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30 Aug 2013 - Blog

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Come with me to Rwandz!
Helllooo Loyal Readers,

I often complain that when in Erbil I miss the sound of ocean waves and the oh-so-great feeling of sinking my feet in the sand on the shore. How lovely it would be to be a car ride away from the beach? Ahhhhhhh (it feels amazing just typing the description). There is nothing I love more than nature, and Kurdistan’s nature for me is heaven on earth. Although I am upset this year I was not advised allowed to take any long car trips, it meant Shaqlawa was the furthest I went.* Maybe not a short car ride away, but in a few hours we can take ourselves from a busy and crazy city life to a peaceful little heaven.

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Rwandz, the view from the Pank resort

I was going through last year’s pictures taken in the middle of the most beautiful mountains, nearby the grandest waterfalls and… I rememembered all the fun I had. So, how about  in this blog post you and I go and visit the deepest gorge in the Middle East. Let’s pretend we’re in the car and off we go to Rwandz.*

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I share a special love for Rwandz (often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Kurdistan) because three of my best friends just happen to be from that area. Many (and I mean many many) years back my father was also based there,  so naturally I had heard a lot about the place. As for the people, they are the kindest I have
ever met. IMG_1116All this aside the heart-stirring nature of mountains, trees, waters and the weather… Oh. My… It is one of those places where you can pack your bags to and spend a week there to mentally recover and press the refresh buttons in your mind and soul. A place where you can clear off all the negative energy flowing through your body (don’t we all have a ton of that these days?!). IMG_0906

We went as a work retreat, it happened to be a place our boss loved, and I don’t blame him. We stayed at the Pank resort, they were little houses each furnished with all the essentials you would need on a weekend get away. The view from the houses were phenomenal, but we woke up every morning to have breakfast here, at the resort’s main restaurant. Now imagine this: Warm, fresh bread, yoghurt and a pyala of chai right here. On that very seat.
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I had forgotten my camera (I know, how stupid?!) so these pictures-taken by the iPad- make no justice to what one sees with their eyes when taking a casual morning walk in Pank resort.

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Rwandz (Rawanduz) this picture is taken from The Other Iraq Tours website

I am actually surprised of how amazing Pank is, although I must admit, it needs a lot more work to make it the five star resort it is promised to be. It has so much potential. With a little more organization and a good management team this place can be be the ideal getaway! IMG_1467

I can sit here all day and all night. Write, think, talk to friends, have fun with family members, sip my chai, have golabarozha or…do absolutely nothing but breathe in proper oxygen, something that I often miss in Erbil. Doesn’t it feel good to sometimes escape from pollution, the sight of too many cars, tall buildings and unwanted stress?

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I was probably tweeting something with the hashtag Kurdistanakam

The only thing I would do differently this time when I do visit is switch off the phone. I have seen pictures of Rwandz in the winter time and it looks like being in a white cotton land above the clouds. Now that’s an idea for something to do this winter.

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Rwandz in winter, picture taken from here

Calm down Saza, we still have the beautiful July sun (OH NO!) before you can even think of winter.
What is your favourite getaway place in Kurdistan? If you want ideas make sure you get your hands on a copy of the Kurdistan Tours Guide, or drop back to the blog next week. I have somewhere special to take you, once again!

For now lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan
Sazan,

* Please note the issue was health related, not security concerns.
* You may have seen it written differently: Rawanduz, Rawandouz, Rwandz, Rawandiz

Young women of Kurdistan- The change maker series, meet Beri!

Hellooo Loyal Readers,

I’m back with another inspiring young Kurdistani woman. I have been lucky enough to briefly meet Beri once or twice, but her work speaks loudly, and I have always been a fan. Some people, you watch their work from far, and you applaud what they do, and how they do it. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who in 140 characters (or less) melts your heart away. She comes through as a humble, kind human being, who in her world of filmmaking, writing and photography is being a voice to Kurds and Kurdistan. Often described as “an award winning writer and filmmaker” Beri is just that, award winning! And how amazing it is to see a fellow young Kurdish woman be recognized not just within Kurdistan but also outside for the work she does in a field that men often find it difficult to succeed in.

I admire Beri, her personality and her work! We have promised eachother a chat over some chai, and it is long over due, but here, we can together read Beri’s words as she speaks about life, career and dreams!
Are you ready?

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Beri Shalmashi

Name: Beri Shalmashi
Place: Somewhere between Kurdistan, Egypt, LA, and the Netherlands
Occupation: Writer, filmmaker

Mandalawi: Let’s start broad, what do you do?
Beri: I hold an MA in Film, I have studied in the Netherlands, and for a short while in Los Angeles as well. The year I graduated, I received an award as ‘the most excellent student in the Netherlands’ from the Dutch minister of education, an award to highlight talents with a bicultural background, the best part: it included a scholarship to study at UCLA. Although I have always tried to be both academic and artistic, most of what you might (get to) know me for is artistic. I work as a screenwriter and director, and have had great opportunities doing my work in The Netherlands.

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However, in the recent years I have lived at four different continents, most of you will know me for living in Kurdistan – where I moved to early 2012. After graduation, I have been based in Los Angels, Cairo and Amsterdam, too.

In Erbil, I have tutored at Salahaddin’s Cinema Department, I have been writing screenplays for long films yet to be produced, I have set up a PR firm, Meydan, with my best friend and business partner (as that is the things that Kurdistan makes you do) and like many of us I have been involved in voluntary projects, one of the highlights was definitely being amongst the first ambassadors of Kurdistan at One Young World, back in 2012.

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Right now, I should be writing on one of the two novels I have been contracted to write, but the situation in Kurdistan is so distracting, I am trying to see how I can tell our story through films for a broad audience – financed outside of Kurdistan.

Mandalawi: What’s your journey so far, how did you get to where you are today?
Beri: I always like looking back at when I was still in high school, I had not planned for this rollercoaster of a journey. I was an active student, I had set up the school’s magazine, our yearbook, I took part in the school’s musical and would be in charge of several events. And I was preparing to study medicine after high school. I had all the right grades, after working really hard to pass math, medicine and chemistry. But I didn’t get through our lottery system. At the same time, I was awarded the ‘Young Writers Award’ and got to do a writing course, I chose to adapt a story I wrote for the school’s magazine into a screenplay and then I decided to get it funded – during the shooting of that film, I fell in love with filmmaking.

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Mandalawi: What is your passion? Anything in this world you live for?
Beri: I am in love with storytelling, be it in any shape, writing, photography, music, performing arts, it all comes together in cinema. I like creating chaos, and then having to put everything in the right place, letting it make sense just through where I put every detail, sound, comma, anything. I like communicating with others, convincing them of what I believe in, making them see what’s in my head and together make it even better, and make it real, sharing a very personal emotion with a broad audience, from anywhere in the world, and actually make them feel the same.

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Mandalawi: How is a day in your life like?
Beri: No day is the same. Sometimes it’s hard to create and maintain a routine this way, it depends on the phase of the projects I am in. When I am shooting a film, that means one needs to be on set around 7AM and weirdly enough I am never too tired to be on set. When I am pitching and developing, it means you go from writing, to meeting, to coffee, to meeting and just hoping that all time you invest into talking with clients, producers, channels, will make the projects come to life, so you can dive into the creative process again.

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Mandalawi: Your source of support? What or who keeps you going?
Beri: The magic of sharing your imagination with other human beings. It’s in little things. I have had people walk up to me in public, crying, because a (Dutch) film I made, brought back memories of a long-suppressed loss. Or in audiences, when you hear others laugh and see them cry. I know, it’s a bit odd, but what they feel, is what I – and everyone involved – felt during the making, I think storytelling is an incredibly strong tool of communication.

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Living in and working in Kurdistan as young, independent, single woman, is really hard. And sometimes I do interviews not necessarily to promote myself, but to promote following one’s passion and talents (because you have to have both). I gave an interview in Avin Aso’s live show on KurdMax and the next day I sat in a taxi with quite a traditional driver. My friend and he dropped me off home, and later on, my friend wrote me the driver had recognized me from TV. He was very happy to have met me and while watching the show he told his daughters to take an example in me, and to contact me on Facebook if they want to work in film as well. And that, just that, for a traditional Kurdish man to allow his daughters to follow their dreams and go into the very hard creative sector – that is what keeps me going.

Mandalawi: What challenges do you face in what you do?
Beri: In Kurdistan, too many unnecessary challenges that don’t have anything to do with my specific work. This is because it is hard to grasp for others, what my work actually inherits, it is also because we don’t have an (independent) industry. Even at the university’s Cinema Department, there is barely an understanding of what ‘Cinema’ is. I don’t even know where to start. There is no strategy for film in the Kurdistan Region either. And then there is the misunderstanding that film and arts are subjects one studies when not intelligent enough to get into other fields. And then there is the fact of being in Erbil on yourself, being a stubborn young female, and also being from Rojhelat, originally.

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Beri: But the above is only related to working in Kurdistan. The normal challenges in my work are that in the end, you are the one carrying a project for the initial phase all the way up to the premiere. Of course, every phase of the project brings new and exciting people with it. But you are the one having to convince a lot of people that the idea in your head in combination with you is worth spending millions on. Millions of dollars. So, when you see me writing and drinking coffee, you might not consider it ‘work’, but I can feel like there is a heavy load upon my shoulders.

Mandalawi: How do you deal with those challenges
Beri: I use the challenges to really choose what I believe in and I just hold on to those projects really tight, knowing I can make them work one way or another, as long as I am flexible, in creativity as well as in my timeline. It has been six months since I had to delay the project of my dreams, ‘Four Gates’ that I had planned to be shooting right now. A big story set in Erbil. But because of the political situation back then – and now still – the sponsors had to pull back, no one could take a million-dollar-risk into shooting a film under unpredictable circumstances. My ego has still not gotten over it, and I am using different routes now to make the project happen anyway. What I have learned from that situation is that it makes sense for the Kurdistan Region not to have an industry or common sense about cinema, we have always had wars destroying any foundation we’d have built.

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Mandalawi: Anything we should keep an eye on? Future plans/ projects?
Beri: Oh, yes. I am going to make ‘Four Gates’ happen. And I have adapted the novel ‘The House of the Mosque’, an epic story about Iran. You guys and gals can read that novel while the film goes into preproduction. And then there is smaller projects, you can keep an eye on my Tweets, surely I will share everything that is going on. Oh, I almost forgot, I have directed a short film that we have entirely shot from the perspective of a hot air balloon, drifting over Kurdistan during spring. It’s called ‘Heavens over Kurdistan’, keep an eye on that, too.

Mandalawi: Three dreams in your life
Beri: For my father to see Rojhelat again, to have a family of my own, to see the things I put my effort into, move people’s heart and minds.

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Mandalawi: Any advice for other girls in Kurdistan
Beri: Dream, live those dreams, but be realistic. Take one step at a time and know what you’re aiming for. Choose a job that fits your talents. And please know, if you love what you do, you’re good at what you do and you can convince others of this, even if you’re father, mother or brother or neighbor’s goldfish doesn’t like what you’re doing, when they see the result, and see how others appreciate what you do and see you can maintain a living with it, eventually, they will know you’re doing the right thing.
In Kurdistan I noticed neighbors, family and acquaintances acknowledged what I did when they saw the result of my work in the media.

You can follow Beri on Twitter here, drop her a message on Facebook or follow her on Instagram!
Pictures: Taken from Beri’s social media pages with full permission! :)

Until next time
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kudistan

Sazan,

Kurdistan Tours

Helllooo Loyal Readers!

Once upon a time even on the World Wide Web there was rarely anything about places and out & about around Kurdistan. We were lucky enough to find any non-Kurd who knew something about the Halabja Genocide or the Anfal campaign.

Well, it seems like this is over! While there are many websites and information on the internet all about Kurdistan- history, politics and places to visit, we still didn’t have the ultimate guide… until now!
Are you ready?!

I recently got my hands on this book:

Kurdistan Tour Guide
Kurdistan Tour Guide

The Kurdistan Tour Guide, edited by Dr. Douglas Layton, is your new must have. Trust me, even for someone who has lived in Kurdistan for nine years, when you get your hands on a copy of this book you feel as though you haven’t even lived here and haven’t seen anything in Kurdistan yet.

The book covers general information about Kurdistan, background to first time comers including some cultural insight and then the PLACES! All the places you can discover on this land. It goes through Kurdistan city by city, town by town and even villages to bring to you the best attractions and must visits. What I love is that there is historical information and background on each place. Guessss what????? It even has a section on Kurdish food, no but wait, the recipe to dolma (along with few other foods) is also there!!!

Everything from the plant diversity of the Kurdistan Region to poetry, music, arts, film, horses, libraries and of course the citadel is all in this 380 page book.

For only $20 it is a must have in any house hold. Not only if you want to travel around, but there is some great information there that is rare to find online. I have already book marked some places I want to see, meals I want to cook, and general information I want to read.

If you want to purchase your copy I was told there are some at the Divan Hotel and some Korek shops. However the best option is inbox the Facebook page right here and order a copy. Easy as that. You should have your copy the next day.

Kurdistan Tour Guide
Kurdistan Tour Guide

There is a map attached at the back (big one too!)
For more information on the Kurdistan Tours Guide:
info@kurdistantourguide.com   (although the spelling in the book is info@kurdistantourquide.com)
It is published by the World Impact Press LLC, 2015.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sazan,

Young women of Kurdistan, the change maker series. Meet Saz!

Hellooo Loyal Blog Readers,

Yes, I promised to introduce you to eight Kurdish girls who in their own ways are creating great change in their societies and are running after their dreams, young girls I admire so much. This week I am excited to introduce you to Saz! (No, not Saza, and not me, Sazan, but SAZ!) That is, if you don’t already know her.

I first saw Saz in a Peer Education Training we did for volunteers of the I CAN organization in Slemani, before we even began her black glasses, long dark hair, energy and smile (with dimples) got my attention. She was the person you are friends with before you even say “hello!” to. It only took half of the first training day to see Saz as a sparkling young Kurdish girl who can own the world with her bubbly personality, views and perspective of life, more importantly her willingness to help people. Later I learned she hosts a TV show and does a lot of other things, hard to image this girl has 24 hours in her day, just like the rest of us.

She lives a life full of colour, bringing herself challenges only because she is full of ambition. I have no doubt one day very soon she will be Kurdistan’s very own Oprah Winfrey (but much younger!) or lead a great organization, company or take part in politics. A role model, and a success story of a Kurdish girl who is pursuing her dreams, one day at a time. I threw a whole lot of questions at Saz, so get your chai ready (if you’re outdoors in Hawler and it’s boiling hot then resort to cold water instead) and read what she had to say.

Young Women of Kurdistan!
Saz Aso

Let’s get started, shall we?!
Name: Saz Aso
Age: 22
Place: Born and raised in Slemani (Sulaimaniya)
Education: Soon  a business graduate from AUIS

Mandalawi: Let’s start broad, how would you introduce yourself? What do you do?
Saz: There are a lot of ways to describe who I am, this doesn’t mean I have different personalities, but different characters. I’m momy’s and daddy’s little girl. When I’m home and around my family, I feel like a little girl, and I love that feeling! This is only at home, but in regular time, I’m a very passionate, optimistic, and energetic girl! I make things simple, and I feel like if I set my mind into something, there is no way I will not do it of-course if it is reasonable. I never say, nothing is impossible, and I don’t believe in that because I don’t like fooling myself! Life is life, ups and downs, impossible things and possible.
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However, even the things that I believe that they are impossible to be done, I take my steps to it and try to accomplish something in the few steps I make toward it, and learn from it. I like to keep busy, I love working in the fields that I like! Because I believe that if you don’t like a job, or a certain thing in your life, you can never be creative in it, or do it in the best possible way. Also, another thing that you have to know about me is that, I can handle a lot of pressure without losing hope in the matter.

People always tell me how strong I am, but I think it is because I don’t show much emotion and I’m always positive even in the hardest times. I literally take everything bad in my-life, think about it by myself, find something positive in it, and move on! I always believe that life is so short and fun, no worth wasting it by negativity, hatred, stress, and some other things that will only take positive energy from you. One last thing, When I said I’m energetic yes I meant it! I love music, I love parties, I love going out with friends and having fun, and I love singing! Everything in my life is accompanied by a song! Even in exam time!

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Mandalawi: What’s your journey so far, how did you get to where you are today?
Saz: First of all, I’m a Business student in the American University of Iraq, this is my 7th semester, one semester to go and I will graduate. I’m a TV show host, I had a show on NRT2 channel called “warzi NRT2” it was a social program talking about daily problems of people and people’s achievements. It was three times a week, one hour and a half! It was so much pressure with university, but I managed to do it.

I did 50 episodes and I stopped, but only stopped in that channel, nobody knows what I have next. I’m also a Peer Educator and loving it because I feel like im doing something positive and beneficial for the community and my society. Moreover, I’m a member and a women activist in MOR Organization which is a women rights organization.

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I’m a volunteer in I Can org. Hiwa hospital for cancer-stricken children, and in Kurdistan Save the Children institute. I write, so I’m a writer in “Freedom Writers newspaper” I happen to be the editor of the women page in the newspaper, and one of the founders of the newspaper. I’m also a member of a Student Mediation Club in my university. Last thing on the list is an honor I got in Ireland-Dublin by attending a One Young World summit as a Kurdish delegate representing Kurdistan, and I got the certificate of becoming Ambassador of OYW 2014!

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The ending of our peer education training for youth of the I CAN organization in Slemani, where I first met Saz

My journey has been great so far! Had a lot of ups and downs, but the ups were always more. I have worked hard and will continue like this toward my goals and what I want to achieve. If a plan didn’t work for me, I changed my plan but never my goal, and I made it work. I have faced difficulties, negative comments from people saying I want a lot in life, so I will never get anything because I am greedy. Greedy is bad, but only in money. Yes I’m greedy when it comes to my goals and that greediness is passion and ambitions. The support of my family, and so many people have got me going to where I am today.

Mandalawi: What is your passion? What do you live for?
Saz: Interesting question! My passion is not in one thing to be honest, its all over my education, my show, music, fashion, and etc. and what I live for? Hmm I live for my family, my goals, my friends, and I sometimes live for today! Though I always think about the consequences and results of my steps in life to be honest. Also, I live for my country. In everything I do, I think about the part of it that will drive positive change in the society and in my country, and actually most of the things I do is for the making changes not self-interest.

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Saz Aso

Mandalawi: How is a day in your life like?
Saz: A normal day would be going to university, drink a lot of tea till I’m awake! Going to university’s gym, having lunch with friends, finishing the lectures, and if there is an interesting debate or an event in university, I always attend. After that I go to work after for about 5 hours. This changes because sometimes I have the volunteer works, so instead of gym or work, I do those.

Mandalawi: Your source of support? What or who keeps you going?
Saz: Family, my close friends, and people in general!

Mandalawi: What challenges do you face in what you do?
Saz: From the beginning when I started the show, and appeared almost every-day on TV, few people were against me doing a big show saying I have no experience or what so ever in Media! And that I’m not good enough. Well, I agree with them, it was my first time sitting in-front of a camera! And I started with live shows one hour and a half 3 times a week! It was not easy! But I continued, and proved them wrong.

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Also, another difficulty was people around me saying I should not do that because I’m a business student and it has nothing to-do with media! And girls in Kurdistan they are safe, and better off if they are away from Media and cameras! But no! I never listened and believed in what I do, so many of those people are supporting what I do now thank God. But all this was nothing for me, my biggest challenge for now and have been my balancing between education and work. I become very tired that words cannot describe it having university and exams, and preparing for the show and appear energetic and fine in-front of the camera after being in university for alomost 7 or 8 hours!

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Shining on screen, how could anyone imagine she hasn’t had sleep finishing essays and preparing for the show?

There were times where I prayed to God not faint in-front of the camera for people to not say look she cannot handle pressure! Because I wanted to deliever a positive message to young Kurdish girls that if they want to do something, they can! No matter what. I always remind myself what are my goals, and that I’m young and capable of doing all this. With my own support I get refreshed and stay focused to continue the best way. Ofcourse I’m a human being and I’m not saying there are no times where the obstavles and the challenges brings me down and I’m like: “That’s it! Im done” but it’s only for a short period of time, after that I become myself again, saying: “What! Giving up! No! that’s so not me.”

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Saz’s endlessly supports campaigns and other important causes that are close to her heart

Mandalawi: Anything we should keep an eye on? Future plans/ projects?
Saz: Yes! My next project (show) will be something different hopefully, can’t say much about it for now.

Mandalawi: Three dreams in your life
Saz: I will make it four dreams, Become a very successful business woman, become one of the top TV host in Kurdistan (I will not go far for now!) and travel around the world, and one day, even if I’m very old, I want to become a Kurdish woman leader! And I don’t necessarily mean in politics, maybe leading women rights, or human rights institure that will be talked about in history (dream big they say).

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From Slemani to Erbil to take part in a demonstration

Mandalawi: Any advice for other girls in Kurdistan
Saz: Any advice for other girls in Kurdistan: Don’t ever listen to those who think you cannot do it! Some will make culture a reason to stop you, some will make your reputation, and some will just do anything to bring you down and stop you from achieving your goals and dreams. Always be strong! Say “I can do it… I can make the changes I want to see in the world” Also, do not hate on other people when they accomplish something you have not, take that hatred, make it a positive force to make you achieve better things than them. Never be afraid of trying, but always remember to stay humble, simple, and put personality and your principles in life before everything.

You can follow Saz on her only official instagram page here and if you wish drop her a message on facebook.
Next week it’s a very different person who is always doing amazing work. So do drop by, for now…

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sazan,

What orphans talk about

Hello my dearest loyal blog reader,

Thursday Thoughts once again! Last week I met my friend Zhala, head of the girls section in the Erbil orphanage. When we meet our conversations are full of emotion, and sometimes anger and frustration. This time she told me a little story that has been on my mind ALL week long. I had to share it with you.
Basically, Zhala and two very young sisters who live in Mali Khanda, the orphanage, (let’s call them A. and I.) were walking out of the orphanage, this is how the conversation went:

A: ZhaZha (that’s what the little ones call Zhala) what does that sign say (pointing to the sign at the entrance of the orphanage) because of that sign people come and play with us and bring us gifts. 
Zhala: It is because you are all smart and lovely children and people like to bring you gifts and spend time with you.
A: But why don’t they go and take gifts to other kids who live in houses, they are also good children and they are smart.
I: No, It’s because we don’t have a mum and dad.

Zhala with A & I in Mali Khanda in Erbil.
Zhala with A & I in Mali Khanda in Erbil.

That last sentence from one sister to another makes me burn from the inside.
You know what is hard to take in? Most of these children are neglected. Only a few have actually lost both their parents, most have a mother or a father still alive. But they know nothing of that parent, and that parent couldn’t care less.

I often wonder how they cope at school when everyone talks about their mother and father, how do they feel when they see other parents drop off their children and pick them up? I wonder how it feels when their friends say “my mummy did this and my daddy got me that”?

I know very well Zhala goes to their open days, concerts at school and takes part in every parent-teacher night there is for the kids she supervises. But these children need a lot more. Each of them needs and wants attention. I see it every time I visit. Each of the kids need endless love, they need attention, they need a loving family to be part of.

I have come to a conclusion that no matter how many toys you give them or how much new clothes you make for them nothing will compensate the emptiness within. Nothing. One of the most ideal ways to solve this issue to establish (it has already been planned out) and approve a foster care program within the Kurdistan parliament. It’s a must!

Until next Thursday
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Nine Changes in Nine Years

Hellooo Loyal Reader (yes, from a very unloyal blogger, please do forgive me, soon you will know why, and I promise this time I have a good excuse *innocent face*)

It was only yesterday in a drive from Erbil to Masif that it sank in my head that next year will mark ten years, one decade, of my return to Kurdistan. And believe me nine years ago, Kurdistan (in particular Erbil) was a completely different place. I feel like I have grown up with this city, and seen many of its phases. I still can’t get over the fact I am nearly TEN years older too!!!! WOW!

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When you see a city grow in front of your eyes a special bond forms… Erbil under construction! Photo: Sayran Ibrahim
  1. I swear I had a dream for one day to drive the streets of Erbil and not see people selling petrol on the side of the roads in Jilikan (bottle/gallons) I wished we could have petrol stations.
  2. The only modern shopping place was Naza Mall. What? You don’t know where or what Naza Mall is? I don’t blame you. It was destroyed and smashed down. Who would go there when there is Family Mall? It was the only place where you could shop with a trolley, I remember looking forever outside just to find a place to sit down. It was that crowded. Compared to what we have today it was like a large supermarket.
  3. Ainkawa was salon central. Eyebrows? A bride? Best haircut in town? Fancy, posh and expensive Senses, Mounir or LBC didn’t exist. And no, it did not cost $1500 for a bride to get her hair and makeup done.
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    So many changes, and I was here watching it all happen… Photo: Narin Qaradaxi

  4. Cafe for the girls to catch up in? You have got to be joking! Abu Afif, on 60m road, was the only decent place where you could gather with a few girls for sweets. Even that was awkward. No Costa, Barista or O’caffe. A little later Rhein Mall was born and we were all over the moon.
  5. If you were a girl in a car young boys would slow down just to show their fellow passenger: “look at her, she’s a girl driving!” As if a monkey was behind the wheel. I am serious! Fast forward nine years it’s a complete different story.
  6. When it came to summer there was never greenery. Trees? Plants? Are you serious?! Today when I drive through the roads of Erbil I appreciate every public place I go where there are plants, trees, and flowers. In fact, the trees I saw being planted years back, I can probably sit under their shade today.
  7. Of course, construction has come a very long way, back then Naz City apartments were the major attraction, you would drive nearby and just stare at it at night. Who sees Naz City now when you have the entire skyline of Empire with Divan in the background and the huge Royal City complex.
  8. I remember when I first started blogging I would get so many emails from parents or youth abroad who wanted to return to Kurdistan but were trying to find options for English schools. We had the International School of Choueifat (yup! I googled the spelling) but even that was limited to grade 7 I think, and every year they increased a grade. Now we have an entire list of schools the Danielle Mitterrand French SchoolCambridge International School, British International School, the American International School, and the Fakhir Mergasori International School, I am sure I have missed a few too. But you get the point!
  9. The first piece of writing I ever wrote nine years back was about the ridiculous driving in Erbil: “Outrageous Road Rage” fast forward nine years and that, my dearest reader, has not changed!!! However, now there are endless amount of speed cameras–and we all have a compiled few hundred dollars of fines– there are more and more road signs, and bridges, U turns and other intersects to make driving much easier. We have traffic lights that actually work–most of the time!
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Siblings playing outside their ‘home’ in the Domiz refugee camp- Duhok, Kurdistan Region

Of course all changes and what so called “progress” come with its own pros and cons. We have more schools, yes, but is the quality of education better? Yes, there are more buildings and construction, but is there social progress to go with this? Yes, we have a ton of coffee shops and restaurants, but now-a-days the hookah has our young men addicted, something that didn’t even exist 9 years ago! Yes there is was rapid economic progress with thousands of new businesses opening and buildings going up over night, but did our university education change to have minds that can run those businesses and institutions? I doubt.

Erbil, and Kurdistan, has changed so much. At times it was like a new born child, it began to crawl then run before it learned to walk. It feels amazing to drive the streets or walk in places and see what has been built. Although I still have many wishes and dreams for My Nest in Kurdistan. I love what it has become, but I know it takes dedication and hard work of every single citizen to make it the Kurdistan of our dreams. It upsets me to see things slow down a little, to see a mother mourn over the body of her martyred son, and the father to bury him. It hurts.

I haven’t mentioned that during a time in the past nine years people would cross the border or come from other parts of Iraq on vacation, today compared to nine years back Kurdistan is housing 2 million IDPs and refugees in camps and host communities across the Region. I can only wish and pray when I celebrate my one decade back to my nest, things will be better.

Until next time
lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sazan,

Stigmatizing Spinsters

Dear reader,
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Hello there! This week I have a handful of ramblings but will keep it at one issue in particular. In the office we had a guest who was the founder of a local NGO/ women’s center. She left behind her business card, later one of the staff pointed out that the center/ NGO was for widowed women and spinsters. That’s right, spinsters.

Online, in the English world a general definition of a spinster is “an unmarried woman who has passed the marrying age.” Who on earth decides the marrying age? A pitiless society who is always ready to stigmatize.

It stirred up a discussion with my work colleagues, a little bit of laughter, but on more serious notes it reflected one of the major issues confronting women in our society today.

In my society if a spinster, or qayra zhn/kch, was used just as a term of reference like the words widow, single, married etc. this is entirely okay. But usually the word gives negative connotations to an extent there is sympathy for the woman who is referred to as a spinster. There is often pressure on the woman to compromise on what she feels could be her ideal man just so she can get married for the sake of marriage.
Some fall in the trap and do that, others don’t, but live with repeatedly being pointed out and referred to as a ‘spinster.’ It becomes more difficult for women who belong to conservative households restricting their outings, travels, study options and even return home after dark. It is basically telling women your freedom can come once you’re married.

While the union of a couple and marriage is a beautiful aspect of a man and a woman’s life, it is important we don’t stigmatize women who have decided, or happen to be still single. Why can’t we embrace the thought of an independent women who maybe works, has a great career and when the Mr. comes into her life, he is welcome.

I have been with friends who are still very young, but happen to be single, people have literally commented: “But you are beautiful, why aren’t you married yet?” I will leave it to you to imagine my reaction at that moment.

Back to the organization, I don’t know the details yet, but what I do know is that there are many single women in our society who are stigmatized in society. While in the urban areas it might be a little easier, in rural areas at times these women are seen as a burden after the parents pass away, who will she live with? What if she doesn’t get along with her sister-in-law? Why didn’t she accept the proposal to marry the older man who already has a wife and five kids?

Anyhow, that’s just a thought, a little observation,
I am sure one day will come where women can be at any age, single and no one will say a word, but for the time being we must work at it.

For now lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sazan,

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.

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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. 
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pura Parwin’s medical cabinet

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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.”

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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!

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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
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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
Sazan,

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