bass, thank you.  Not the first thing that leaps to my mind when I think of typical Turkish food but, hey, he’s Turkish; he should know.  So I had my meal (delicious) and my beer and several hours later, a perfectly made Turkish coffee – beverage of the gods – and felt very satisfied, very nourished and very happy.   Other pleasant encounters included the tall young Turkish woman beside me (we watched each other’s things as we took turns going to the ladies room), the very young-looking boy at the information desk who had no information at all but who was heart-meltingly sweet about everything I asked and he didn’t know, and the female Turkish Airlines agent who was helping me resolve the issue of whether my luggage had indeed been successfully transferred from Air Canada to Lufthansa to Turkish Airlines.  She rattled away to herself and to her colleagues and then suddenly exclaimed, in English, with a huge grin and arms extended in triumph above her head, “Lady! Your baggage go already to the Turkish Airlines!”

After eleven and a half hours in the Ataturk airport, I went to the boarding gate at 11pm for the fifth and final leg of my two-day journey.  I looked around, vaguely wondering which obviously-non-Kurdish people were my future colleagues but couldn’t guess and was far too stupid-tired to focus on anything but getting myself successfully into my seat on the plane.

On the plane I sat next to a man who said he was from London and assumed I was too.  Although obviously Kurdish, he also obviously preferred to be thought of as “from London”.  Turned out he’s a jeweler who has jewelry shop here in Sulimanayah (somewhere in the bazaar), as well as one in London.  He was a very kind man who helped me understand what was being offered for breakfast, asked one of his compatriots sitting in front of me to put his seat forward until I could finish eating my meal and taught me a few new Kurdish words.  Pleased that my brain was still functioning at all, and eager to begin my new life amongst Kurds, I immediately turned to the airline attendant who had just served me and thanked her politely, in my new Kurdish, for the delicious scrambled eggs.  I was disappointingly met with only a confused look and, in my own confusion, turned back to my companion to check on my pronunciation.  “She is Turkish”, he said gently.  Ahem.  We were, after all, flying Turkish Airlines.Image

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GSOs out – Pilots in

So, finally, after 3 weeks of waiting, the GSO cadets left the base.

Before that happened, there was a lot more stress, partly caused by numerous assurances from the Iraqi leadership about ‘tomorrow’ (all the while the cadets knowing full well that these were just the standard fare face-saving lies) and with no way to send their families money or allow them to contact their families to let them know they were alive, their morale really sank low.  It was challenging to try to get their attention in the classroom because it was difficult for them to focus but they did try, and we made some progress.  To be honest, I played it by ear every day and if spirits were particularly low, I pulled out my computer and let them watch a movie or I showed them photos of Canada or places I’d traveled to.  Often, we just talked and I let them guide the topic of conversation; unlike the Emirati students I’d become accustomed to, they have a keen curiosity about the world outside.   I brought them newspapers (they’re voracious readers) and articles off the Internet and they devoured all of that.  The College Advisors (the military) had a few dozen paperback novels that had been discarded and I asked if the cadets could have some of them.  When I got permission, I took a couple of them over to the Charlie trailer where the books were and they selected a couple of cartons to take back to the barracks for the group.

One problem is that they have nothing to do when they’re not in the classroom. Other than marching, no provision is made for them to have any sort of recreation at all.  No cell phones, mp3s or electronics of any kind are allowed.  They have no books, no games room, no TV and the computer lab is available to them only one hour per day and only 20 cadets at a time can attend. There is strong competition for this one opportunity.  They have no gym or sports facilities of any sort; when it was cooler, they played soccer but it’s too hot outside now.  They have nothing, in other words, to pass the time or distract them from their problems and boredom.  The US College Advisors are trying to persuade the Iraqi leadership to provide the cadets with a bit of an MWR so that they have something to do but this is slow going the Iraqi leadership are all pretty old school.

One day I saw a couple of my GSO cadets coming out of their DFac and they told me that General Ali had just ‘promised’ them they would be leaving the next day.  I felt doubtful that it would actually happen as the latest news on the decrepit C130 had been that the engine had been contaminated with tiny metal shavings in the fuel line and that was a large, expensive problem to solve. I was afraid this would just devastate them further when it fell through (am I becoming cynical?)

Me: Wow, that would be great! Has the plane been fixed then?

Ali:  We don’t know Miss but he said tomorrow.  (Long pause) It must be.

And, somehow, it was.

The next day, half of the GSO cadets left on the plane and  half the pilot cadets arrived.  Wow.  They actually got it together to fix the plane quickly this time.  Impressive.

Then the plane broke again.

Major Shea is still trying to unravel how the rest of the GSO cadets left here for Baghdad and how the balance of the pilot cadets arrived at the base without a plane.  The Iraqi Air Force Commander has previously ordered that none of the cadets are allowed to travel by road as it is far too dangerous but, somehow, both groups  did. And it is very dangerous for them, even in their civies.

Monday May 16:

We started teaching the pilot cadets and I was lucky enough to get this Bravo class too.  They’re a remarkable group of young men; they’re extremely bright, highly motivated and their English is excellent.  And, it should be noted, the fact that their English is excellent is not – except in one or two exceptions – a result of expensive schools or privileged, travelled backgrounds.  All Iraqi students learn English in school and have the same opportunities; when I inquire a little, I find that the ones who have some mastery of English are the ones who have, to the degree they are able, immersed themselves in English-speaking media and disciplined themselves to study on their own and learn from the Internet.  They’re also very well-mannered, kind and appreciative.

To illustrate the latter, Husam from my previous Delta class, came over to give me some post cards he’d bought me; he explained he’d gone around to different shops to find just the right ones, “one from here and one from here – I wanted to buy you something because you are my best teacher.  When you teach me a word, I know the word; when you teach me some grammar, I know the grammar; when you teach me some sentence, I know the sentence.  I understand your teaching.  Why now you are teaching Bravo class?”  (I explain that the site lead likes us to rotate).  “Please, Miss, I will talk to the general so you can teach Delta class again.  We need you.”  I think the problem was that their ‘new’ teacher is a cynical relic from Saudi Arabia who thinks he knows everything, never listens and doesn’t like the students.

The post cards are truly lovely, quite old-fashioned, and I was very touched at the trouble he’d gone to and the care he’d taken.  We went over them in detail on the break and he explained each one to me.  I should have taken notes actually.

Wednesday May 25

There is to be a book quiz tomorrow and we spent the morning reviewing.  The truth is, Bravo class doesn’t really need a lot of help because they’re well beyond this book.  After they’d diligently done loads of review exercises and asked a few questions, they requested a game.   We played “Stop the Car” (a version of Categories) and it got a bit wild as they got more and more competitive, but it was fun.  At the end, I told them this might be the last day I’d see them (I’m getting ready for my holiday, thought I might leave tonight and won’t be returning to this base) and I promised to email them the photos we’d taken over the previous couple of days.  They were hoping for a CD instead but I told them I was sorry but didn’t have time.  As things developed, I will still be here a few more days and will be able to make them some CDs after all, which I’m very happy about.  They were incredibly sweet about saying good bye and we all promised to keep in touch by email.  Then, five minutes before the end of class, one of them, Ahmed, looked at his friend Zamdar and said “will you sing for Miss Maureen?”.  Without hesitation, Zamdar nodded.  Ahmed hushed the group and they sang me a song.  Zamdar was the soloist; he sang in the Arabic style, complete with hand motions and there were bits where the others played a role and did some sort of response; it was clearly a traditional song that they all knew. Afterwards, Ahmed told me what the lyrics meant.  It’s a ballad about love and about how love begins with a bud and then, with rain and sun and tender care, it will grow and grow.  And he said ‘this is how we feel about you Miss.’

It was one of the loveliest, most authentic, moments I’ve ever had with a group of students.  I so wish I could share some of their photos here so you could see them but I can’t put them at risk; it’ll have to wait until you see me in person.

So, instead, here's a scene we see all over the base which never ceases to amuse me.

Posted in Iraq Diary | 2 Comments